“I have always said that the CVFF is a structure that will never work”
In this concluding part of this interview with our correspondents, a former DG of NIMASA; Mr Temisan Omatseye speaks out on some germane industry issues, including Cabotage, CVFF, National Fleet and a host of others
What’s your reaction to the allegation that most Nigerian Ships are out of class?
It is not because they are out of class. The problem we have is that if you give us the contract, we will buy the right vessel. The people there were able to buy the vessel, because they had the contract. If I am able to put a 5 or 10-year contract in place, I’ll be able to get my ship, or if the industry is able to say only Nigerian-flagged vessels can carry it and the banker is able to see the amount of product and see the projection of products coming in, they will give you the money to borrow. But what is happening here is that Nigerian ship owners don’t have that, so he is forced to go and buy a junk bucket. Foreign ship owners should reject it because it does not have a P&I cover.
Is it the ship that should come first or the cargo?
It is the cargo. The availability of the cargo is what actually allows you to go and buy ships. Business-wise, it is attractive because the cargoes are available. Look at Apapa, who knew about inland water transport for barging before, until the roads got blocked? That is the cargo that led to barging operations. So it is the cargo that draws the business. It is like the sugar pulling the ants. The cargo is the honey and then the vessel is the ants.
With all these infractions, will you say that the Cabotage Act is a failure?
The Cabotage Act has not worked.
Is it a failure?
That is a very difficult question, because I was part of the people that put this Act together. Your question comes in two points and it points a major finger at me. One, I am one of the people that fought for the Cabotage Act; and two, I have been on the seat. Yes, truly Cabotage has not achieved the goals that we want it to achieve. Then if you want to say that it is a failure then yes, it is a failure. But I believe that failure is not out of the strength of the Act, because since I left NIMASA I have had the opportunity to study and I saw that the Act is very strong. I think the problem we have though very difficult to say, is what they said about keeping things from a black man by putting them in a book. People have not settled down to actually read the Act. When you read the Act and understood what the Act says, and begin to put in place what the Act says you need to put in place, then it can succeed. The Act itself is good. There is nothing wrong with the law itself. The problem is actually in the people in place. I will give you one example. The law says any foreign-flagged vessel that operates in Nigeria must have been licensed. Please can you ask NIMASA, is there a procedure in place for the application of license for foreign vessels? The law also says that the license must be held by the Captain on board. These are all the mandatory requirements that have been missing. These are the things you need to learn. it is like when you read the bible, the more chapter you read, you get different revelations. The same thing applies to the Cabotage Act. There is supposed to be a license to trade for foreign-flagged vessels. If these processes are put in place, the Act itself is perfect. But let’s be sincere. Why will the Cabotage Act succeed? Is it made to succeed? I will give you an example. The first DG of NIMASA, Mfon Usoro used 8 months, Dosunmu used 2 years. He was not a shipping man he was a finance man, so we cannot blame him. I went in from the industry and used 18 months, then Patrick came in. He was not a maritime or shipping man. His focus was on security and NSDP. Dakuku came and did the same focusing on security. So how many experts in the industry have sat down to actually review the Act. That was why I was quite impressed when Dakuku was there and he set up that Stakeholders committee. By the time we submitted that report, we knew what we wanted to do. All the stakeholders in the industry were represented.
Is it true that most Nigerian seafarers are not suitable for employment because of Certification?
It is a difficult thing to answer. The issue is that we don’t have the institutions. We have two problems. One institution gives the certification that is internationally acceptable and I must commend Efedua for the excellent job he is doing at MAN Oron lately. He has transformed the place and has done an excellent job. When someone is doing well, you should commend him. Now they are now becoming an international institution. Hopefully, that will give the institution international recognition. I am hearing now that they are having challenges in the Regional Maritime Academy that they are not taking people because they don’t have space anymore. That is the one that is normally accepted as international certification. We saw this coming when I was DG. First of all, I must commend Dosunmu’s administration; he conceptualized the NSDP because he saw the dearth of officers and that they needed a programme which was later done by himself. I met that, they did not start it but we kick-started it. I sent the first set of students that went to NSDP to Alexandria in Egypt. The strategy then was that because we knew they were going to come back, we knew that we had to make sure Cabotage and our shipping work. This is because we knew we had to give them sea time. But then, that didn’t happen. We also knew that the issue of sending NSDP abroad was not sustainable financially which as at that time led to the setting up ‘chairs’ at certain universities. I personally went to Obafemi Awolowo University to set up some chairs which were to be called the Institute of Maritime Studies and the plan was to begin to send some lecturers from those universities and create a Professorial chair through the World Maritime University, train them and do a train-the-trainer programme and then they come back so that we can start having some maritime courses within the university. We also said we needed to expand maritime education which led to a ministerial committee which was chaired by the then DMS for the setting up of an additional Maritime Academy in the country. The plan was that these Maritime Academies will be a sub-set of MAN Oron. That was why they visited Badagry where we have put up a lot of structures there. They visited Koko where they have given them free land of almost 300 hectares. They also visited Lokoja and some other places. That report was submitted before I left office as DG and we were expecting actions on them. That was the whole point that ended up being the Maritime University as they call it, that was supposed to be a campus because there was only one Maritime University which is Oron. But now they have made another one. But then what they should have also done then was to expand the level of invitation by creating Institutes of Maritime studies. I learnt they created one in UNILAG. That was part of the concept of the whole thing. This was what it was supposed to be and to be improved upon. Like you said, the issue of certification is very key. We have a lot of simulators that they can use to learn, but shipping has a lot to do with practical. You have to be at sea. You have to face that water that throws you up and down, you vomit a little and you are okay. Shipping is practical. Whatever you learn with the simulator, you have to go to the sea to practice it. So I believe that they need a lot of that. You are right. We have a lot of good quartermasters. Many of them are not educated, but they can be moved up to captains. We have the crop of people. The challenge we have is that they don’t have the education. So we have to see how we can change them technically to certify them in a way that they understand, not the way the white men or Europeans are imposing on us. There are good people there, but they don’t have the education; but they have the practical skill. How can we certify these people who have practical skills?
Is the drive towards the national fleet realizable?
A national fleet is better than a national carrier. My proposition is this, and I will give you a bit of the historical aspect of it. The National Unity Line was a company that was given to Femi Otedola and when I was DG he said he didn’t get a benefit from it, so he wanted his money back. So we took the company as NIMASA. What is shocking to me now is that they cannot find the papers for that company. He took that company back and we gave it a National Carrier license. The aim was that the National Unity Line will not be a vessel-owning company. It will be a national carrier. Then all Nigerians who own vessels will be under the National Unity Line. The National Unity Line will be getting the cargoes from NNPC and the rest by the virtue of the requirements of the Cabotage Act and National carrier to carry 50 percent of the cargo and the likes. Then it will now begin to give all these Nigerian vessels, that is what will now form the National Fleet. For example, there is a company like STS Pan Ocean; a big company. They had over 400 vessels at that time. They had fleets, but in that fleet of over 400 vessels, STS only owns maybe 40 or 50. All the others are other people’s vessels which they are managing on their behalf. So you will see STS Pan Ocean on all the vessels, but they are not the owners of the vessels. Just like those vessels that you see NUL on them, but they are owned by somebody. I strongly support that.
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What’s your take on the disbursement of the controversial issue of the CVFF?
I have always said that the CVFF is a structure that will never work. This is because how much do you have? How many vessels can you buy? My own belief is that it is to use the money to get what you want. If I wanted to borrow money to acquire vessels right now and if the vessel is N100, the person who wants to borrow me the money will ask me to bring N15 equity contribution and then provide me N85 through their Exim bank, (for example). You are claiming now that you have 200 million dollars. What can 200 million dollars do? But your 200 million dollars can get you 1 billion dollars. This is because if you want to buy a vessel worth 1 billion, they will tell you to bring 200 million. Rather than using 200 million dollars to buy 5 or 6 vessels, you can use your 1 billion to buy a lot of vessels and bring it under a kind of arrangement which is like Wet Lease. Under that kind of system where you can bareboat charters through the ship owners and putting structures in place.
Do you support the plan of upgrading MAN Oron to a University?
Oh yes, I think it is a good move. In my opinion, it gives it room for expansion to begin to bring in additional courses. You know that when a lot of our crew and captains have got their first degree and they will like to go for their Masters and others. That is what actually allows them to move on. If MAN Oron can provide these courses, it will actually help, because many of them go back for re-education and some courses handled by the university. You will find out that many of the Captains are well-read. So I do support that, doing that in a university environment which is Maritime Academy will grant international recognition. I am happy that they are bringing in a lot of international teachers to coach them. Once that happens, a lot of people will start sending their people in. My prayer is that they should get a training vessel that can allow them to get their CoC rather than relying on 3rd parties. So that anyone coming out from there can get their certification and once they get their certification, they can get any job anywhere in the world. That is the major thing foreign exchange earner for this country. We have the manpower to do it. The beauty of Nigeria is not just oil or gas. Our manpower and human capacity are what can actually help us out of whatever situation we find ourselves in.
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