NIMASA lost focus, destroyed indigenous shipping companies, says Iheanacho

Capt. Emmanuel Iheanacho is a Master Mariner turned politician. He served as Nigeria’s Honourable Minister of Interior from April 2010 to May 2011. He is one of the founding fathers of the Indigenous Shipowners Association of Nigeria (ISAN) now Nigeria Shipowners’ Association (NISA).

Iheanacho speaks exclusively to SHIPS & PORTS DAILY in his first interview since he returned to the maritime industry after contesting the Imo State gubernatorial election on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).

In his characteristic frank and down-to-earth manner, the Chairman of Genesis Worldwide Shipping and Integrated Oil and Gas Limited speaks on NIMASA, NISA and several other issues concerning the maritime sector.

Excerpts:

 

You have practically been taken away from the industry by some other pre-occupations. Why did you decide to distance yourself from the maritime industry?

To be honest, I did not distance myself from the industry. It is impossible for that to happen because the maritime industry is my life, it is the very first industry that I worked and spent a lot of time developing ideas so it is not possible for someone like me to walk away from the industry.

What happened was that I ventured into politics for a while and I spent a bit of time out there and of course everyone knew how the whole thing went and I am back again and I am doing a quite number of things that I am not making lot of noise about. So I am back fully in the industry.

 

What was your political experience like?

I was the governorship candidate of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) party in Imo State in the last election. We worked very hard to develop a programme for our people, how we can create a better life for our people, how the people can be less dependent on government, how we can generate actual value, economic value through investment in manufacturing, how we can indeed create better lives for our youths especially create jobs. We did everything very well. We did it by the book but when the contest itself was done, it left a lot to be desired. There really wasn’t a contest and we got the result but that was not what our people voted.

 

So were you disappointed?

Yes, I was disappointed in a way because we really toiled night and day. We dug into why our people were backward in the midst of so much affluence and wealth, how benefit can be transferred to the people who needed it most and in that sense I was disappointed that I was unable to do it. If you go to Owerri now, you see people screaming and shouting. There are a lot of problems because people are not being paid salaries and there is really no hope for lot of graduates who emerged from higher institution, no jobs at hand but unfortunately, we will not be able to do that for our people in the next three and half years.

 

Are you setting your eyes on 2019?

No, I don’t have a static vision. I am not really going to be looking at specifically whether I am going to be a governor or vie for any particular office. When that time comes we will advise ourselves in accordance with the situation at hand and I think for the next three years, I will be spending lot of time rebuilding my business and also doing what I know how to do best which is creating value in the maritime industry.

 

What is your impression about the maritime industry now that you have put the general election behind you?

The maritime industry has been static for a number of years. We have not made any progress at all and central to that lack of progress is the disappointment that operators had in regards to the authority that was supposed to midwife the growth and development in the industry.

Unfortunately, a few years ago we warned that there was a drift in terms of the focus of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), in terms of what they should be doing. We felt that NIMASA really ought to be concentrating on regulating the technical aspect of shipping – safety – but we were alarmed at some point in time when a law was conceived which allowed the focus of NIMASA to dissipate at that time. It was no longer a technical regulatory agency for shipping and safety but became all kinds of things to all kinds of people because some times, we see that organization signing MOU’s with military organistions, universities and all kind of things that were never contemplated in the beginning. So from being an organization that was supposed to midwife the growth of indigenous capacity, it became one that absolutely sounded the death knell for most of our indigenous operators because NIMASA concentrated its effort solely on collection of levy and it became a money-making organization. But that was not the intention and that was not the reason it was created.

All of these have to change if the full potentials of the maritime industry are to be realized.

The law has to be revisited and the focus of the subject must be changed. NIMASA must be able to recast itself and move away from seeing itself as if it was the Customs or other revenue generating agencies. NIMASA was never intended to be any of the revenue agencies because sometimes one wondered that all the money that were collected – three percent levy, SASBF, Cabotage levy, sea protection levy and others – what have they done with it? Are we really aware that anyone has ever accessed any of these funds? Are there any additions in terms of tonnages?

This is the industry that adds value to the oil that produces all the wealth that we enjoy. Without the addition of sea transport to the oil that is produced, the value of that oil is zero.

 

Is the National Maritime Authority (NMA) of old your ideal regulatory body?

The NMA of old was a good organization. We really have to backtrack to the period before the passage of the NIMASA law, bring it out and involve industry stakeholders in debating and articulating the merit and the provisions in that law. We need to see a reduction in all of these levies that people have to pay because a lot of them are really not necessary at all but remember that in business, any levy that was paid is passed to the end consumers of the goods. We can’t fool ourselves and think we will pay level and no one will feel the brunt of those payments.

 

Are you asking for the unbundling of NIMASA?

 

It has to be unbundled. I read a comment that was made in the write-up by May Mbu. NIMASA has to be unbundled because the bundling itself was a mistake and when the bundling came, we said NIMASA couldn’t be the master of itself in the maritime industry. NIMASA was the technical regulator in terms of regulating SOLAS provisions, it would be a technical regulator in terms of ISPS Code provision and it would even like to do the job of a policeman even when it has no power to arrest and prosecute people. All these things have to change. They have to focus in a very sensible way on things that will help our economy grow.

 

How would you rate the tenure of the immediate past DG of NIMASA, Patrick Akpobolokemi?

All I can say is that I can only paraphrase the comment of May Mbu in her article. We need proper professionals there, people who know the history of the industry, people who understand how the industry works. We need to depoliticize how people are appointed to NIMASA. There should be a requirement that we appoint only core professionals who should work closely with stakeholders in the industry to develop the right environment of which the industry can grow and prosper. That is what we need, we don’t need a NIMASA with a policeman and a club that threatens to break everybody’s head. We don’t need that.

 

If you are returned to the Federal Executive Council and assigned the Transport Ministry, apart from unbundling NIMASA, what areas will you want the agency to focus on?

But you understand that the transport industry goes beyond the maritime industry but my priorities will be to grow indigenous capacity in shipping, to look at the structure of Nigeria’s trade and to grow a fleet of ships that will reflect that structure.

There are times in the past that we concentrated on one type of ship, which was tanker vessels, but now, that is not what we will do. If we want to be a proper maritime nation, we should be able to operate ships across board. What does our trade entail? It entails the use of general cargo vessels, RORO vessels, tanker vessels and specialized vessels so we need to draw up a programme that looks at the volumes that travels in trade on an annual basis and be able to develop a fleet, manned and owned predominantly by Nigerians that can participate meaningfully in these trade. We really need to do that, we need to pay attention to the requirements that will safeguard the integrity of the environment and ensure that vessels that trade on our waters conform to the requirement of safe marine operations.

We need to bring that back the office of the Government Inspection of Shipping (GIS).

GIS are technically trained people who go on board ships to check safety standards and stuff like that but all of this business of running around – signing MOU with Air Force and the likes – sometimes we wonder if the intention is to bomb shipping. All these are really unnecessary. The important thing is that we want to have safety on our waters, and we have to do it in a sensible manner.

 

What happened to your company, Genesis Worldwide Shipping? It used to be the flagship of Nigeria’s participation in shipping.

Well our fleet was rundown and the last vessels that we own, we had to sell when our vessel was invaded and occupied for about thirteen days. We did not understand why that happened at that time and not only was our vessel invaded but our facilities ashore were also invaded and we really had to close shop for the time being, though we used to be the market leader. We were a national carrier at that time.

We talked about the old NMA; that was when they recognized who we were. They recognised what merit was and rolled out a programme of development that everyone has access to. Then, I was taking cadets on board. I started with a fleet of one very old ship and of course had about seven ships training people and then of course when the new masters arrived, we were made to understand in very clear terms what we could do and could not do so we decided to play safe.

 

Was it the same fate that fell over other Nigerian shipping companies?

Well, I don’t really know but I know what makes most of them go under was that no one was paying attention to them. The organization that was supposed to midwife the conception of indigenous initiative in shipownership absolutely was not there. There is nobody berthing for them, we saw people interested in arresting and detaining ships and collecting revenue, than growing the size of the fleet.

 

You are part of those who supported Cabotage. It is 12 years already since the law was enacted but it doesn’t seem to be working.

It is a shame. The concept of Cabotage was actually so simple. Cabotage is trade between Nigerian ports. Cabotage does not involve vessels coming from international destinations and dropping cargoes within Nigeria ports but Cabotage means simply dropping cargo from one Nigerian port to the other and in most maritime jurisdictions worldwide, those trades were specifically reserved for the ship owners of that country.

That was what we wanted to do because we are aware that we have a lot of cargo movement along our coasts mostly oil and of course we wanted specialized vessels upstream. There were a lot of vessels required to serve the offshore industry and we thought the business really ought to be reserved for Nigerians but the issues of waivers – and to tell you what is happening now, the Nigeria tanker business is dominated by Indians and Greek companies with one or two Nigerian companies struggling to get their head above water – that was not what we intended. We intended to have ships owned by Nigerians and manned by Nigerians.

 

What is your recommendation on how to make Cabotage work?

To make Cabotage work, we need to have someone in NIMASA who knows the history of Cabotage. We need somebody who is sufficiently patriotic to know that even though there would be temptation from those who want to receive waivers, he must make an effort to make sure that Nigerians have first call on this businesses and if there is money set aside for developing Nigeria’s shipping, there must be a definite measure to ensure that those who can use it in a meaningful way have access to it. Otherwise you ask yourself about the Ship Acquisition and Ship Building Fund (SASBF), the three percent levy and the Cabotage development funds that they have collected and are still collecting. We need to ask how much was collected over so many years and what have been done to it. You remember that I started ship ownership from two and a half million dollars I borrowed. Small as it was, we are grateful that the administration at such a time operated in such a way that everyone across board who had the capacity to operate could have access to that money.

 

Are you optimistic that things will change under the new government of President Buhari?

I am optimistic things will change under the current administration but it is difficult to put a time frame. I believe once a new Minister is in place and once we have a forum for exchanging ideas, we will begin to see definite changes.

 

NIMASA have been building schools, Shipyards and the rest, do you support this?

They have become jack of all trade, master of nothing. This is a model I am not familiar with. One single agency has responsibilities for building shipyards, training Navy people and giving money to universities. It is a model I cannot relate specifically to the required development of the maritime industry.

 

The President through the NNPC recently banned 113 vessels from Nigeria’s crude oil trade. How do you view this action?

To be honest, if it is indeed true that they are shortchanging the government and the nation by taking crude and underreporting it, then they really need to be interdicted. If that is really what happened, then I will think that the country was even very lenient because what they should have done was to report them to the International Maritime Bureau. That is what to do because when vessels are involved in that type of business, they report to IMB to say ‘look at what has happened and look at the evidence that we have’ and the IMB will take action. If they have stolen our crude and the evidence abound, then they should have gone a little bit further by reporting them to IMB and I think more stiffer sanctions will be placed on the vessels and their owners.

 

You are one of the founding fathers of the Nigerian Shipowners Association (NISA). Are you happy with the turn of events in the association?

They should stop fighting. I promised to get involved in the matter by calling a meeting of the different factions and appeal to them by asking them to put their resources together. That is the only way the government will take us seriously.

If we are constantly talking to government and we are telling them how important it is that they patronise us by providing funds for us to buy ships, the same government will not be happy that we are fighting among ourselves over very small issues.

I have heard from both sides and I don’t think the problem is insurmountable. NISA should work together as an association because after all, they all have a common problem.

 

Other associations are also emerging like SOAN headed by Engr. Greg Ogbeifun and African Shipowners Association headed by Mr. Temisan Omatseye. Do you think you’ll be able to bring everyone together under the same umbrella again?

It does not pay for us to be fragmented because what we will do is to sow confusion in the mind of the government as to who is really the authentic spokesperson for Nigerian ship owners. One thing that I noticed while talking about all of these is that at a time, they were all members of ISAN (now NISA) so it is possible to end the crisis if a neutral person they all respect comes in to mediate.

Everybody involved will sink their differences and continue to work under one umbrella but the bottom line is that no one will take them serious if they break up into small fragments.

By the grace of God, I will convene a meeting to trash out all the grey areas and we will be appealing to all those who are not happy with the way things are that it is give and take and with this we can make it happen.

 

Apart from looking up to government and blaming NIMASA for not playing its roles, how about the operators themselves? What will be your advise to operators on how to structure their businesses so that they can stay afloat?

First and foremost, they should sink their differences and speak with one voice because there is need for people to know how these businesses are carried on. There is need for people to understand how to run the shipping business. The time has passed when people will just bring any ship and put it out there and expect that people will hire it.

 

You have this beautiful and vast office and Genesis Worldwide Shipping that brought you here has gone under. I know you also have Integrated Oil and Gas Limited but is that all you do now?

We have all our business units here – Genesis Worldwide Shipping, Integrated Oil and Gas, and an aviation company. We still have other businesses that we are doing here so we are quite busy.

 

Any plan to revive Genesis Worldwide Shipping?

Absolutely, we are going back to ship owning because that is what we do best.

 

I was here the day some gun-wielding soldiers stormed your office. What really happened?

I really wished I didn’t go with them that day because it would have been good if they killed me here. It is very clear in this country how things are done. If you are a policeman and you have a statutory right to arrest someone, there is a way it will be done. They are just armed men and I didn’t know how they got here but they came here to give excuses that they are looking for somebody who stole oil in tanks. I was very lucky that I was not killed that night but I thank God. They actually came here to abduct me and took me to that place where they have planned a lot of things against me. I found out that day but I still don’t understand who sent them or why it was necessary to do those things and what they have done was absolutely horrible but we are thankful to God because that is behind us and we are looking forward to a better and freer lives where we have the freedom that we enjoyed before. And we are free now.

 

You went to court over the matter. Is the case out of court?

Yes. It is still ongoing between us and the perpetrators.

 

You served as the Minister of Interior under former President Jonathan. What was your  experience like?

I never expected that I would be made the Minister of Interior because based on my professional experience and the industry I came from, there was all likelihood that I was going to head the Transport Ministry but when they called the Ministers on that day, they called someone for transport and I said my God, someone is going for Transport, where am I going to? I was told I was going to Interior and at that time, I didn’t know what the Interior Ministry was so after the meeting, I came out and I saw Immigration and Prison outside and they asked me to enter a car. I followed them and they took me to the Ministry.

I enjoyed working in the Ministry because I realized that they were supposed to be in charge of the nation’s internal security. I was very curious when I was made the Minister because I felt that the Minister of internal security should be in charge of the Police and Customs and all these other people who carried arms as it used to be but that was not what I saw. I faced a lot of challenges in terms of changes that were made so that those units that were under me would function well.

In the Prisons, we faced the problems of prison congestion, which was there all the time.  We received several letters and messages all about prison congestion and awaiting trial inmates because most of the people that are in prison today are not people who have been sentenced, they are people that are awaiting trial and the funds that were supposed to be used for building humane prisons are not going there so people lived in a very terrible condition.

Someone who is incarcerated in prison should not be made to face a death sentence even if they have been sentence.

Also, since we have a lot of very enthusiastic young Nigerians in the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC), they need to be focused and when I was there, there were ideas that I had which would reduce the problems of duplication of functions among the units. For instance, Civil Defense does disaster management and anti-terrorism. NEMA also did disaster management and also Fire Service. So I wanted to find a way to get the young elements from the Civil Defense and fuse them into the original objective of all of these people and form one service but all those were truncated when I could not continue in my post.

The Fire Service was a major challenge and I could never believe until I became the Honourable Minister that in the first year that I was a Minister, the Fire Service bought only one fire truck throughout the entire federation. In the next year, they bought only one Prado jeep throughout the federation.

We were looking at the challenges of funding and we didn’t want to fall back on government so we said we needed a private sector person that would give idea on how to finance the reforms and we found someone from America with articulated presentation but somehow during the political melee, we lost.

We know anytime there is a fire in this country, there has never been a time we can say the fire was successfully contained or manage. The situation we have is that the fire will burn until it kills someone or consume the entire building so we said if we have at least one fire service station in every local government, it would help in our firefighting efforts.

Let us take Imo state for instance, we have 27 local governments and there should be 27 fire stations so that whenever we have a fire, 27 fire stations have heard and they are coming. The same thing goes for every other state. There should be a very easy way of building those emergency stations and buying those equipment.

Money wasted on subsidy would have been used to get all these things done because subsidy was established to ensure that poor people have access to cheap transport but the truth is that the money never gets to poor people. The first person that enjoys subsidy is the one that drives his or her car to the filling station and that is not a poor man.

How many times have you seen a private car driver after buying a fuel, sees poor people and give them lift? How many times have you seen a bus owner, after buying cheap fuel says I am cutting your price? The subsidy is a very inefficient system. The sector should be deregulated and government will be able to stop the regime and use the money to build something like the fire station or infrastructure that will benefit the poor.



Copyright Ships & Ports Ltd. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit given to www.shipsandports.com.ng as the source.

..