National Shipping Line as a drain pipe


Edmund Burke, a political scientist, once said that “weaklings do not write history nor do the timid ordinarily point towards progress.” The meaning of this adage may be deeper than many may have tried to imagine. Over the years, Nigerian politicians have been perceived as self-seekers and architects of misrule. The military either did not pass this test because of its predilection to dictatorship. The sum total of this is that the country with all its flora and fauna have been dragged many years back ‘even to the dark ages’ by the so called leaders who take so much pleasure in acquiring endless wealth than ensuring the comfort of the people.
As a way of expressing their bitterness towards such misrule, some Nigerians suggested that some of those past rulers should be gathered and put in the zoo for people to go and watch the faces of greed, wickedness and ingratitude. For science students, they believe it will provide great experiment to find out whether it is blood that runs in such veins. The reason for such argument is built on the premise that if blood flows in such veins, then how come they did not have any milk of human kindness even as they see the citizens wallow in abject poverty while they lived large, junketing with women, and siphoning money for their great grandchildren.
Experience they say is the best teacher. Nigerians have repeatedly seen their leaders come up with projects which cost so much. What happens at the end of the day? Such projects are hardly finished but were created in the first place as an opportunity to siphon money. Funds are voted, money released from the national treasury, then suddenly the contractor does little or no job and disappears. Later you discover that the money was shared between the contractor and some government officials. The next government comes in place, makes little noise about the earlier contract, cancels it and then starts is own. Nobody is jailed, nobody is arrested. An angry citizen not knowing what to say recently just sighed  “na dem dem” meaning they are all working together.
This may have informed the reason why the news by the Minister for Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, of government’s plan to set up a national shipping line was received with mixed feelings. While many stakeholders believe this is a laudable project, judging from the fact that the nation, despite its size and position has been lacking in this area, there are   sceptics who do not think the government is well meaning and the number is growing by the day.
Such sceptics reason that the APC government is merely flying a kite and it may just turn out to be another avenue for the boys to settle themselves. Time will definitely cancel or justify this argument.
The issue about resuscitating the national shipping line (NNSL) came on the front burner when Amaechi said that the Federal Government is working on its establishment to ensure the maximum exploitation of the potential of the maritime industry.
At the 14th Maritime Seminar for Judges organised by the Nigerian Shippers’ Council in collaboration with the National Judicial Institute, he said, “the present administration is looking into ways of encouraging the establishment of a national shipping line to ensure the maximum exploitation of the potential of our maritime sector.”
To emphasise the urgency and seriousness towards the project, the Minister set up a Committee to look into the workability of the project and come up with modalities.
Just this month, following deadline given by the Minister in April, Amaechi received the report of the Committee. After presentation of the report from the Chairman of the committee, Mr. Olu Akinsoji, in Abuja, the minister immediately constituted an implementation Committee to be headed by the Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Mr. Hassan Bello.
Not everybody agrees with the Minister on this project, but he also stands to prove sceptics wrong. Reacting to the proposed national carrier former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, pooh poohed the idea.
Obasanjo, at a two-day stakeholders’ conference on the maritime industry in Lagos, blamed the demise of NNSL on the lack of professionalism and high level corruption at the time.
He said: “NNSL had been liquidated, they tried Nigeria Unity Line, and it collapsed.
“Nine brand new ships were specially built for Nigeria and we did not take delivery of some of them until I left office in 1979. When I came back in 1999, NNSL had been liquidated with all 19 ships and the five already in existence gone. Two of the ships were missing for almost two years and it was discovered that one military man was using them all over the world without accountability.”
Obasanjo advised the present administration to ‘think out of the box’ and come up with what should be done to grow the maritime industry.
Experts believe that “Obasanjo and other stakeholders’ fears may not be out of place given what happened to the NNSL in the past.”
NNSL was established by the Nigerian government in 1959. Notwithstanding the heavy investment and subsidies, the company was unable to compete with European lines. Much of the investment went into enriching the political elite and the highly indebted NNSL became insolvent and all of its vessels sold off.
Time will definitely tell who is right, whether the Minister or sceptics.



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