Mr. Leke Olugbenga Oyewole

Maritime sector generates the most money in this country’

Senior Special Assistant to the President on Maritime Services, Mr. Leke Olugbenga Oyewole, has a hands-on approach to executing his brief. Amiable and down-to-earth, Oyewole readily took time off for a snap interview with Ships & Ports’ Obiajulu Agu on the sidelines of the flag-off in the twilight of last December of the evacuation of overtime cargoes from the Lagos ports to the Ikorodu Lighter Terminal (ILT) by the Presidential Monitoring Committee on Ports Reforms of which he is a member.

Considering the critical position and needs of the maritime sector, analysts have described the N56 billion allocated to transport in the 2012 Federal Budget as paltry. What is your take on this?
No, don’t forget that the sector generates money. Apart from oil and probably telecommunications, maritime sector generates the most money in this country. You don’t forget also that about eighty per cent of the economy is carried on the water. Forget about the oil now, which is the main thing, the manufacturers’ requirements, other goods coming into the country, and everything all come through the sea. It is enormous. We have to ensure that we get more money, much more money than we are getting now to properly take care of the inlets, so that more of them can be captured.

Nigeria has for years been talking about inter-modal transport system, but the railway system has been ailing for years, and it has been said that even the whole amount which has been voted to transport in the 2012 Federal Budget will barely cater for salaries of workers of the Nigerian Railway Corporation(NRC) the Federal Ministry of Transport. What is your take on this?
Now railway, it is not high yielding like the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) under the maritime sector. The railway, as it is now … I do not subscribe to the group that beliefs that the sector is only funding and funding and no money comes from there. If it is properly managed, a lot of money can come from there.
If we build a well-managed railway sector with modern light rails, where Akure to Lagos can come under one hour, that means, instead of looking for accommodation at high prices in Lagos, you can live in Akure, you can live in Ilorin, you can live in Ibadan, you can live even in Ogun State and you work in Lagos. So, if that sector develops to that stage it could bring so much money. Also it will require lesser funding by the government, because it will transport a lot of people. But be that as it may, money allocated to the sector, as it is now, let them start from somewhere and we will begin to see how it goes on.

What is your overview of the maritime industry in 2011? 
Yes, it is a foundation year, that is the way I will describe it. It is a foundation year. We started from some areas. We started from the piracy, ensuring there is peace on the water. From there we can step up to addressing the freight, the high freight charges and all that, ensuring that we get more comfort to importers, and from there we begin to address others. We address the downstream sector, we address the upstream sector in their various contexts. I can also tell you that we have taken care of all that this year (2011). Next year (2011), we will begin to not only sustain the compliance reforms that we have started, we will also be able to now be boastful of money we have made in addition to the existing areas. Targets given to the various agencies, the targets to me are just “well go and start with this.” I expect all of them to surpass that, because I know where they can surpass it and we are tightening the nuts in all those areas.

What are your projections for the industry in 2012?
For the industry, by next year (2012), I will be very happy if the President in the next year budget will now say that a substantial part of 2013 can funded from the sector, because we would have gotten enough money from the next year.

Government has often been criticised as not putting enough money in shipping development, and the maritime industry generally. How do you think government can remove itself from this criticism? 
Government already started removing itself from the criticisms. This is the very first time in the history of this country for the government to appoint a Senior Special Assistant to the President on Maritime Services. It is the very first time, also, that we begin to address issues in the maritime sector headlong. It is not that piracy started yesterday, it has always been there. It is not as if the issue of port reforms is just starting, and past administrations have not attempted. But this time around, not that are attempting, we are confronting these challenges and making the solutions sustainable. And for everything we do, we ensure sustainability and that will be irreversible. By the time the President leaves, he can be very proud of the maritime sector he has left behind.

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