Engr. Greg Ogbeifun is the Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of Starzs Investments Group. He is a qualified Marine Engineer with a First Class (combined) certificate of competency and an Associate Member of the Institute of Marine Engineers (IME).
Ogbeifun is recognised as a Marine Surveyor by Lloyds Register of Shipping, London.
In 1980, he joined the Arab Maritime Petroleum Corporation, Kuwait and left in 1983; returning to Nigeria to join an international oil company as an engineer.
In 1986, Ogbeifun left paid employment to set up Starzs Investments Company Limited. The company’s activities include ownership, operation and maintenance of barges and tugs.
In this interview with SHIPS & PORTS DAILY’s Yusuf Babalola, the pioneer Chairman of the annual Nigeria Maritime Expo (NIMAREX), speaks on his aspiration to lead the Nigerian Shipowners Association (NISA).
Why are you in the race for NISA presidency?
I am in the race for the Presidency of Nigerian Shipowners Association (NISA) because the importance of shipowners association to the maritime industry cannot be overemphasized. Everything about the shipping industry revolves around the ship. Therefore, the shipowners association is critical to the economy of Nigeria.
Also, judging from my pedigree as a shipowner and my background, I know what the issues are and how to strengthen the association and take it to the next level but suffice it to say that one thing that is paramount is that there must be cooperation between NISA and some relevant government agencies to be able to help the maritime sector get to where it should be.
Another focus of my administration would be the welfare and development of shipowners’ businesses. The association should to a large extent be an advocacy group for their businesses. What are the challenges and what can the association do without being belligerent, and how to help members overcome their challenges. The dearth of marine professionals to man ships is another challenge every shipowner is facing and my administration, working with the executives will see how to help members overcome these challenges, but I will elaborate more during the manifesto day.
How do you intend to solve the many problems facing NISA?
Yes, there have been series of problems confronting NISA. I will be making a big mistake if I sit down here and say I know all the problems confronting the association. Therefore, I won’t say I know how to confront all the problems facing them. However, my strategy when elected will be to engage all respective component members of NISA which will include shipowners upstream, downstream and associate members to discuss all the issues facing them. It is not a solution that will be proffered by one person; it will be a collective responsibility that would involve the people concerned as well.
My strategy will be all-inclusive, everyone will talk, and we will listen to ourselves, know what the issues are and jointly work out the strategy that will bring about a desirable result for everyone of us in the association.
How do you intend to make sure the Ministry of Transport and NIMASA disburse the CVFF?
The strategy first of all would be to unravel the mystery behind the non-disbursement of the Cabotage Vessel Financing Funds (CVFF), though people have mentioned NIMASA and Ministry of Transport for the non-disbursement but I still don’t know why it has not been disbursed.
Also, I was invited to attend the House of Reps hearing on this issue and I do not think I can say this is what the problem is. The first thing to do when elected is to identify what the problems are because until we unravel where the problem is, it will be very difficult to address the problem. I will definitely engage the appropriate authority to get to the end of this issue.
We all hear all sorts of things being said all over the place about the CVFF but that will not be the information we want to work with. Rather, we should wait and work with realistic information after I have done proper and due diligence on the matter.
What is your opinion about NIMASA and its regulatory role?
I have been very loud and vocal about my views on NIMASA but I will say that Patrick Akpobolokemi, the DG is doing a good job.
For the first time, I see NIMASA has been positioned to tackle challenges and be able to live up to expectations. I will mention one principal thing he has done which was turning the place around and turn it into realising its objectives. He successfully brought in marine professionals to take up strategic positions to be able to drive policies as previously, NIMASA was populated by non-mariners and that put the agency in a quagmire.
There are rumours that the Federal Government through NIMASA is pushing forward a candidate for NISA presidency, are you the candidate?
I wish I was the government candidate. I have read it in the papers and I said to myself I wish the government will approach me to say they will want to field me as their candidate and if they did that I will gladly accept because the shipowners association cannot work in isolation from the government.
The government agencies are regulatory bodies and if there are issues that the association is not in agreement with as far as government agencies are concerned, the best thing to do is to embark on constructive engagement in a non-belligerent manner. I think this is very important. I know that the association in the past has employed various strategies to get redress on issues they are not happy about but the question now is; how successful have the strategies been and if they have not been successful I think it is time to use a different approach that would bring positive results.
I will be very glad to use the influence that I have in the private, public, local and international domain to move the association to an enviable and influential status in the industry; helping the association should be the watchword.
For instance, if I want to get something from you, it is easier to get it if I make you my friend than trying to get it from you by force. People have been talking about government candidate, I don’t know what they mean because if government can go out of their way to look for a candidate to sponsor, I think it is a very good development and I advise all the contestants to position themselves to be such candidate.
Depending on the way you report it, it may infer that I am the candidate the government is going to sponsor and if that should be the case, I think I should be congratulated because it means that there must be some characteristics that I possess that they see and will help the industry and I think that is what the shipowners association is desiring.
We should position ourselves strategically such that government will keep coming to us to seek opinions to do things that affect our industry. Nothing is wrong with that but I will want to say categorically that I am not aware as at this moment that the government is sponsoring any candidate and I am definitely not the person.
Do you think government sponsoring a candidate will be in the interest of shipowners?
The answer is no. However, it depends on what you mean as sponsorship because I don’t think the election we are embarking upon is the one that need tons of millions of naira to execute.
This is an election that I am sure will throw up credible candidates with honour, integrity and track records from their activities over time and I think all of us have track records. People knew where we are coming from, they have read a lot about us and thank God for the social media with that, you can go to the internet to download anything you want to know about anybody so it does not call for anyone to sponsor anyone in this matter.
Everyone that is aspiring has something to offer and that can be benchmarked against where we are all coming from or what we have done whether in the industry, businesses or in our lives so the issue of government sponsoring any candidate does not arise at all.
Coming from the tanker operation background, how do you intend to solve the problems of your members in the offshore business?
Well, let me tell you that there is a manifesto day coming up on the 23rd of this month and I have been careful not to put my manifesto on the table or in the public domain yet.
I can tell you that this is the only interview I am granting that I am letting out some of my strategies. Though, I have not put it all on the table and I don’t think I want to discuss my strategies on the pages of newspaper before the manifesto day and I will want you to understand that that is a good approach to take. Nevertheless, I was trained by Shell Tankers UK and that tells you that I know a lot about that industry.
I will have my manifesto presented on the manifesto day on how to address all the issues up to and including the downstream and upstream part of the shipping industry.
By 2015, single hull vessels will be phased out, how do you intend to keep your members in business as a result?
I already have an answer to that so when elected as the President of NISA, I will roll out my plans but right now, I want to keep that to my chest.
NISA started about 12 years ago without a secretariat it can call its own. When elected, where will NISA secretariat be?
I have an answer to that also which I will unravel on the manifesto day because it is a very good question. I can tell you that the day after my election as President, I will move the secretariat to a new location.
NISA constitution stated that to be a member of the association, you must own a vessel of 500grt. Do you own a 500grt vessel?
My vessels are in public domain and first of all, I am not aware of the requirement of a vessel of 500 tons. I am just hearing that from you for the first time and as far as I know some are saying 150 tons. But let me say this, if we must encourage indigenous participation in this industry, we must give room for the young to grow. You cannot grow a crop of Nigerian shipowners that will develop a fleet of that capacity if you don’t give them a chance to grow, this is a personal opinion.
To your question, I say my vessel VARADA QUEEN is more than 500 tons, MV OSAYAME IS 350 tons and I just came back from China where I bought a PSV that is about 3,000 tons, also I have just commenced the building of a 90-ton Bollard Pull tug of over 500 tons deadweight.
That is not the issue because there are people that are operating crew boats and have been doing great but they should be encouraged to grow to own and operate deep offshore boats because if they don’t, we will find ourselves in a situation whereby the foreigners will continue to dominate the top section of that sector of the industry and if this 500 tons requirement is in the constitution it is something that would be addressed in my own tenure as President to give young and upcoming shipowners opportunities to come into the Industry and grow.
What is your appraisal of the Nigerian maritime industry?
The maritime industry in Nigeria has been poor. For a nation that has such a vast maritime domain, for a nation that once had a national fleet that traded worldwide, for a nation that has one of the largest offshore in Africa, the maritime industry has not been adequately harnessed to support the Nigerian economy to provide the employment that abounds in that industry, that will mop up quite a lot of people that are unemployed or engaged in anti-socialbehaviour.
The residual marine professionals are now an ageing generation without any visible succession in the industry because the NNSL that was the main platform that produced Nigerian professionals of international standard is demised.
Right now the industry is in a bad shape and the government has to wake up to resuscitate the industry and I believe the government needs to work with the shipowners association if any meaningful result can be achieved.