By Godfrey Bivbere
AMIDST the several misfortunes of Nigeria’s local content drive in the marine transport sector, an industry chieftain has painted another picture of how the former leadership of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, rolled out a policy that eroded indigenous participation under the Cabotage law.
The CBN policy, according to him, barred Nigerian ship-owners from trans-shipment services, where mother vessels bringing in petroleum products stay offshore Nigerian waters from where smaller ones belonging to foreigners are used to take delivery of the products to facilities ashore.
Chief Executive Officer of Molap Shipping and pioneer chairman of the Indigenous Ship-owners Association of Nigeria, ISAN, Isaac Jolapamo, confirming this in a chat with Vanguard Maritime Report, explained that the CBN policy led to the death of local participation in trans-shipment of the nation’s petroleum products imports.
Jolapamo said: “They got CBN to issue a circular on this. In fact when we explained to the then CBN governor, Lamido Sanusi, and one of his deputies they were surprised but they also went back into their shells and up to today that circular is still in force.
“That was the beginning of piracy, oil theft and the multiplier effects that followed. We all know that Cotonu or Lome where they go and do trans-shipment, they do not produce oil there but for some strange reasons, either people do not know or they know and they just want to be silent or do the bidding of their masters.”
Jolapamo noted that after the collapse of the Nigeria National Shipping Line, NNSL, which signalled the end to Nigeria’s involvement in international shipping, the focus then moved to trade on the coastal waters through the Cabotage law.
He, however, noted that the foreigners were one step ahead and, therefore, the law did not achieve its purpose.
In his words: “That is what brought about the Cabotage, saying okay we have lost at the international trade let us now come back to domestic and start from there which is the Cabotage; the brown water. If we are able to capture that, then we can now venture out to the international trade. But unfortunately, as I said, these foreigners are always one step ahead of us.
“If you look into how the three refineries went comatose, it is to preempt the Cabotage Act. The connection is that if we are still producing, then the Cabotage will be effective because we can take control from the loading point which is under our control.
“If for instance the Warri refinery wants to load a foreign vessel that is not supposed to be loaded, we (the local vessel owners) can stop it, but of course if we have to import then we have fallen into the hands of the cartel. So in order to avoid a situation where we stop their operations, they went round even when everybody was fighting that we take our coastal trade back, they were already one step ahead.
“When they finished with the refinery, they now discovered that even the trans-shipment that is taking place, if it is within the Nigerian waters, then they are still at disadvantage because with pressure from people like us government can direct that all trans-shipment within our waters should be done by Nigerian vessels, whether it is rust bottom or whatever they call it.”