Mrs. Ifeyinwa Anazonwu-Akerele

Nigerian ship owners need to put their house in order to get jobs from oil coys’

The indefatigable Director General of the Nigerian Chamber of Shipping, Mrs. Ifeyinwa Anazonwu-Akerele, is a no-nonsense but warm-hearted person.
Pragmatic and unassuming; Anazonwu-Akerele is not a pushover. She has carved her own niche in a male dominated industry. In this interview, she bares her mind on challenges confronting indigenous ship owners. 

The Nigerian Chamber of Shipping is involved in advocacy for the development of the shipping sector especially as it affects indigenous shipping. How will you evaluate the current development in the local shipping trade? 
Let me say that the awareness is better than before. We have been able to contribute a lot towards raising awareness in the sense of people coming to understand the indigenous role and indigenous ability to participate in shipping activities. Whether indigenous participants have reached their full potentials, of course, we are still lagging behind but these factors are because of financing. The industry is very capital-intensive.
But with government injections, I know the President is keen on growing the industry. He set up a Presidential Committee of which I am a member, and we put together all the challenges being faced by indigenous participants and try to proffer solutions. Although Rome was not built in a day, but I think the sector is a lot more aware now than let’s say 10 years ago.

Can you please identify some of the challenges that your committee wants government to address? 
The first step in the right direction was the retreat which the President had with us. It was held some months ago. And from that, there was a Committee to review the outcome of the maritime sector. It was a committee set up and chaired by the Minister of Transport and Vice-Chairman, Mr. Olisa Agbakoba. That committee has worked tirelessly to look at all areas. We have a sub- committee looking at security, cabotage and local content, fishery, education. I can’t start pointing out, everybody is aware that every area I mentioned has a problem.
Cabotage is the one you know was made to help indigenous people work within the waters. Has it been able to achieve its objective? Not how we want it to be as even the law has areas that have to be reviewed. So, one of the recommendations is that we should encourage the legislature. Thank God we have taken the right step in the right direction, they are reviewing that law and we have asked the President to lend his own weight towards that law being reviewed thoroughly because it has been five years down the line and all the mistakes are highlighted.
So it does not favour Nigerians because Nigeria cannot build vessels yet in Nigeria. So, we should look at transfer of ownership. The law did not transfer ownership. It tried to cut off completely without realising that knowledge has to be transferred. Many things in cabotage, local content is a little bit better because it is within an area where the international oil companies are comfortable with giving Nigerians a chance to work because they want to stay on in the country and continue doing their oil.
So, they are ready to concede certain areas of jobs to Nigerians. The only problem there is they want to have Nigerians so we need to build capacity; we need to encourage maritime education to be up to standard of international labour. So we need to partner international training establishments. We need to ensure that knowledgeable people are involved in policy making. There is quite a lot. I am happy the President has somebody advising him on the maritime sector.
This is the first time we have ever had that. So, at least, we are not relegated to one corner, because in the past Nigeria’s maritime sector was not regarded as an area of importance at all. It was dominated by foreigners, but this committee has shown that the President wants to bring income to the maritime and the maritime sector has the ability to bring a lot of income. And this committee, the paper we submitted to him, I believe he is going to look at it carefully and will implement as many suggestions as possible.

For a long time, Nigerians have been agitating to be part of the transportation of crude oil like their foreign counterparts. Even in areas of cabotage, it has not been so smooth because of the gang up against indigenous companies by some officials of NNPC and multinational oil companies. To what extent has your committee drawn the attention of the President to these issues as part of the steps to develop indigenous shipping capacity? 
That has been fully addressed. But we should not be sentimental and say gang up. What I observed and I try to be objective is that there are some Nigerians who were complaining before, if you go to them now, they will say they are happy with what happened because they went to their houses and put them in order. Some of the complaints you hear about… you are a professional journalist and if I come to you from the maritime sector, and say, I am a journalist, then I write something, there are areas, you look at and say, Madam, go back, this is journalistic language, this is how to address it.
And I insist and say, no, I am a Nigerian, so you must give me the job, I must write and you know that if I write it will not sell. I am using this as a simple example, but I am a strong advocate that Nigerians, please let us put our houses in order. I know quite a few members of the Chamber who are doing very well, because they took the pain. It is a lot of work to do to meet the best practices. None of these international companies will allow their standard to be brought down because they have to comply with giving Nigerians jobs. But at the same time, there is some kind of inverted coma… to use foreign vessels, this is what we pointed out to the President that the law, there must be an enablement to make sure that these vessels are arrested, are brought to book.
But if they want to operate, let them operate with Nigerians who have the potentials of learning and may be period of transfer of ownership so that is how I look at it. I don’t like saying gang up because there is a case where a Nigerian was given a job and he highly disappointed me because he did not meet up and he knew what to do. The thing is both ways, the foreigners take advantage of us, but if we are going to complain we must make sure we are ready to take the jobs up when they come.

When you talk of putting ‘houses in order’, what are your specific observations of what is wrong among local operators? 
Some shipping companies don’t have the right type of capacity. For example, somebody operating in the upstream is given a job and puts his relation as deck hands; he will not employ the right people with the right to work because it might cost him more. Those are the sort of things happening. That is just a simple example. You are told to get a proper certification. You go and get a mushroom certification. How do you expect the company that wants you to deliver to give you a job if you bring fake papers? So, these are the sort of things. They are our own problems.
We have to sort them out. But this present government is doing very well in the area of ensuring that Nigerians are given first choice of refusal. Nigerians are made to know, look, it is yours, don’t allow anyone to take it from you, but please let us back you, but while we are backing you, don’t go and embarrass us.

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