Former Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, Temisan Omatseyi, who is also a ship-owner and President of Africa Ship-owners Association, spoke with Vanguard Maritime Report on several issues affecting the maritime industry. In this interview with Godfrey Bivbere, he spoke about the missed opportunity at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the effect of the pandemic on the nation’s economy, the best way to develop shipping capacity, what he did as Director General of NIMASA, and much more.
SOME persons are of the opinion that the COVID-19 pandemic should have been used to develop the shipping sector in the country. Do you agree with this view?
Yes, I do. The bottom line is what COVID-19 has shown us, it has just shown us that as it relates to shipping, we have been fed to the extent that we are over dependent on other countries as it relates to our cargo, in the sense that government have failed to make deliberate effort to encourage the investment in shipping in upgrading our port infrastructure. By virtue of that what we have realised is that when ships come to shore, other countries that have made that effort are able to pull back and rely on that.
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Example is when COVID-19 happened, and nobody was buying crude oil, people that had major tankers were able to come with their tankers and use those unregistered tankers for storage and the files of those kind of large vessels increased, because we had that to do the needful.
Inefficiency in shipping
If we had investment in those kinds of vessels it could have pulled in those resources to support the oil and gas industry, under a national security proclamation of the executive order by the president. On the second side, it also shows us that the issue of inefficiency in shipping, if you look at majority of our ports, they are river ports, Lagos, Warri, Oghara, and Koko are all river ports, Port Harcourt and Calabar are also river ports.
Apart from the Lekki free trade zone that they are building, which is the only deep sea port; even if other ports are coming up, like Ibaka and others. But what we find now is that shipping has become more efficient and if you don’t manage your logistics properly, you will find that you are spending too much money on that. We have spent too much time dredging the channel of the Lagos by LCM, what we could have done is develop dredging sea port where if vessels come in by virtue of economies of scale, the cost of freight would drop and whatever savings you make on that cost of freight, you can use it for local logistics.
If we had done that, we would have created a situation where Nigeria could have been a hub for not only in the western and central Africa but for the whole area. What could have naturally happened is that these big vessels would have come to our deep sea ports with ten thousand CEUs, we discharge them and that would allow us develop our shipping by creating feudal system to feed ports like Lome, Cotonou and down to Douala port.
That could have created a hub for us, it has been a very unfortunate thing and it is because of lack of vision and people focus on what is federal, they do not focus on long term. That is my feeling and the best time to plant a tree is twice in a year and the best time is now. If we can come together and to the realisation that we have made and begin to build for the younger ones coming, then we would have learnt our lesson.
What is the best way to develop local capacity?
In my opinion I believe government should be in the business of doing regulatory work and leave the business side for the private sector. I can assure you that Nigeria has the business and the capacity and we have brought in enough legislation to encourage Nigeria but unfortunately government does not have the willingness to enforce those laws. It is so unfortunate that the same government that is making those laws is the government that is breaking the laws and one thing we realise is the ability of the logistics, the total supply chain business and when you look at total supply chain, shipping is only a part of the supply chain, you have road transport, railway, they are many.
If you are able to develop that, that is room to generate employment. If Nigeria has made deliberate effort to invest in shipping infrastructure, that is in vessels and others, that would have stood as a platform for the training and development of officers and cadets for our merchandise. Failure to do that we are now dependent on foreign owned vessels. The expectation is that there is no way that you would start a process and you would see the results tomorrow or next, may be in ten years time, but there must be a strategy and a plan.
What was your effort then as former DG NIMASA?
That is the point I am making. When I became DG NIMASA, the first thing I realised was that I went back to the archive of NIMASA and asked myself, what was the core of an agency called NIMASA? What dawned on me was that there was a manual created, which sets out how the agency would be run. As I speak, till date, based on the international concept of NIMASA that manual is not – I can tell you that basically.
They merged NMA and NIMASA, so they continued with the organogram of these things without any kind of orientation of what the agency was supposed to be. When I was there, we said look, let’s go back to the drawing board and restructure NIMASA and develop an organogram to make NIMASA meet requirement based on international standard, we have to get that right because you cannot build on a faulty foundation.
If a new person comes and takes off on the faulty foundation, you can never get it right. The problem we have in NIMASA is that there are openings of job in IMO and United Nations as relates to maritime security and safety. But you cannot get them because nobody can develop a proper career in NIMASA because you don’t have a career path. You see an engineer who is suppose to be in his field, is now working with human resources, he cannot develop a career but if he had a career and do the training he required and build up his career and when there is an opening in IMO he can apply.
That is why you find that we don’t have any Nigerian in IMO or just a few, it should have been NIMASA pushing people to IMO because such allows you to have your people in IMO who can feed you on what positions and decisions are being taken in IMO.