Mr. Aminu Umar, the immediate past President of the Nigeria Indigenous Ship Owners Association (NISA), in this interview with Oluyinka Onigbinde speaks on the recent moves by NIMASA to shift the terms of crude lifting from CIF to FOB. He also says that NSDP Cadets are not employable as MAN Oron graduated and other sundry issues.
“Our major strategy is to survive and to be able to cross 2020”
What’s your assessment of maritime industry so far this year?
2020 has been a very challenging year, not just for the maritime industry, but for all the business sectors, it has been a roller coaster, it has been an up and down situation depending on the months. So, 2020 cannot be used as a yardstick to measure any performance due to the global pandemic, but one thing that has come out of this is that it shows how vital shipping and maritime sector is to the survival of the economy.
If you notice, shipping and maritime is among the only sector that has been allowed to continue goods movement when the whole businesses have been shut down, the movement of goods has been very vital to the survival of people. So it shows how vital and how important it is.
Really, we can say it has proven its position as to how vital it is standing side by side with the health and any other sector.
In terms of performance or freight movement, it has been a challenging one for all ship owners; particularly with the fact that some have witnessed serious drop in freight rate, some have witnessed serious drop in movement of goods, due to the pandemic, consumption became very low for some of these goods. So, up till this moment, it is going through that, so we hope before the end of this year, we will start seeing activities coming up globally.
How have ship owners been coping with the Pandemic?
Just like any other business, there have been cost-cutting strategies that we are taking, we have been able to see how to manage within the shortfall in the freight and level of activities, many have looked at different strategies to cut cost, so our major strategy is to survive and to be able to cross 2020 with a little bit of performance and to make some profit out of it; if possible and if not at least to break even, so this is what most of the ship owners have restrategised to go through this 2020.
What’s the position of NISA on the move by NIMASA to shift the terms of lifting Nigerian crude oil from FOB to CIF?
I cannot talk on behalf of NISA today, but I will talk as a ship owner. I think the move which I have read on the pages of the newspapers which the DG has said is a great move, you will know that NISA and all the associations in the sector have always been canvassing and promoting that, because this will change the dynamics of trade; whereby the shipping activities will now start from here, that will open up a lot of investment in shipping and if there is a lot of investment, it means there will be a lot of jobs creation and economic development and there will be a lot of revenue which the government will be able to utilize when this changes.
We have been a driving force in making sure that the terms change, so we are in full support of NIMASA as a ship owner and as a past president of NISA, we have always been advocating for this, so we salute the DG of NIMASA for taking up this position, and we are strongly behind him to see that this is changed, because Nigeria has been losing a lot because of this trade policy, this thing has always been there.
The NNPC with NLNG have been practicing the CIF and we have seen the achievements, we have seen what NLNG have been able to achieve since inception, why can’t we repeat the same in the crude sales, because if we do that, it will give us more power and economic development; not only to the nation but to NNPC itself, because they will start making a lot of money not only from sale, but from freight as well. So it is a laudable development and with the way it is going, I hope that NNPC’s present management will look into that.
But do you think ship owners will be able to cope when this start?
Based on what I have read in the newspapers, there is minimum of about 20 to 100 vessels of crude that load every month, and within this range, we are not saying that if this thing changes today, Nigeria ship owners will wake up and own all the 80 to 100 vessels that will be loading; no, but Nigeria ship owners will have the opportunity to have a joint venture, we will have the opportunity to go and partner with other big ship owners and they will be able to do transfer of technology, transfer of capacity and transfer of knowledge. And then, we believe that there is a set target; if they say in the next five years we want to see that Nigeria ship owners are the ones that load 30%, that will be something, today Nigeria NLG which is owned by the biggest oil conglomerate in the world plus NNPC have only transport of their own fleet of about 60%, so if those big companies with NNPC which is owned by Nigerian government can only transport 60% the rest of the 40%, they engage other international owners to do it for them. But we believe too that if you say that we should start, we can start with 5% to 10% and it will grow like that.
What’s the quantum of ships owned by Nigerians?
I cannot tell you off-hand how many in number, but I can tell you that it has been growing, the number of ships owned by Nigerians over the past 10 years have been growing, today we have more Nigerians that owns ships as compared to the last 15 to 20 years ago, which means it is growing even without the trade policy been changed. So it tells you that Nigerians are able to survive even when the situation and the environment is very hard we are still growing the business, so I am sure that if the government policy changes, to grow it will make it better, then you see instead of 5% growth per annum we will now start seeing 10% growth every year and that is what the government or anybody will like to see, because it increases the number of Nigerians to be employed and increases the number of many indirect jobs that will come because of change in policy.
Why is it that Nigerian ship owners don’t participate in the NSDP of NIMASA?
We are participating, I can tell you that many Nigeria ships have cadets or seafarers onboard; some have trained about 1000 people, but there are limited number of ships that can train seafarers particularly under the NSDP, but the NSDP is not only about the availability of ships, remember in Nigeria we have MAN Oron that graduates seafarers, we have the Institute of Oceanography and other one or two institute doing it. So many of them are put to test, they undergo interviews and it is possible the NSDP cadets do not make it when you interview and we have seen that in terms of ranking, MAN Oron does better than the NSDP cadets that are even trained outside the country and we have seen that the standard of cadets from MAN Oron is higher than the NSDP Cadets trained outside the country. So as far as many ship owners are concerned, they go for who is the best and not whether he is in this programme or that programme and you will see that we employ many Nigerians, possibly the NSDP cadets don't make it in terms of selection process.
But this MAN Oron you are talking about, don’t even have equipment like simulators to train these cadets?
Yes, I agree with you, but now we have been told they have a simulator and it’s been installed, we have seen the achievement of the present rector, the man did very well and with the support of the Hon. Minister of Transportation he has been able to develop this school to what it is today. However I will still maintain that the graduates of MAN Oron have always shown that they are better in terms of standards, discipline and willingness to work, so this put them in a better position to be selected than the NSDP cadets, who went for training outside the country, because seafarers training it’s not only academics , we also have the onboard training and we also have the issues of discipline, so it’s not just about passing exams, it’s about attitude and behavior to be able to be a discipline person when onboard, because this is a person that will handle equipment that are time bound, so if you are not disciplined and you don’t have the right attitude, it is impossible for you to be able to do the work, so whenever a company is conducting the interview, they not only check the academic qualifications, they also check discipline and attitude to work.