“We cannot say all Nigerian ships are out-of-class, there are some that are not”
Capt Tajudeen Alao is a Master Mariner and the current President of Nigerian Association of Master Mariners (NAMM). In this conclusion of a two-part interview with Oluyinka Onigbinde, he speaks on other important industry issues.
What about the allegations that some of the cadets are not employable because there are limitations in 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 ship’s 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 through 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 in-house package and we can be proud that foreign countries can send their students to Nigeria.
How true is the allegations that most Nigerian ships are out-of-class?
Apparently, I am also a director in the Phoenix Register of Shipping which class ships. We cannot say the ships are out-of-class. There are some that are not; maybe because they don’t have employment. But the ships that we ‘class’ are owned by Nigerians. So I don’t know why you say they are out-of-class, some of them could not renew their class because of no employment or maybe the ships are too old. They could not drydock them and when the class says you must dry- dock, they will throw you out of class. But we have ships in our class, and we are still functioning in surveying and certifying those ships.
Why do you think the Cabotage Act has not been able to assist indigenous ship owners?
You have not given money to them. They did not give money to anybody from the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund to buy ship. What they want is cargo. Most of them said they can buy ships on their own if they have the cargo. I don’t know why the government is not protecting cargo because if we have a national carrier today, the government cargo must be guaranteed otherwise it will not perform. I’m not saying cargo sharing, but at least like the crude oil that’s supposed to be for local refinery, 450,000. You find out that foreign ships carry this cargo away, foreign ships bring this cargo, and if they bring it to Nigeria, and Nigeria ships pick it up to distribute, that’s okay. But they take it to Cotonou and they get small ships to take it into the port as well when we have the Cabotage. So we must be part of it, and this year they renewed their contract again without making it open to the people. They should throw it to open and see.
Nigeria is on her quest to get back to the IMO Category C, do you think is necessary?
We have to be there because that is the category that we are qualified for, it is based on geographical spread, geographical representation. So you will say in Africa, we have Egypt, Kenya, South Africa, and Ghana. I don’t see why at any time we cannot qualify; if we get our hands together. The last audit under the three IMO Code implementation, instrument, convention gave us some lapses. Have we closed the gap? It’s an open document. We must close this gap. When we close the gap, we can now stand up and say we are here. But if you have not, there is no amount of lobbying over there at the IMO. There’s no amount of bribery and cultural dance you can go and display. The money we use for canvassing all over the world, we should put it on getting lecturers; on getting equipment for our training institution. We need to make it open and bring everybody, because it is an industry-thing. If we are not on the white list, your certification is faulty. There are so many steps there that you will look and your surveyors, how do you engage surveyors? Is it political? Is it qualified experienced people? Your documentation process, all these will be looked at and will mark you for it.
What’s your assessment on Hadiza Bala Usman in the last four years as the MD of NPA?
To me, I believe the woman performed. She dared where a lot of people would have shied away. Basically, the ports are concessioned, and if the regulatory body could not exert her position, then has she performed? Yes, she has performed. She has gone after those people who will not dredge the channels. The place was rotten before she came. For Warri port, forget about militancy, the breakwater has collapsed. See what has happened in Lagos; it’s upgrade. You need to do that, fix the breakwater, dredge the channel, put marker buoys, in Calabar, Port Harcourt, signal stations, there’s one at Ogolaha now, there was nothing before, and those who did the contract to dredge and all these things who did not do it, she faced them. We wouldn’t have known some people have taken so much money. The imbroglio with INTELS, you saw the way she tackled it, even though powerful people were behind it. To me, I believe she performed in the last four years. Whether the government is just able to remove her or not, the person who can hire can fire. In any case, they have not done that, they just want to investigate her. To me after the investigation, if she’s found wanting, then we can come here and discuss. So I will say not it is proper or not proper. I believe it is normal. Go on leave, let them check your books, then you resume, come and explain, a committee has been set up. So we should give her the benefit of doubt. But I believe they came on board with challenges and they are facing the challenges.