In this interview, Acting Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Haruna Baba Jauro speaks on his activities since assumption of office on July 27, 2015.
What was the situation at NIMASA when you took over four months ago and what have you done to improve on the lot of the agency?
The problems we encountered when we came in was the post-election rumours of what NIMASA did, that we sponsored the hate-campaigns but in reality as an agency, we cannot do that but people had that at the back of their minds. Even before the elections, even when we discussed with people in authority, they referred to the agency as what one may refer to as being politically inclined. When the change came, we were moving on until the Director General was removed and the new government wanted to get the place stabilised.
One thing that was prevalent then was that the staff morale was really very low especially because of the way employments were made and because of the way transfers were made and the rest of it. The staff generally were not happy and were aggressive to things and that is why our staff decided to see how they could take care of issues by themselves. This also explains why they were talking to the press, photocopying documents and giving people all in the quest of seeing how the management can be reduced to nothing. That was before the change anyway.
So, when we came in, the first thing we set out to do was to build confidence in the staff. We did some postings and embarked upon the promotion that was not done for some years but we cannot promote everybody because of the positions that are available. We gave our mother ministry what it is supposed to approve. We also formed a committee to look at the employments and placements of staff. You may know that the civil service has a hierarchy. They have a way of saying that by this year, a staff should be at this particular point at a particular time. So, we wanted to do that so as to bring in some sanity and make the staff also happy.
The committee has finished their work and the staff are even happy that the process has even come. The report is with the ministry and we are waiting for it. There are those that have served NIMASA for long and have not received what we call Long Service Award. Since we came on board, there was agitation that the thing has always been in the budget and has never been paid, we paid these monies so that we could give the staff hope and assurance that their welfare is being catered for and to let them know that without them, the agency cannot go anywhere. And also to let them know that this current management cares about their morale being boosted. So far, that is what we have done in the area of staff.
In the area of projects, our hands were really tied because the budget of NIMASA was really skewed about 75 percent to one direction, and hence, the budget is tied down. When we came on, we could not do any project because every kobo had been tied to a project and such projects are geared towards the development of infrastructure and the rest. We also discovered that this notion of due process violations abound and we do not want to come in and start working on these projects knowing that there were these abuses. We also formed a committee and asked the ministry to give us experts so that they can evaluate what is on ground and see the due processes that we violated, see if the documentations are in order. They too have done their work, I think that they are writing the report and it may even be with the ministry. So far, that is what we have done to bring back the agency to its core mandate.
There were insinuations that you were in fact engaging in ethnic cleansing in the agency. What is the true picture?
It wasn’t a cleansing per say, it was just people trying to give it a name that is not. When we came in, we noticed that there were certain people that were not supposed to be in particular places; I mean positions and not the rank now. I tried to change the offices so that the people who were supposed to occupy them, could do so. We did not send anybody away. People are just afraid and when they saw that, they said I am doing ethnic cleansing, there is nothing ethnic about it. What we did was to put square pegs in square holes but maybe because they had those agitations and fears in them that something like that may likely take place because they know very well that where they are, they are not supposed to be. It may come anyway, if the report from our mother ministry returns eventually. The committee that worked on the placement, employment and promotions is a joint effort between our staff and those in the ministry, maybe when their report comes, some people may be affected but for now, nothing like that.
What are you doing to boost indigenous participation in the shipping sector?
When the Cabotage Law came into force, the main reason was to build indigenous capacity in terms of human capacity, the vessels, and others. What the law provides is that in Nigerian waters, the ship to come should be built in Nigeria, the crew manning it should be Nigerians and even the cargo should be to Nigeria. We have the cargo because we export and import but we do not have the human capacity and that is why we are embarking on seafarers’ development, a programme that has been there. Well, those of us in the north could not properly key into it because maybe we did not understand it very well but we have embarked on it and we have well over 2000 youths being trained outside. Some have finished and come back, now waiting for sea time training, others are coming in, subsequently 180 will soon be back and they will also be made to undergo the sea time training.
We have also started to build maritime institutes, in our universities, we also want to encourage them to train in-house and we have already entered into agreement with six universities. The curriculum is however being developed so that it takes care of the undergraduates. We have the Maritime Academy in Oron, In fact, five percent of our revenue goes to MAN Oron but the major problem is the vessel which is capital intensive. It is not a small thing to buy a ship. Government started a programme called ship acquisition and building fund even before we came to NIMASA. I understand that some people benefitted but there was nothing to show for it. The ships were not purchased and the funds were never returned. We now have a different name for it, Cabotage Vessel Acquisition and Financing Fund which has some money in it now. I think we have up to N50 billion which is meant to be distributed or given to people as loans to buy ships.
The process, I will not say it is rigorous, but you know that people are taking their time to make sure that what they do is the right thing. People apply to NIMASA, we check out the application and then recommend some people. We have recommended six applications to the government because it is the Minister of Transport that has the responsibility of giving out the loans. When it was done during the last administration, the Minister said the money was too big, the President should come in. That process wanted to make sure that the funds are given to these six deserving persons then the political environment became heated up and campaigns began before the change came in. I am sure that when the government settles down, those who have been evaluated will receive these funds.
There are concerns from indigenous operators that NIMASA has failed to enforce the Cabotage law which some say is responsible in part to forcing local shipping companies out of business. How do you react to this?
It is a campaign that people are doing to poison people against NIMASA and they think people are not aware of what is happening. Internationally, some categories of ships are now being phased out and cannot be used in the international waters but because NIMASA has concerns for our ship owners, what we did was to give them a grace of five years because by now, the ships should have been out of business. We told them, try and get the ships that can ply international waters, which can go anywhere. But surprisingly, when they go to buy ships, they still buy the single hull ones and we are trying to advise them that this is not how to do things. They know what to do but instead of doing the right thing, they are saying that NIMASA wants to run them out of business. This is an international thing. When the IMO has set a standard that this is the type of ships we should be operating, you had better key into it or you lose out. NIMASA even tried to the extent of bending the rules and giving them up to five years. Instead of it to stop this year, we have given them until 2020. We have talked to the IMO and other regulatory bodies to allow such ships to operate in our waters.
As an agency expected to implement IMO, ILO and other conventions, would you say that NIMASA is living up to its mandate especially in the domestication of conventions, codes, rules etc?
So far so good, NIMASA is doing very well. The very recent one is the MLC conventions of 2006 which deals with the welfare of seafarers on board, we keyed into that and we are about the very first country to implement it in Africa and I guess, all over the world. In fact if you look at the maritime nations and even other protocols, if the IMO looks at Nigeria, it sees NIMASA first, in other words, it looks at Nigeria through NIMASA. We have these conventions, protocols and rules which they bring into force from time to time and we domesticate them. In fact we are trying in that line very well.
Nigeria won the election into the hallowed ranks of IMO council in 2007 and consolidated same in 2009 but sadly crashed out after the 2011 elections. By implication, it means Nigeria may not be privy to council decisions before it is eventually made public. What are you doing to change this trend?
Actually, we are gearing up. The major reason why we crashed out is the way we prepare for things. We wait until when things are very close then we start running across board and things do not really work that way. This year, we decided to back some other countries, bearing in mind that it is after every two years, so the next one will be in 2017. But we will start preparations from now and also building up relationships, looking at where we can do one or two things. The auditors from the IMO will be coming to audit us and we are looking forward to coming back in 2017. With respect to the fact that we may not be aware of things as at when they are being discussed in the council, which may not be necessarily so because we have an alternate permanent representative in London whose office is in the IMO. So, in most cases when things are done, the information gets across to us through him.
Piracy, armed robbery at sea, theft, pipeline vandalisation, human trafficking, proliferation of small arms and ammunitions, the list is endless, these are what the agency is working hard against. What is the situation of things?
We are doing our best to see that these things are reduced and we will continue to do so. The major problem is lack of proper equipment platforms we can use for this work. Good enough, now we have a surveillance system that can survey all that is happening on our waters, real time. What we need now is when we look at the water, we can rush in there on time and intercept. This, we are building into our next year’s budget. We also want to get the one with which we can go through the air and do the surveillance and come back. Actually, we are thinking of getting helicopters and drones so that we can monitor these things. We’re also thinking about getting boats that can enter the creeks. You know that technology is increasing by the day. We have boats that no matter how shallow waters are, it can go through that place.
We want to get such so that we can enter the creeks and know what is happening there. But majorly what is happening offshore is really the issue. That is why we need these fast boats, aerial surveillance, submarine surveillance and we want to be sure that if a ship is loading, no matter how far it is offshore, we will like to know what and how much it is loading. Thank God, there are now things we can use to quantify when the loading is going on, even when the loading is finished. It may be beyond our budget but I am sure that with the intention of the present government to see that these things are being curbed, we are going to make special requests to get these platforms and machinery to stop all these illegal activities.
There was a reported midstream collusion of two vessels, the MT Elixir and MT Tank recently. What is the agency doing to forestall future reoccurrence?
Our own is to investigate and look at what actually went wrong and see how we can avoid it in the future. Our inspectors and surveyors are working, In fact, we got some divers because where the accident happened is really deep, over 1000 meters and it is not ordinary divers that can do that. We have a report and we are going to consider it as a management. I have not seen the report but we are being told that we have a report to consider. When we say something is an accident, it is not because someone is careless, sometimes it only happens and you cannot even explain. But it has happened and we were able to see those who survived and we have promised to take care of their medications. We are also preparing to go to the site because as a rule, we cannot go to the site until the inspection is done.
Since they have a report for us, I think we can now go to the site. We also plan to visit the families of those involved. It is difficult to go and visit the families of those of whom you are not sure of what happened. Sure, they are under water but these cabins are watertight and as long as there are small spaces that one can breathe, somebody can survive for days. It has happened before where someone was in for three to four days and after the dive, he was discovered alive. So we cannot completely rule out anything until we see that cabin that sank. We are doing all we can to ensure that the families involved are duly comforted. Another thing is that the two ships are foreign ships, one is carrying a Greek flag and the other is carrying a Tanzanian flag but all the crew are Nigerians. But the collision is in our Exclusive Economic Zone and international laws will also come in. When we finish the inspection, we can see how we can avert it in the future.
How do you see the future of maritime in Nigeria?
Very bright because we have all that it takes, we have a long coast line, we have population and market. The human element is there but it just needs development. Talking about our strength financially, we are also strong. Our problem is mismanagement, you can see when this government came in, how funds are being returned. That shows that the monies are there somewhere. The future of maritime in Nigeria is very bright.
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