Until the elections that brought in Capt Niyi Labinjo as the President of the Nigeria Shipowners Association (NISA) in 2014, there used to be only one body for Nigerian ship owners.
For over a decade, the Indigenous Shipowners Association (ISAN), which later became NISA served as the only body of indigenous ship owners under the headship of Chief Isaac Jolapamo.
But the association split into different groups after its first election which held on 24 October 2014.
The polarization led to 22 ship owners led by Engr Greg Ogbeifun forming a new association called Shipowners Association of Nigeria (SOAN) in April 2015.
After SOAN broke away, NISA also broke further, with Alhaji Aminu Umar leading one faction and Capt Labinjo leading what is left of the once-united body.
It was in the midst of this mess that Mr Rotimi Amaechi emerged as the Minister of Transportation. He then decreed that the various groups should merge under one umbrella. Amaechi emphasized that without the merger, he would not recognize the associations.
The minister gave the directive after realizing that the various ship owners associations that now exist in the industry have been operating as splinter groups with equally divided interests. The fragmentation of the body of ship owners has led to delayed progress in the sector since the operations of the various groups gave no room for necessary cooperation.
Following the directive by the minister, the founding President of the Nigerian Shipowners Association; Chief Isaac Jolapamo, went ahead to convene a ‘reconciliation’ meeting where the various groups met and eventually reached the decision to abide by the Minister’s order.
The reconciliation meeting was attended by the representatives of a faction of NISA, led by its then-President, Aminu Umar; African Shipowners Association (ASA) led by former Director General of NIMASA; Mr Temisan Omatseye and Shipowners Association of Nigeria led by Engr Greg Ogbeifun. But, the Capt Labinjo-led faction of NISA was not invited, even though he won the election as President of NISA.
The various groups that met reached an agreement that henceforth, while each association retains its identity, membership and leadership, they would operate as one entity under the Shipowners Forum. It is through the Forum that the groups will now relate with government.
The meeting led to the formation of the ‘Shipowners Forum’ with Mrs Margret Orakwusi as President.
We went down memory lane to buttress the fact that, it is the emergence of Capt Labinjo as NISA President after Chief Jolapamo that precipitated the crises that have engulfed the association since 2014.
By inference too, it is the face-off between Capt Labinjo and then-outgoing President of NISA; Chief Jolapamo over succession that led to the mess. The fact is – the emergence of Capt Labinjo did not go well with Chief Jolapamo.
And shall we say that throughout his tenure, neither Labinjo nor NISA enjoyed peace.
After he was elected, he boldly told members of the association that: “The next priority thing to do is to get our jobs back which we shall do immediately. We will get our jobs back so that all those usurpers can then leave our shores and we take over our jobs.”
Little did he know that his tenure would herald a negative vista in the life of the once-united and well-respected association, which his predecessor; Chief Isaac Jolapamo presided over for more than 10 years.
Without necessarily going to into details of issues that led to the present quagmire that NISA has found itself, it is apt to acknowledge that the association and its members do have challenges.
The challenge of NISA centres mainly on ‘joblessness’ on the part of a greater number of ship owners. The association had once raised alarm that more than 50 percent of ship owners in Nigeria have been out of business for years. Those still operating are battling to stay afloat owing to huge debts incurred by most of their firms.
For several years, NISA blamed the woes of its members on marginalization by foreign shipping interests. Then came Cabotage and Local Content Acts, and they blamed their woes on improper implementation of the two protectionist laws, yet they were passed by the National Assembly to adequately protect indigenous players in the Nigerian oil and gas as well as shipping sectors.
It is true that Cabotage has not impacted as much on the operations of local ship owners; it is also true that the main ingredient that would have been used to re-fleet indigenous capacity, that is, the Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund (CVFF) has not been available.
So everyone was happy when NISA called for elections. The development was gladdening, even though it’s coming after a lot of damages have been done to the association. It has lost respect and recognition it has also lost quality membership.
Even though it appears too late and apparently impossible to bring all indigenous ship owners back into the NISA’s fold, because empires have been built and new kings have emerged, it is still possible to pick the pieces back.
But recent developments and fallout from the association’s elections leave one wondering whether NISA has indeed learnt any lesson from its history.
Why must there be a ‘fight’ each time NISA holds elections. One reason is likely and that is that, there are entrenched self-interests far above the collective interests of the association.
Those who lost out in the elections have been alleging irregularities and alleged jettisoning the association’s constitution. We advise that their cries should be looked into and fast too.
In a body like NISA where members are business men, the least that the new executives can do is to close ranks. Most important however, the new President will have to prove that he has what it takes to take NISA to the next level. We think he can do this by seeking peace and making moves to reunite the association.
If the new gladiators who call themselves ‘The Integrity Group’ don’t sheath their sword, then NISA may jolly well have begun another the journey.
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