Interviewing Mr John Patrick Egesi, a former DG of NMA is always a delight. Not only because of his deep knowledge of issues, but also because, with him, you can get talking anywhere. This interview was to have held in Lagos; the day after the public hearing organised by the House of Reps committee on marine transport for stakeholders to critic the bill for the establishment of the Chartered Institute of Shipping of Nigeria, but while waiting for our delayed flight back to Lagos I cornered him at the VIP lounge and he obliged me. He spoke in his capacity as the chairman of the NIS/CIS joint committee on the Charter.
With the public hearing over, what is your experience like as the chairman of the joint charter committee that was put together by both NIS and CIS?
It is a wonderful experience; it shows that Nigerians can work amicably together to achieve an aim; it’s been a very good experience working with other members from the Nigerian Institute of Shipping and the Certified Institute of Shipping, with Dr Alex Okwuashi of CIS and his team, I am also grateful to my president at the NIS, Sir C.E.S Okoye who entrusted me with this responsibility, I do hope that I meet the required standards.
For you it must have been very humbling, going by your status as a former DG of NMA
No. Nothing is really humbling when you serve your country, this country is still young and anything we can do to make sure that the future is brighter for our people is a great honour, it’s a great honour that I am even considered and I found myself being useful to anybody, its often very tempting for one haven sat at a high office like a DG to think it’s the end of the world. No, its not, there is a lot of job to be done, even as a DG I recognized that there is a loophole somewhere that is not quite being filled. As a chief executive, director and assistant director for many years at the NMA, the issue of man power adequacy has always been a problem, you bring people from the university, but they don’t know their left from their right, its not that they are not intelligent, they are, but the point is that they are not trained for the sort of specialist instant knowledge that you require to move the country forward in the shipping industry.
At the pubic hearing, everyone spoke in favour of the establishment of a chartered body for the shipping sector; it does appear to me that the Chartered Institute of Nigeria is a necessity, do we need it at this time?
Oh yes we do, the industry needs a chartered body, but again it’s like saying does the industry need a Cabotage law? Yes it does, but it is what we make of it, if it falls into the hands of charlatans, then it will look as if we don’t need it, you remember my interview regarding NIMASA and all that, NIMASA is still extremely relevant but the government has to get their acts together in ensuring that the employees can do the jobs they are called upon to do and to remove the problem of politicking and politics in it, if you don’t remove it they can’t go anywhere.
The cordial atmosphere that existed among stakeholders at the public hearing today was a clear departure from what is obtained about eight years ago when the bill was first tabled, what is responsible for the cordiality?
I think it was a case of distrust and when there is distrust people cannot work together, so probity and being open is very important, we wouldn’t have achieved what we achieved today if we allow the distrust to continue, it can even continue when people are having the best of intentions, but when there is that distrust, things cannot move forward. Remember that the chief whip (Hon Emeka Ihedioha) who represented the Speaker of the House mentioned the fact that we didn’t quite put our acts together after the thing has been gazetted, it’s a very important statement, I think that area is an area where there is need to throw the ‘me, me , me’ out of the system and get the ‘us, us, us’ into the system, if our motive is to move the country forward, the issue of who is there doesn’t really matter.
What is the charter going to achieve for the maritime industry?
It will achieve a lot if we can achieve the standardization, because when the shipping companies and even people that are not Nigerian shipping company owners know that you can depend on a Nigerian manager to do ship management, you will know that they will continue looking for this place; that is the point. But I must quickly point out that the chartered body is not really the school itself, it is a body that ensures certification is of highest probity and standard, so that is what its all about, there will be schools that will be accredited by this chartered body. The NIS can set up a proper maritime school, the same thing with CIS and any other person and they will be trained for instance to take exams that can lead to various levels of this chartered body, and when you hold that certification, hoping that corruption does not come into it, they will know that this man is highly trained and he is a professional, so it depends on what we make of it, if we allow the prestige, the integrity, the high probity that could go with it to waste away on the altar of tribalism, altar of divisionism and all sorts of negativism, then we won’t achieve anything. But, if the principles are perfect, then we can go very far, it can generate money for this country, when employers will say ‘oh get me a Nigerian’. But, morality and ethics is important.
What is your take on the present crop of members of the marine transport committee of the House of Reps?
I have been working with the National Assembly, and particularly, the marine transport committee, believe me; we couldn’t get a better group of law makers. I am blown by their dedication and knowledge. I am one of those that are particular about experience, and to come in and see so many intelligent and experienced people. Look at the chairman of the committee – Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi; can you get a better offer than that? You can see their interest to move the maritime sector forward, its totally clear that they want us to tell them our problems, at the same time they want to make sure that we don’t throw trash at them cause they have to protect their own integrity. If sometimes they appear difficult, it’s not because they don’t want the statute of the bill to be passed, it’s because they want to make sure that it is passed for the whole country and it’s beneficial to all. From the deputy chairman; Adamu Kalba, to Emman Bello, to Okey Udeh and on and on… they are all so wonderful and I was so impressed, I am also impressed by Hon Emeka Ihedioha who has been a doyen of maritime activities for quite a while, I am very impressed and I am not saying it to make their heads swell, I am really very impressed by them.
We have seen legislations that were enacted by lawmakers and which implementation became a problem; for instance the Cabotage Act and the CRFFN Act. What really is the assurance that this CISN bill when it eventually becomes an Act will not end the same way?
Let me talk about the Cabotage Act which has the best of intentions, I spoke to Honourable Okey Udeh today and he also believe they have the right intention, the eagerness to serve the country perhaps makes the House sometimes to over look certain things, they must know that when the Cabotage act was passed the House was very young, they must look at the age, if the Cabotage Act to the House today, they will have been more successful in getting a better Act because they are so much well trained in this particular field at the moment. It’s a learning process that we must all appreciate, now the Cabotage Act was passed without taking cognizance of the economic principles that underline the operations of shipping, laws for themselves have no value without reasons for which the law is being made and also the technological constraints of the country where the law is being made. For instance, the issue of making sure that the ship is built in Nigeria, you can’t put those clauses when there is no flat steel in Nigeria, and looking at the issue of financial economics, where is the money? There should be a kind of cascading of the operations of this law, which is, there must be a time release of maybe, three years, this door is closed and six years another door is closed, so that certain aspects of the law becomes operable at a certain time and this can still be written in the statute so that the country is geared towards the ambition of the country and the budget of the country and the developmental plan and policies of the country. If we just do it completely in the air, it wont have any roots, I am sure we will still get the Cabotage act right, I am sure the House is working on it as I am talking to you, they want to make sure that it works, they are intellectuals as well as legislators, everybody wants to make sure that this thing works, but to work they must call in the experts, there is what we call the expert, experts are not just lawyers, experts are political scientist in maritime affairs.
I asked that question because of the fear that is being expressed by some people that the Act may be hijacked by individuals with questionable interests
It all depends on the discipline of the lawmakers who must ensure that the implementation of the Act is handed over to the people who will carry it out, it must be handed over properly because the country and their own integrity is at stake. If they are careless in ensuring that and one of these money bags or other questionable interests gets holds of it, then it will get lost and when it does, I will wash my hands in public, so it is important that we realize the importance of the bill and the status and dignity of both parties, both the lawmakers and those of us that are not members of the legislature, that is, the stakeholders and ensure that we are proud of what we produced. The House will be very happy to see that the bill is working and so they must ensure step by step organization by the parties that promoted it in the first instance and those other people that will help us to achieve the objectives.
It is not the duty of the legislature to implement or operate an Act. I hope it will be such that the process leading to the commencement of the operations of the Act will not be hijacked by people who are not competent…
Well, I can’t answer that because I am involved.
How soon can we expect that he law will be passed?
It depends in the hands of God, but the way the house is going, I think it’s very imminent, it’s just at the corner, they themselves want this country to develop, shipping is a very vast thing and if we don’t start in time we will have problems.
We saw eminent stakeholders, highly respected veterans at the public hearing what do you make of that?
It tells me that they are highly interested, it tells me that they are committed, because they know where the shoe pinches that’s why you see all of them here to support the bill. You saw Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, Dr Waheed Kareem, you saw serving and retired industry captains, you saw representatives of maritime industry agencies and of course, you saw the high powered team from both the NIS and CIS. It tells you the importance of the bill; it immediately tells you that this is a bill that is closer to the heart of the shipping community particularly the old guards like us. We know where the shoe pinches and we want to ensure that we don’t throw up charlatans, people pretending to be shipping executives and they are not, shipping is a very serious discipline.