“There is no access out of the Tincan/Mile 2 axis, it is just this one way in and out of Apapa”
Capt Tajudeen Alao is a Master Mariner and the current President of Nigerian Association of Master Mariners (NAMM). In this first part of a long interview with Oluyinka Onigbinde, he speaks on some key industry issues.
The Association seems to be silent for too long, why?
When you say the association is silent, I don’t know, because I have been granting interviews to so many online media. We have visited Maritime Academy Oron four times, we have visited Charkins Maritime in Port Harcourt, and we have visited Joe Marine in Warri. So if you say the association is silent, I don’t know what you mean. Considering that we have COVID-19 which in the past one year has slowed down everything. Yes, there are things we want to do that we could not do because of the lockdown, coming in and out of Apapa, the gridlock, but we know we have been very active, we have presented papers, we have been attending workshops and seminars organized by NIMASA and others, so we have been very active.
Talking about Apapa gridlock, so many people have given up, have you also given up?
I cannot give up, because traffic is my life; transport engineering, transport management. So I cannot give up, I like challenges. Right now, they’re doing construction on the bridge. Meanwhile, the e- call up system they are using, they’ve abandoned it. And do you know how much research we have done. Research and development at the Ministry of Transportation level, collating what NIMASA has done what the NPA has done what NSC has done, what happened here is a bottleneck, there is no access out of the Tincan/Mile 2 axis, it is just this one way in and out of Apapa, so what can you achieve, where are the parking lots for the trucks, the trailers coming to take bunkers also pass through this road.
We are supposed to have holding bay outside Lagos, this law was there 20 years ago, the holding bays for trucks under the bridge at Ijora was not put into use, government did not develop it for the for the union; the union also did not make any move and now all of a sudden, we have so many people coming, what we call convergence and you see everybody coming into Apapa, how do we get out. So, this problem requires holistic research by professionals and then the enforcement; they’ve disbanded the other task force and they put the Lagos State own there, headed by Commissioner of transport and Special Adviser to the Lagos State governor, but nothing is happening. You cannot achieve much if from Iddo, from Costain and Mile 2, traffic is not controlled from them that is the essence of Apapa Port, so we need to go back to the drawing board.
So you think that will be the panacea?
Yes, that will be the panacea, because the major road coming to Apapa is done, what they are doing now is the bridge outlet of Apapa on top of the bridge, but the major road inside Apapa is being done; they were saying that was the cause, but that area has been taken care of.
You said the association has visited MAN Oron at least four times this year, what’s the relationship between the association and the school?
We try to collaborate with the Academy in terms of resource persons, but unfortunately it did not take off because Master Mariners that are active are highly paid and to bring them down will require some good pay and we cannot afford it, those who want to make sacrifice to collaborate with the school, the conditions what we call ordinary conditions are not there. But having said that, that is on individual basis, even the old students (AMANO) also tried to, but as a body we are close, but you have to call a spade a spade. We have an academy now. The academy is fantastic now. The place was rotten. The place was a basket that all the resources were leaking, but now all of that has changed.
The school keeps churning out seafarers, year after year, but are unemployed, what is your take on this?
We over-blow the whole Interim Management Committee (IMC) and we wrote to the Minister that on IMC, we stood by every recommendation, stating that it must be followed to the letter. The Minister didn’t reply to us, but we went to the school and we saw that everything was followed to the letter.
There is an improved academic atmosphere in the school. There used to be eight to 10 in a room in the hostel. It is now two in a room, very comfortable, very conducive. Every student now has laptops. Before, light was rationed in the school, lecturers could not do any research work at night, but now there is 24 hours light.
Every room is air-conditioned. The new equipment is operating under air-conditioning like the simulators because without it, they will spoil. It has gone bad in the past. So, I have hope for the school but the orientation of the community must change. They should not see the school as a cow producing milk. You have a town planner teaching chart work, there were no chart works, there were no teaching aids, and there is no parallel ruler. But now the right people are there. But the government needs to do more to have an enhanced package so that we can have professional mariners teaching these boys. There’s no shortcut about it. You have to train the lecturers, you have to bring in people and give them special packages. Because the foreigners that are there now, they cannot pay them peanuts, they have to pay them money and they cannot be there forever. So there is a need to bring in Nigerians, there is a need to sponsor cadets that will be under bond that will come and teach in Oron.
Do you think the school needs to reduce her yearly intake?
It has been done, it was reduced to 200; very tough to achieve but it has been done. About three years ago, they were many. People forged documents in order to progress, but they have put check and balances into that now.
What about the allegations that some of the cadets are not employable because there are limitations of their certificates?
I disagree with you because people did not know the categorization of this thing, it is in the law, it is in the convention. There is provision for mere coasters, there is provision for unlimited and you must be trained on certain types of ships power in order to qualify.
You cannot sail a ship from Lagos back to Ibafo and you want to be examined for unlimited certification. That comes from the vessel acquisition form. We are talking of Cabotage; all you need to do is that coaster. We are not talking about international shipping.
Shipping is international. What we have is oil and gas services, not even coasters. Coaster is a contract of afreightment carrying palm kernel from Port Harcourt to Lagos; carrying containers from Port Harcourt to Lagos; carrying fertilizer from Port Harcourt to Lagos. We don’t have ships doing that. But oil and gas services are not international shipping, they don’t form international navigation. So what we have is not adequate because there are specialized courses which Oron is trying to put in place. We never had simulators before, it was expensive, it was capital intensive, now we have. There are courses people do outside Nigeria that even when you have the Certificate of Competency, you must have those short courses in order to be viable.
A one-time DP in India, in the UK, imagine when you qualify you have to go to India to do it. How many people have that money? It’s not available locally here, now it is available in Nigeria. Government could not provide it for years, they failed in that responsibility, but now it is available. It is one stage at a time, you cannot get PhD overnight, you must have a first degree, qualify through research to get second degree, qualify tutelage research, paper presentation, and journals to get PhD. It is the same thing here. In medicine it is a process too. If you ask if I’m happy, I’m not happy because we have been at it since 2004. The first exam we did was in 2004 unlimited. 15 years later, we have not moved forward. It is very disappointing that we have not trained examiners. Even today that’s what NIMASA should do. They must train examiners, they must train lecturers, and you must expose them to international practice. Send them on training to Egypt for one year, and rotate it. Send them to Canada, send them to the UK on sabbatical, bring in more people, give them an in-house package and we can be proud that foreign countries can send their students to Nigeria.
*To be concluded next week