Engr. Olu Akinsoji

The demise of NNSL is unfortunate and wrong decision

Former Nigeria’s Alternate Permanent Representative to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and Director-General, Office of Government Inspector of Shipping (GIS), Engr. Olu Akinsoji, in this interview laments the liquidation of the Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL), saying that it was one decision wrongly taken by the federal government. Akinsoji, who was equally a former Administrator and Chief Executive of the Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN), Oron, Akwa- Ibom, took a swipe at those calling for the closure of the academy. Excerpts 

Let me congratulate you sir on this beautiful looking book and I know it is packed with substance as that of maritime transport. What compelled you to write this?
Well it’s like after the voyage, as a sailor that went through the ship for about fifteen years. It is a reflection of my experiences at sea that made me feel that other people should share this experience with me in respect of safety and dangers, the threats to lives and properties that we face everyday inevitably in the profession you have chosen. If you don’t share it with other people, you will die with it. So that kept on plundering in my mind before I get too much out of the system I should put something down that is technical, professional but the experience, how the threats to lives and properties suppress on global level and how ships evolved from accidents resulting in death of a lot of people and learning from investigation into making ships better for the benefit of the people. I thought that I should put things down.

You sailed for fifteen years, were you on board of any of the NNSL vessels? 
NNSL trained me. I was Chief Engineer on Nnamdi Azikiwe, I was Second Engineer on River Niger, I was Fourth Engineer on King Jaja, King Jaja was my first vessel after I got my second certificate, I was on Oronyan and I was training officers on board vessels, all cadets of Nigeria on one of the cadets training ships and I had twelve cadets under me that was when I left that particular assignment to go for further certification. When I got it I came back and was still in charge of cadets for six months before they left for school.

How do you feel that NNSL that you worked for that much time did not survive the Abacha era?
Let me say first thing that somebody writing about NNSL and the demise of it is an interesting thing and I am happy that I am here. I would have sent somebody to pick that book up, but I actually wanted to see you in person and to congratulate you. Everybody in our caliber have a book in them but only very few actually achieve writing and when you do not write a book about the experience people know about you are not actually fulfilled. So I want to congratulate you for the book. The demise of NNSL is unfortunate one of those decisions we have not taken correctly, even if you want to feel that NNSL was not profitable there were other reasons why NNSL existed and those reasons were not put into consideration. NNSL emerged because of capacity building at the initial stage not only to carry cargo because NPA was part of the existence of NNSL and almost fifty percent of the people that were trained in NNSL were NPA staff .When the academy was established it was NPA, National Line and Ministry of Transport all parastatals were together including inland waterways that was still in ministry then for capacity building so those people that time actually had good interest of developing Nigeria, sincere interest of developing Nigeria because it is only the people that will develop it. So NNSL had two vessels that were purposely built for training and when they were selling those vessels they sold those vessels as if they are all the same.

From our own finding, those who worked at NNSL also contributed to the downfall of the organization sometimes through their aviaries, greed…
You are right because I was Superintendent in NNSL and I was Superintendent in UK temporarily and I inspected vessels that were on voyage at the point of departure and we saw the kind of trading that was going on even among the staff and some crew were sent by people who matter in the offices and in government, so I know about all those things but these are minor and trivial issues that should be handled, it is not a national thing that will make you result into changing policy, these were administrative problems, administrative problems on a policy have to be handled administratively not changing the policy, it is not a civilized way of dealing with national issues, because people are abusing their offices you therefore say the office should be scrapped, it is not correct.

You were also at the helm of affairs at the Maritime Academy of Nigeria Oron and we heard another of your NNSL’s colleague Captain Omotosho called for the shutdown of that institution that it has failed to live up to its mandate. Is that not an indictment on those who have administered that place including yourself? 
No I do not think so, I think Captain Omotosho was being irrational, I think is one of those decisions that has been taken wrongly in the mind of people. I never imagined that Captain Omotosho will ever say a thing like that, that Nigeria should not have an institution. (cuts in) he didn’t say that we should not have an institution. He said we should close it down for now and then restructure it and maybe put it back up. That is turning the hand of the clock backward because the reason I was sent to the academy was because the ministry wanted to close the place down and reorganize it exactly what we are saying now and that was 1992 and I said in the meeting that it was not correct for us to, there is no country that has developed without training its people and there is no country that is a costal state that has not used the coastal advantage for its development, so if Nigeria is a coastal state which to develop, Nigeria must ensure that the capacity is built and the only institution that is built for the purpose of capacity building in the maritime industry in Nigeria is the academy, I don’t see a right thinking person to say that it should not exist even for one minute, it doesn’t make sense to me. As at now the problem we have generally is lack of capacity building despite the fact that we have academy for thirty two years and academy has been producing people, the few people you have in the industry now are product of the academy. Is it better not to have or to have few? Most of those who go to academy now say that they cannot even complete their training there, some have to end up in Ghana.
The reason is that we do not understand how to train in maritime industry, maritime industry is like medical training, you cannot train a medical doctor without a teaching hospital, you cannot train a seafarer without ships. The training of the academy is only a component of the link of training of a sea fearer.

So they need sea experience? 
Sea experience is a mandatory part of the training, so if you establish a school you must also establish a way of putting them on board ship to complement training.

To be Continued

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