Dr Reuben Ovia is the Rector, Star Maritime Academy, Ota, Ogun State. In an interview with Yusuf Oluwaseun, he expressed his views on the Nigerian Seafarers’ Development Programme (NSDP, which he described as a waste of the nation’s resources. He is of the view that the financial resource used for foreign training can be used to develop the local training institutions to meet international standard. He also spoke on the need for a new national carrier and other burning issues in the maritime industry. Enjoy!
How important is human capacity building in the maritime industry?
The importance of human capital development in the maritime sector cannot be over- emphasized. I do tell people that there are nations that depend on their maritime sector alone for the growth their nation’s economy. They confidently depend on their maritime sector because they have been able to build their human capacity over the years. A very good example is Malaysia that uses their human capacity development to earn foreign exchange for the country.
So, if you are fortunate enough to be a maritime domain or God allocates you as a coastal state, which Nigeria enjoys, then we should therefore take advantage of that. But when you tell an average Nigerian to take a future in the maritime sector, he asks you what maritime is? This is because of the low awareness on capacity building in the sector.
Young people do ask what maritime is and I ask myself if there is no awareness to make people take up the opportunities available in the sector. There are a lot of youths who write the University Matriculation Exams (JAMB) to go to the university and other institutions and they are disappointed. They are however not aware of other options where they can have a reasonable means of living. When you compare the maritime sector with other sectors, it is more lucrative, but the awareness is not there to enable people to optimize the opportunities.
How can government address the problem of a lack of sea-time training for seafarers?
There is need for the reintroduction of the National Shipping Line that will be used to train seafarers on sea-time after their mandatory course.
After training a seafarer, there is need for the seafarers to have sea-time experience. The seafarers can only get that when the go on-board. The story has changed today because how many ships do we have? Even the indigenous private ship owners are seeking help from the government.
We need more government participation. When more vessels are acquired, that means more seafarers will be trained and engaged and that will lead to more improvement and capital development. But government has always held back, saying that because the first attempt failed. That doesn’t mean we should not try again.
Having a closer look, government should be able to set up if the private companies are making it. People should also be encouraged and it should be noted that there is need for more investment in the sector.
How can government make the national carrier work, not forgetting what happened to the defunct NNSL
The only thing government can do is to put something in place to forestall what happened to the defunct Nigeria National Shipping Line(NNSL) in order for us to explore the sea like other shipping lines are doing. Ghana today, has a huge national shipping line. What a shame that Nigeria does not have a national carrier. We might have made mistakes no doubt, but that does not stop us from doing another trial.
Not having a national carrier has several implications. If we have a national shipping line, we will acquire more wealth and the more wealth we acquire, the stronger our currency will be. We want our naira to have good value, so shipping will earn us foreign exchange. We should therefore, tap into in. Shipping is more lucrative than oil, so why are we not taping into it? Neighbouring West African countries like Benin Republic built and sustain their economy by their port and they are doing well. So, if they can live on only one port, why can’t we build our maritime sector with our several ports?
What is your viewpoint on the waiver clause in the Cabotage act?
I think the government got it wrong in the waiver clause because it has been abused by people. I believe that the government should amend that part because the reason for the Cabotage, is for the local industry to grow. There is no much differences between it and the Jones Act in the United State, so why is it working in the US and failed here?
The implementation is bad and they should do what is mandatory so that the act can be beneficial to everybody. If the Cabotage is implemented the way it should be, it will have a positive impact on the nation’s fortunes. It will mean getting more ships that can enable cadets work and get sea-time experience.
As rector of a maritime academy, what is your opinion of NIMASA NSDP programme?
The Nigerian seafarers development Programme (NSDP) is a waste of the nation’s resources because I believe that those advising the government are not doing it well. The meaning of the foreign training is that government has lost hope in the Federal Government Academy, Oron, Akwa Ibom. The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) should use the money spent on foreign training of seafarers to develop the school and the next generation will benefit from the infrastructure.
But rather than equip the Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron, the FG would rather decide on training students abroad and pay in foreign currency, which will affect our reserve. Such money can also be used to develop private maritime academies in Nigeria. For me, foreign training is a waste of our resources.
What distinguishes Star Maritime from other private maritime academies?
Our distinctive selling-point is discipline and the knowledge we impart on our students. This quality has made us outstanding and the industry stakeholders have also recognised it.
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