Captain Tajudeen Alao is the President of The Nigerian Association of Master Mariners (NAMM). He spoke with Oluyinka Onigbinde on the sideline of a Tribute that was organised last week in Apapa, Lagos by maritime industry stakeholders in honour of a former Sole Administrator of Maritime Academy of Nigeria, late Engr. Olu Akinsoji
Who was late Engineer Akinsoji to you?
Engineer Akinsoji was larger than normal to me, because on my first day at sea on River Niger in 1974, Akinsoji was the most senior Nigerian officer on board. He was a third engineer and the rest were whites. With that experience, I look at him hoping that one day I will be in his position. The Captain, Chief Engineer and Second Engineer were all whites. They were Egyptians, British, Indians and to see a black man in charge like that was inspiring. The ship was a troublesome ship and therefore I had to join in the baling of oil in the engine room, reading of temperature and all that, and I enjoyed it. We went through bad weather coming south through the English Channel B of Biscay and we had to go on deck to tighten cargo lashing in that troubled water. Flying fish was coming on deck and he was so concerned about this brave, courageous cadet. I had a military background in the Navy, but they didn’t know. He was so concerned. So he called me telling me to be careful in life and all that, that got me close to him. We came to Lagos at congestion time and we were in Lagos for 120 days with no food, no oil and no light. We went through that turbulent period. Engineer Owolabi, Captain Balogun and many other people too were on board. So, my first impression about him as a foremost Nigerian and hardworking engineer on board was what I carried all my life and that was what brought me closer to him. He even told his wife that this is the Cadet who jumped inside the water because it was very bad and the line parted and he was like I should jump inside the water to swim. When you look at his life at sea from rising to the top of his career as Chief Engineer, being training officer for cadets, being superintendent in the office, going to the Ministry (of Transport) as a surveyor to follow a different career, going to UNDP, going MAN Oron, going to Malmo as the first batch of students to attend World Maritime University in Malmo, Sweden and he was the first Student Union President for the all students. So his life is like a mirror that we look at. Then he ended up back in Nigeria in the Ministry, then to MAN Oron as Sole administrator in 1991 when they were going to close down MAN Oron. He did this with the General Sani Abacha endowment for N500 million to salvage MAN Oron. He did this and everybody was donating to MAN Oron. Ebenezer Babatope was going to close down MAN Oron. He later left Oron back to become the Government Inspector of Shipping. He brought all of us in as surveyors and he hunted us, saying we have to do this for Nigeria. We must have a maritime administration and he was the first Director General. We were there with him for 18 months before he was sent to IMO as Alternate Permanent Rep. He was in IMO as Alternate Permanent Rep until he retired into industry giving lectures, seminars. He was a member of many committees and associations in the industry. He was a foremost mariner, an accomplished seafarer from cadet to the peak at shore. He got to the peak. I don’t know how many Nigerians can be so endowed like him now. So a minimum of 50 to 60 years of his career, he has put into the maritime industry. From 1968 till today, has put in that number of years to the maritime industry.
So what lessons and virtues do you think industry stakeholders should learn from this great man?
Industry stakeholders should learn the life of commitment and dedication. He has done everything; not for money. He has done everything for the industry. It’s not for money, money will finish. People will forget about you. But his contribution is purely in mentorship to the industry. When we were at the Government’s Inspector of Shipping, we worked without funding. Once a committee is formed, we start working before approval of funds. We did our job. That is Olu Akinsoji for you.
Let’s take a look at the maritime industry, particularly now that the world as well as Nigeria is focusing on the marine and blue economy. How do you think Nigeria can tap into this?
We are very grateful to the President for considering the creation of that ministry. We have been fighting for it for long, because of our geographical position, we are endowed. We have so many coastlines, so many rivers, crossing 28 states in Nigeria. But we are not maximizing the benefits that we can get from the water. Although we have been doing it, in Rio 2020, the world’s attention has been drawn that there are resources in the marine and blue economy and it should be harnessed in a sustainable way. So we are talking of conservatism, we are talking of sustainability and positive harnessing of these resources. That is what the blue economy is all about. So we need guidelines, we need proper direction for the government to take the lead for us to follow. It’s not rocket science. It’s just that we should do things properly, so that we can get greater benefit to our country, now that world resources and the economy is on the downside. We should aggressively tap into it and grab it like a newborn baby.
Recently the International Seabed Authority increased the boundaries of Nigeria’s territorial waters.
There is what we call a Committee on Limits of Continental Shelf. It’s a commission that does that. These are the people that do it, not the IMO. The IMO cannot do it. IMO is about safer shipping, greener ocean and secure marine environment. They’ve increased our continental shelf and it’s an extension of the 200 miles that we have now. So if we have that extension, it means if we go further, if we carry out more research, we can get more benefits in terms of resources like Tuna fish, prawns and also marine biodiversity. We can get more.
But don’t you think it will also affect the issue of insecurity and all of that come with it?
What we need to do is to equip the navy who have the expertise, recruit more people, train more people, and buy more assets for them. This is because what we are going to benefit is more than the investment we are putting into it. It’s to create wealth by going into it. We have the Deep Blue project. We have the Falcon Eye. We have all these in our domain awareness at our fingertips. We don’t have problems.
Nigeria ship repair yards seem to be going moribund as we no longer have many shipyards any longer. How do you think Nigeria can resuscitate these?
Yes. We have the ship repairers. We can resuscitate them. But we can create wealth by disbursing loans to our people to buy ships. We used to have 385 fishing trawlers, now we have less than 50. If we have many fishing boats, the ship yards will have jobs. If we have many tugboats, there will be jobs for them. Then if our people can buy ships, from supply boats to international ships, then we can repair them here. The Marine Engineer will get jobs. The multiplier effect is great. There is wealth at sea. So we only need to have the political will, push money into it, and tap and harness the resources.
Lastly, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency had argued that the delay in the disbursement of CVFF was as a result of the interest rate being requested for by the banks.
We have had too many excuses. We must have a political will to do the right thing.