Chief Executive Officer, Maritime Service Limited, Mrs Juliana Gunwa, in this interview with BAYO AKOMOLAFE, says the only way to address Nigeria’s maritime sector’s challenges is to domesticate and enforce necessary maritime conventions. She also speaks on sundry issues impeding maritime development in Nigeria. Excerpts
What is your take on maritime pollution reception facilities in the country?
Nigeria’s reception facility at the Snake Island is one of the best in Africa, but it only covers two aspects of the Maritime Pollution (MAPOL) Convention. It covers garbage, which is annex five of MAPOL and covers oil, which is annex one, so they have receptacles for two of the six annexes. We have the one that can cater for garbage annex five and annex two for oil.
The facility is highly sophisticated and is comparable to what is available in America, Europe or any of these developed countries. So, I give kudos to Nigeria for that as a country.
But we still need to put some things in place; for instance, we need training for our staff. Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) is doing a lot in that aspect, but we need to train more. We need to have a number of well- trained surveyors to be able to go on board. We have so many vessels coming in and I believe that the number of surveyors are not enough to board vessels on regular basis to ensure compliance.
So, we need staff that are well trained in this area; staff that are competent and confident to go on board to challenge operators that do not comply with rules. Also, Nigeria as a maritime nation must start to encourage private operators to come together and own vessels. Government should encourage them because we all know that vessels ownership is capital intensive.
So, there will be need for us, either at governmental level or operational level, to have vessel of our own so that we can effectively participate in lifting of cargos in this country. We need to have record of how many vessels have been detained for lack of compliance. These are some of the things we need to work on. The moment IMO sees us working on these; the world itself will know that Nigeria is working.
How can government address the incessant failure of Nigeria to attain category C of International Maritime Organisation (IMO) council seat?
I was part of the country’s struggle and efforts to get into IMO’s council seat at different times. I even coordinated a number of programmes when we regained our seat on category C of the organisation.
The category C of IMO council is a very key seat to occupy. One thing I know is that once you are a member of the council, you are part of decision making.
For instance, when new conventions are introduced, you have the right to either support it or disagree with it, depending on the level you think you are operating in the nation. But if you are not a member of the council, you are just an observer and you have no say.
Some unknowledgeable people have been asking question as to what will the country gain from being a member of the council. We have a lot to gain as a maritime nation apart from the fact that it is prestigious to be on the council. Without being there, there is no way we can run our shipping locally, it is not possible. So, for us now, we must put our house in order to get back to IMO council.
It is very important for us to look inward and look at areas that are of concern to the International Maritime Organisation and one of such areas is ensuring that the conventions are implemented. Also, we should go a step further to ensure domestication of all these conventions because if they are not domesticated, we cannot effectively implement then.
Can you shed more light on this?
If there is a vessel that comes into our waters for instance and failed to comply with any of the provisions of the conventions and we have not domesticated those conventions, we can’t charge them to court unless we domesticate the conventions, which would give us the legal backing.
So, we must ensure that we are not just ratifying these conventions; we should go a step further to domesticate them. Effort must be put in place for effective implementation and in carrying out the implementation; NIMASA should try to have stakeholders’ meeting.
It does not end there, we need to have more interactive sessions with the operators and that is one thing my company tends to achieve. We must work with the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to ensure some of the requirements are put in place and it is only when they are put in place that we can carry out enforcement.
So, if we put necessary things in place, it is not going to be news to IMO, because the organisation will get to know that Nigeria has all of these in place.
How do you want government to tackle leadership issue in the industry? Nigeria is a unique country and most of our issues are likely political.
I still want to believe it is good, if we can get a maritime leader, somebody with maritime background, to be the one that will pilot the affairs of the maritime agencies. Having said that, the industry can still have a politician at the helm of affairs, but such a person must have experienced hands to work with.
With that, such a politician will be able to do well. I know so many professionals that are out there that their competencies could be required and utilised by these agencies, however they are not being utilised.
For instance, a lot of professionals have retired from NIMASA and there is no reason why the agency cannot go out and engage some of them as consultants
. I believe some other agencies do this and these professionals do not need to be part of the day-to-day workings, but they should be there to guide and offer advice that will be helpful to run the agencies.
I had attended a lot of IMO meetings during my 35 years of service because I started attending when I was at the Federal Ministry of Transport. One thing I realised the developed countries do differently from us is that some of the international delegates of countries such as China, United States, Norway, Canada and others had been there for between 20 and 30 years.
I knew some of the delegates who had been there consistently. I knew them, they knew me, they bring in new people, but the older ones are still there to guide them until they are fully retired. Even by the time they are fully retired, they still keep them as advisors.
What is happening in Nigeria is lack of consistency. We are not consistent in attending those meetings, especially in policy monitoring. There must be consistency because the issues discussed in the previous year won’t be same as the current year.
What is your view on leadership turnaround in NIMASA and other maritime agencies?
When you look at the turnaround of leadership in NIMASA, it has not been helpful. What happened in NIMASA is very peculiar to the agency. It has not happened that way in Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and a few other maritime parastatals. I think the agency should be seen more as a professional organisation.
The way the agency is being treated, especially in term of turnaround of leadership whenever there is a new minister, has not been fair. I think you can only make change when you think a particular director general is not doing well in discharging his or mandate. From my experience, I can say I spent at least 14 to 15 years in the agency and I am sure I worked with six or seven director generals there.
Why is it difficult to have indigenous fleet in the country?
Well, I wouldn’t think it is really impossible. You know there is a precedent that NIMASA is trying to avoid. I remember several years back when NIMASA gave out some funds for acquisition of vessels, then, there was no professional machinery put in place for adequate disbursement and payback modalities. So, we found out that quite a number of people that took the fund didn’t even use it for what it was meant. Some didn’t even payback.
So, I think these are some of the things agitating the minds of the agency. Having said that, my advice is going to be that we cannot continue not to do something; everything in life is all about risk and if we are going to continue to keep safe, we are not going to make progress.
That is why I am not going to condemn but advice and that is to setup disbursement agent where finances will be managed. I know the agency is trying to setup something like that, but there should be a proposal on setting up a professional modality so that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.
Government should put in place professional modality that will enable the agency and the Federal Ministry of Transport to adequately disburse the fund.
Is it possible for indigenous shipping companies to form a cartel in the industry? I think what we need now is encouragement, that’s what some other developed countries do. Singapore did a lot of encouragement in terms of maritime industry expansion and I believe we can do that.
If you look at the cabotage regime, you will know that there are lots of young Nigerian companies coming up to do coastal trade. I know we have some very serious-minded people who are into cabotage, though some of them may still not have the vessels because of the cost. I want to say there will be need to support professional operators that are out to promote the industry.
In my company, we have done a lot of research about what we can do on ferry service and how to go about it. But we realised it is going to be difficult because of the plenty of money required to go into this type of service without local or international partners.
How would you relay your experience in the public service and private practice?
When I was in the Department of Maritime Service in the Ministry of Transport, all I did was nothing but maritime. Thereafter, I came to the then office of Government Inspection of Shipping (GIS) that was later merged with the defunct Nigerian Maritime Authority (NMA).
As I was planning to exit, I started thinking that I had benefited so much from the industry in terms of policies formulation, travelling all over the world to represent the Federal Government at different levels and acquiring additional degrees in different maritime disciplines.
At NIMASA, I was initially the head of the Maritime Safety Department, which was a unit before it later became a division. When the issue of the environment was becoming a global concern and recognised world-wide, the former director general encouraged me to set up a marine environment department and with the help of God and staff, under six months that came to pass. So, that made me to become the first director of marine environment management department unit, where I was for about over four years.
I won’t start to talk about some of my achievements but I would say that all of these have really exposed me to be in a position where authoritatively, I could talk about maritime sector in general.
I am now at a stage whereby if you wake me up and ask me any question about the maritime conventions I can roll them all out because they have become part of my life.
So, after benefiting so much from government and having also been exposed to many international forums where serious maritime issues were discussed and serous decisions were taken, I felt that one of the best ways I could continue in the industry is to set up my own outfit after my retirement.
I realised that the stakeholders would need to know more about what NIMASA, as a safety administration, requires of them and the agency would have to be in a position to pass adequate information on the relevance of some international conventions to stakeholders.
From the knowledge I gained from the agency, I felt that I would be useful in transferring knowledge to the younger generation that have come in and not yet privileged to go on any professional training from where I have benefited immensely.
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