Mr. Raymond Teminsanren Omatseye was the Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) from July 2009 to December. He obtained a first degree in Law and a Masters in Law from the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, and London School of Economics (LSE), both in the United Kingdom.
Omatseye is the Chief Executive Officer of Polmaz Limited, a leading shipping company he started in 1993 “with N50, 000 and a dream”. Polmaz at present has an annual turnover of over N1billion.
As the nation’s maritime administrator, Omatseye supported and worked towards empowering Nigerian shipowners. He was also instrumental to the success of the maiden edition of the Nigeria Maritime Expo (NIMAREX) before leaving office.
A keen golfer who also enjoys reading and travelling, the former NIMASA chief executive in this interview with SHIPS & PORTS DAILY’s Yusuf Babalola, explains why he has offered to serve as President of the Nigerian Shipowners Association (NISA).
How do you intend to move NISA forward?
I intend to move the Nigerian Shipowners Association (NISA) to the next level because I am very passionate about its activities and also, shipping is not a business I stumbled into, it is a generational business, it is a business that was done by my father in the 60’s and 70’s, my life was patterned into it so I do have a good feel of the maritime industry from my younger days till I came up to maturity and also becoming a maritime administrator.
So I believe strongly that I will be in a position – based on my own understanding and background of the maritime industry – to be able to move NISA forward. There are a lot of issues facing Nigerian shipowners most especially as it relates to inability to get work. In as much as we have a Cabotage law in place, we still see foreign flagged ships operating on our waters.
I need to bring issues into perspective for the government to realise that their failure to use the Nigerian shipowners in lifting our mineral resources is to the detriment of the Nigerian economy in the sense that it does not allow cash retention in Nigeria because when you pay a foreign flagged vessel, it moves the money out of the country. Also, it affects the employment of Nigerians and also affect the ability to develop our human capacity.
If we don’t patronise Nigerian vessels, how are we going to bring our young seafarers onboard? Since the death of NNSL, Nigeria has not been able to have any shipping line that will help to move our cadets from MAN, Oron to get Certificates of Competency. This and few others are what I want to work on and also to assist NISA in finding solutions to lack of jobs for its ships because naturally, the problem of shipowners is the ability to get vessels and fund the vessels as well as getting contracts.
In addition to these problems, we are having the problem of manpower to crew vessels and also facing issues of security. These are the problems of indigenous shipowners and these issues has to be resolved. There need to be engagement between myself and the government to understand that we are not here to beg but to assist them to move the Nigerian economy forward.
How did you tackle these problems when you were in NIMASA?
You must understand that there are two perspectives to these problems because when you are in the private sector, it is very easy to talk but when you are in government, it is very difficult because there are procedures and guidelines that must be followed. I have always been a member of ISAN in those days even before I became the DG and we all struggled for the Cabotage Act. Also, when you move to government, you decide whether to become an ISAN member in government or you will be part of government and government has their rules and procedures and many times, it is very difficult because government in itself cannot be seen fighting against government. So NIMASA cannot wake up one day and start shouting at NNPC or cannot wake up one day and shut down the whole industry because it wants to implement Cabotage. So I now understand clearly the problems NIMASA faces. Now I understand what the administrator is facing and as a shipowner, I am able to go to NIMASA to tell them these are the ways to achieve these things without having to break the government bond.
There are processes. Government has taken the first step by passing the law, what we need now is to ensure that they enforce those laws and the way to make that happen is to assist them because sometimes you will be surprised that people do not know the processes of enforcing or engaging the law.
To solve all these problems, we will be putting position papers to government on how it should be done and we will tell them what needs to be done and how it should be done. I have been involved in maritime administration, have been in commercial and when it comes to shipping, I started from ground all the way to the top and I believe and can conveniently say that I am the one person who has been maritime administrator and is also involved actively in the industry before and after leaving office.
What is the relationship between you and NIMASA since you left office?
I don’t have problem with NIMASA. I have never had problems with them. My relationship with them is good and I just decided to stand back because two captains cannot sail a ship. I am standing back and when they need my assistance – as they sometimes do – I come in to put a word or two. I don’t have anything against anyone. NIMASA is my baby, the staff there are my children. The bottomline is that government is a continuum and I never thought of staying there forever. I will help them whenever my assistance is needed.
Out of the three candidates eyeing the NISA presidency, why do you think you are the best candidate?
Greg is a good guy so also is Capt. Labinjo. We have been on the battle field together and it is good that we all feel that we can do the job. It is a fair competition but I can only speak for myself. I am a committed person. When I go into something, I give my 110 per cent and I give my all and also ensure that things are done properly and right. I have an experience in the industry and also in operations. I come from the two backgrounds; I come from tanker and offshore. I was doing offshore before going to NIMASA. I was doing offshore supply, contracting procedures and others. Going into the tanker business, one needs to understand the two sides. I know what the offshore people are going through and what the tanker people are going through. What both parts are going through is different, so the bottomline is how to bring these two parties together because we have common problems.
I do understand squarely the issues and the terrain and I will bring my experience to bear. I have huge international connections and my relationship with the International Maritime Organisatio (IMO) is intact with major shipowners, builders and brokers around the world.
These are the things I will bring to the table. There is enough meat on the table for everyone to bite but the bottomline is that we need to get the opportunities because when an indigenous shipowner is able to own one or two vessels, he will be able to build on his fleets. We will look for local Cabotage to regional and continental Cabotage till we take part in the shipping business internationally.
There are rumours that government is sponsoring a candidate. Are you the NIMASA candidate?
No, NIMASA has refuted it at the last meeting and I want you to know that NISA is for business men and not for the government. We are a pressure group and this has to do with our lives, it is like forming a union. It has nothing to do with government. All we are here to do is to tell government what we want, the worst thing that will happen to us is to have a government spokesperson as our President, it is bad for government and for NISA.
We need someone that will engage the government. The best things is that we should engage the government intellectually. So having a government candidate does not work for NISA because the government does not help me neither do they help the other shipowners to buy their vessels. We have to borrow money from banks so why should they now tell me who I will put to lead me? So the issue of government does not come in and this is an issue of private sector.
As a matter of fact, I have been to Greece and it is the shipowners that determine who becomes the Minister of Transport or who goes to IMO. They tell the government what to do not the government asking them or imposing someone on them because they are the drivers of the economy and that is what we need to get shipowners to be in Nigeria; to be the drivers of the economy because after oil, it is shipping and without vessels, the oil cannot leave the shores of this country.
Shipowners are not participating in it and Nigeria is one of the most vibrant maritime nations. Why is it that one grain of rice, drop of oil or cubic of oil is not being carried on Nigerian flagged vessels? There is a disconnect between government and shipowners so we have to create a reconnect so that government can appreciate that we are here to help not to fight them.
Shipowners have been complaining about the waiver clause in the Cabotage Act. What do you think is the problem with the Act?
Regulations that were created for Cabotage were basically created to fail. You have something that have to do with money and NIMASA staff are not trained to determine credit worthiness or otherwise of any organisation. CBN that is the regulator for the financial sector has a role and procedure but how can you wake up to tell me because am putting so so amount of money into a fund – 50 per cent, 35 per cent from the bank and 15 per cent from me – but it is NIMASA that will tell the bank who to give the money to and if the person does not pay, everything will be on your head (the bank). Who will take that kind of risk? Of course it will fail.
We should also not forget that the CVFF (Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund) belongs to NISA members because we are the ones paying that money. It is our money but you sit down to determine who within us should take that money? You are only a custodian because the money is for NISA. It is their money. They are only giving it to you to keep for them because they do not want people to touch it. Naturally, a system must be created whereby NISA members can access that fund directly. I just thought that the regulation itself will make it fail, it was doomed to fail from the beginning.
Single hull vessels will soon be phased out and with 90 per cent of NISA members operating single haul vessels, how do you intend to solve the problem?
That is where I am coming. Solving the problems of single haul is one of the reasons why I believe I am the right man for this job because I already have a game plan. May be I should not let it out now because if I let it out now, it may be used. My plan is that whatever happens to NIMASA on the CVFF happens properly and we are able to do one or two things that we think we should do. I believe we should have a situation where we can naturally phase out the single hull whereby these guys will not lose any money. We have to be ready and I am ready. I know what to do. I know who to talk to and what to say. I know where the money is. No one pays 100 per cent on vessels. This is the strategy; I will use my international connections, people are ready, we only need to secure a contract, we can do it.
I am sure by the time we put the arithmetic and figures to the government, they will see what they are losing especially when it comes to subsidy as it relate to capital flight and what we are losing as it relates to employment generation, manpower development and environmental protection. By the time we do all these, government will realise their mistake, we will tell them what shipowners can do to clear Apapa because it is we the shipowners that can do it. No matter how many roads you build, it is only the shipowners that can solve the problems.
What are the solutions to the Apapa gridlock?
The solution is for government to implement real Cabotage. Every container that comes to Lagos may not all be cleared in Lagos, we can pick it up and take it to other ports free out Lagos ports. We can bring in the Cargo ships to Onne, Warri, Port Harcourt and trailers will move the cargoes from there.
Also, we will create storage facilities for products. The problem is that there is no seamless service. We can move some products to other locations so that we can free Lagos. We are not destabilising the economy of Lagos but to free the city. We can also bring empty containers by waters so that the roads can be freed. Once a container lands at the port, before you can move it again, it is a Cabotage cargo. Once a ship anchor from international sailing, that product becomes Cabotage cargo.