By Foster Obi
The second edition of ‘National Discourse with Distinguished Maritime Personalities’, organized by Kelvin Kagbare, Publisher, Nigeria Maritime Newspaper, provided opportunities for stakeholders to dissect the current state of shipping in Nigeria as opposed to the advanced countries and proffer the way forward.
At the end of the discussion, tagged, “Ships, ports, and the challenges of infrastructure, skill sets, and tools,” there was a general agreement that the present shipping operations in Nigeria should be overhauled to meet up with modern trends if we must compete globally.
President, Nigeria Master Mariners Association, Capt. Tajudeen Alao said that technology has redefined shipping and Nigeria must ship in or shape out.
He noted that back in the day there were combo ships but we have mega ships now and countries willing to compete globally invest in smart ships which is current technology.
Former Executive Secretary, of Nigeria Shippers Council, Barrister Hassan Bello, who was the special guest of honour said that Nigeria is not in the shipping business despite its enormous advantage and territorial endowment.
He said that Nigeria is not only capable of doing business but can compete with advanced nations if the country could put the right structures in place.
According to him, the government can decide the part to play, the country is capable of building ships but the government is sadly playing a role in shipping that should be left to the private sector to handle.
Bello said that what Nigeria has are “tired ports”, which need to be upgraded to meet modern technology. He, however, noted, although with reservation, that the coming onstream of Lekki port is a breather that could place the country in the realm of competition,” adding, a port is as good as the cargo that berths there.”
He noted that even with the establishment of Lekki port, a lot is still missing because there is no integration with road and rail showing that the country is still short-sighted. He noted that intermodal connection leads to high efficiency.
Bello lamented the lackluster way the government has handled our shipping business that despite the potential, its contribution to the GDP fell far short of a sector like ICT which is regrettable.
The former NSC boss said Nigeria should go back to the drawing board to create operational changes, and institutional changes as well as get the enabling laws to work.
He maintained that an institution like NPA should be reorganized to make it more effective. He underscored the need for the Nigeria Transport Commission to come on stream as its importance at this time cannot be overemphasized.
Also, the enabling laws like the Ports and Harbour Bill must be passed.
Bello said that the bane of Nigeria is the inability to carry reforms to a conclusion, adding that the problem of Nigeria is not a lack of ideas but the political will for proper implementation.
He advised the government on the need to configure ports to grant it multimodal access wondering why a port like Lekki still repeated the same mistake with Apapa that has issues with the access road.
Barrister Bello who stamped authority in shipping regulation while at NSC, regretted that our ports are not configured with exports in mind and wondered how we intend to earn foreign exchange that we clamour for.
He said that the African Continental Free Trade Area (AFCFTA) would favour Nigeria if our port infrastructure is modern and efficient.
Chairman of the occasion and former President of the Shipowners Association of Nigeria, SOAN, Greg Ogbeifun said that no country can compete effectively in the shipping business if it is not flying its flag and if it does not have viable and efficient ports.
He said that a country like Nigeria should have global fleets driven by the private sector. He noted that while the Fleet Implementation Committee which he was part of came up with such suggestions, it never saw the light of the day.
According to him, while he praised, former Transport Minister, and ex-governor Rotimi Amaechi for coming up with such a bright idea of putting up the Committee, it was the same Minister who killed it, by abandoning it to build rails.
During the first edition of NIMAREX organized by indigenous Shipowners to create a platform to showcase our shipping potential to the world, Ogbeifun said, he drew the attention of President Goodluck Jonathan to the fact that the country was losing $500m annually because of its neglect of the shipping business. He recalled calling on the President then to create the Ministry of Maritime Affairs.
“ When President Bola Tinubu established the Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy it was the answer to that request,” he noted.
He commended President Tinubu’s boldness in taking this step and called on every stakeholder to rise and give him the needed support to ensure the policy succeeds.
Ogbeifun, a ship owner and Chairman, of the steering committee of the Benin River Port, BRP, said he decided to come back from retirement to lend his support to make sure that the reason why the Ministry was created succeeds. He said while so many ideas have been bandied on reforming the maritime sector without much action, it should not discourage the people from talking.
Ogbeifun noted that Nigeria cannot flag its ship unless we rejig our register to make it competitive.
Other contributors like Charles Okorefe of Nigeria Maritime University, Okerenkoko, called for proper interest in education and proper training of personnel to grow capacity while the registrar of NAGAFF, Dr Omotosho who represented the founder, Dr Boniface Aniebonam called for enabling environment and investment in smart ships.
While welcoming participants, the organizer, Kagbare highlighted among so many concerns that our shipping development capacity is almost nil, giving foreigners absolute control over our internal trade and transportation, adding, “That is unacceptable and should change forthwith.”
He expressed optimism that, “the ‘Distinguished Maritime Personalities’ will address all the concerns and more, in anticipation that we will leave here better informed.”
Picture: L-R: Charles Okorefe, (in cap), Greg Ogbeifun, Hassan Bello and other members of the high table