“MAN ORON GRADUATES ARE NOW OKADA RIDERS”!
Capt Kemewerigha (President, Merchant Navy)
Apart from being the national president of Merchant Navy and Water Transport Senior Staff Association, Capt. Thomas Kemewerigha is also from Bayelsa State; the heartbeat of Niger Delta and militancy. He knows a lot about militancy and probably knows many militants too. In this interaction (which happens to be his second with me), he spoke about the fate and future of seafarers, maritime sector regulation, Nigeria as a maritime nation and other issues.
Nigeria is contesting for second term on the IMO Council, do you think that we have done well enough to justify a second term?
We deserve a second term because we have done very well in the last two years that we have been on the seat and even in the last couple of years. If you look at four or five years back, you will see that Nigeria has championed the cause of maritime activities in west and central Africa. Yes, I agree that our major problem has been that of implementation.
If we go to the IMO for the re-elections, what are we going to parade as our credentials?
Our search and rescue efforts are impressive, the flagging- off of the National Seafarers Development Programme is another thing that is in line with the IMO drive , we are also trying to improve our infrastructures and we are doing well in all areas and better than many other countries.
You used to be a loud voice in the quest to ensure that more Nigerian seafarers are employed; you seem to be keeping quiet these days?
We are not keeping quiet, is just that the facilities to employ them are not there. It has nothing to do with qualifications, Nigerian seafarers are qualified. MAN, Oron has been producing cadets for years, but there is no way they can continue without getting sea times, why are Nigerian ship owners not employing these boys to get their sea time? We don’t know why they are not employing these boys.
That also brings me to the issue of fake seafarers who are now everywhere…
(Cuts in) It’s because we are in the maritime industry that we are talking about fake seafarers, we also have fake lawyers somewhere and we have seen where they see fake policemen as well as other fake professionals. That is on a lighter note. But for the fact that we are discussing seafaring issues; yes I agree that there are fake seafarers. Why must you employ a fake seafarer? Is it because you want cheap labour, in some cases people employ half- baked seafarers. I just don’t know if it is a deliberate act by the ship owners to employ them, because they will pay them whatever amount they just want to pay them as against the professional seafarers.
But it is dangerous
Yes, you and I know it’s dangerous, but the person employing them knows why he is employing them. Another thing is that the ship owner might not know that the crew on board his vessel are not genuine seafarers.
How is this possible?
Because, he will not know their correct status if he is crewing directly, he must be crewing from a registered manning agent. A registered manning agent from NIMASA is given guidelines. There are of course unregistered manning agents. The unregistered manning agent does it because he wants to have his commission. There is a manning agent in Apapa, he is called ‘Alpha Manning’, if you go there for a job, they will screen you down to the end and will tell you if your certificate is fake, anytime you go to their office you will see many bags containing fake certificates. We have come to realize that crew that the Alpha Manning gives you is genuine. The issue of unregistered manning agents is being tackled by NIMASA. A task force has already been set up go out there and ascertain the status and genuineness of the manning agents. This is another area where NIMASA has done very well.
How comfortable are you with fact that many Nigerian seafarers prefer to go to the Regional Maritime University in Ghana rather than attend the Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron?
The maritime academy in Oron offer courses in marine engineering and nautical sciences, our boys attend these courses at Oron, but the areas which we know that they always prefer Ghana is in the area of mandatory courses. The greatest problem with MAN, Oron is that it is being run like a family institution. This is why the academy is not making good progress. For example, the simulator has been bought for the institution for many years, I think, since 2004 or there about and they have been talking about commissioning it and nothing has so far been done about it.
Up till now, they are yet to commission it, and you expect Nigerians to believe that the academy is a serious one. If the simulator is commissioned today, we will see the difference, people will go there for programmes. Nobody will wait for MAN, Oron, maritime programmes are not cheap. Government needs to constitute a strong committee to investigate what is happening at Oron. Remember that the minister of transport made a remark recently that, indigenes of other state are not being admitted, except people from Akwa Ibom and Cross Rivers states.
I want to believe the minister because the profile of the cadets that one sees there do not reflect Nigeria, there is no federal character at all. I have met the rector on several occasions and he is always talking blabs, how many years is Oron today? The school can not even attract foreign interests and bilateral training packages which do not even cost money. JOMALIC was trying to do it back then; the idea was: go to Malaysia and other maritime nations, understand them, study them, because they have a lot to offer us and we also have a lot to offer them. We don’t know the calibre of people that are running the affairs of Oron. That is why many Oron graduates are okada riders!.
Are you by any means in support of calls that government should create more maritime academies?
I will not want government to be involved in running academies but government should bring in the private sector. Nigeria with a population of 140million people needs more than one maritime academy, one is not enough. A country like Philippines has about 22, Malaysia has nothing less than 10, our population is so much and we have just one academy, we advocate for more in partnership with the private sector.
What is your take on the face-off between ISAN and NIMASA over arrests of foreign ships for allegedly violating Cabotage Act?
I will not blame ISAN because if it always goes to the bank to take loans to acquire these vessels even on high interest rates and the purpose of taking loans to buy these vessels is to participate in Cabotage, lift our products and be able to repay the loans, then they can’t keep quiet. If you are a rich man and you are a father and you have so much money, but you don’t give to your children, they will grow up to attack you one day, they will either arrange for people from outside to attack you so that they will benefit from those people outside or handle you by themselves. This is what is happening; ISAN can not keep quiet and watch foreign ships dominate our coastal shipping business while they are being chased around by banks on account of unpaid loans.
I have heard people say that Nigerian seafarers are not marketable…
(Cuts in). When they say Nigerian seafarers are not marketable, it surprises me because if you go to any part of the world, you will see Nigerian seafarers working on foreign ships, those that are opportuned to go out and work. There are many Nigerian seafarers who are gainfully employed on vessels within and outside Nigeria. They are eminently qualified.
How many seafarers do we have in Nigeria?
No one knows, I don’t even think that NIMASA has data on our seafarers, including those who are working outside the country. Whereas countries like India and the Philippines will tell you every sailor that they have and all the countries where they are, every sailor is monitored by his country. Even in the United Kingdom, we have a lot of Nigerian sailors.
Your association does not even have an idea?
No, you see the figures which I might have in my office may not be the same with what NIMASA has. I am also aware of many Nigerians who prefer to register with manning agents instead of registering with NIMASA. NIMASA is trying to collate all these information, but I must say they have not gone far with it. The truth is that the trust from seafarers for NIMASA is not even there any longer. I think that NIMASA is still carrying out registration, but these are things that they should have done years ago. I can not just sit down here and say we have so and so number of seafarers; I will not like to be misquoted.
What is the position of your association on the move by the presidency to establish a separate maritime security agency?
PICOMMS existed before, but what was the result? , failure, they should not even think of bringing it back. Coast guard is another option because the coast guard issue is an issue that every maritime nation and other world powers are using to protect their coastal waters. I will give you an example, during the period of all the militant activities in the Niger Delta, if you so much believe that the Navy is the sole custodian of our territorial waters, why was there JTF? It is either the Nigerian Navy as we have been saying are ill equipped or something is wrong. Each time there is a workshop or a seminar and the Navy is opportuned to be there to tell us one or two things, they will tell us that they are handicapped about this and that, it baffles me and I don’t know where we are heading to. If JTF could come and address the issue of militancy to some degree, then it is very clear that the issue of coast guard should not be toyed with, and it’s even easier for the government to establish a formidable coast guard. A militant camp could harbour about 50 to 100 Niger Delta youths; that itself tells you that the unemployment rate in the Niger Delta region is very high, if these youths today on their own can handle any arm and also know the Niger Delta terrain and the creeks very well, then the establishment of the coast guard should not be a problem. All that the government needs to do is to clean-up these youths; I mean those that are useful and relevant in the establishment of coast guard, give them little orientation and the coast guard is here. Even that in itself will reduce the rate of unemployment which is a major problem in the Niger Delta, because if these boys that have started dropping their guns today are not given something in turn immediately, they will forget about militancy and related vices. The issue of piracy has not ended because some of these boys have not been taken care of. So the issue of the government establishing another security agency is not necessary, attention should be focused on creating the coast guard. Coast guard will be more acceptable to Nigerians than what the government is talking about.