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INDIGENOUS SHIPPING COMPANIES SHOULD LIFT GOVT CARGO – OMATSEYE

By NBF News
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Omatseye
One of his known mantra is making Nigeria the future maritime destination for Africa. And he has shown this by the hyperactive way he has ran things at the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) headquarters, since he came in as Director-General barely a year ago.

As the Director General of NIMASA, Barrister Temisan Omatseye has shown that a lot could be achieved in one year. Within that one year, he has tried to reposition the face of the Nigerian shipping industry. By the time he leaves office, indigenous ship owners by virtue of the Cabotage Act, which NIMASA is promoting, would have been better placed to stand up against their foreign oppressors, and against oil companies colluding with the foreign shipping companies.

Omatseye has been very vocal about Nigerian shipping companies lifting locally generated cargo, especially oil. He has laid strategies to actualize this.

In this interview, Mr Omatseye, who is our chief executive of the week, spoke extensively about the challenges of policing the Nigerian waters and his one-year in office, his efforts so far in the area of human capacity management, the banana peels at NIMASA, among others.

Excerpts:
You have been here for about a year now, how has it been?

Well, I must say that when you come from the private sector, you come with different mindset, different expectations and different things you want to do. But coming into an agency like NIMASA is one of the politicised agencies that one will ever walk into. Everybody has its own godfather; but we came in here with an attitude for a change. We came in here to get things done. We have people who do not want to change at all, so they make whatever effort to ensure you are the one to leave. It has been tough. NIMASA, you all know, is a major decision making agency. I believe now from words reaching me that the bad attitude has reduced drastically.

How did it reduce?
When you come in here and, first of all, think of your staff welfare, your staff begin to believe in you because you cannot do this job all alone. You have to do it with the people you need. You cannot sack everybody and bring in a new set of people. First of all, you have to build your own people and know that you are one of them, and we did that by giving them the condition of service. We got a beautiful condition of service and they are all very excited about it. We also improved their take home package and then, we just told them that look, 'to whom much is given, much is expected'.

To be fair to them, a lot are trying but, of course, we have a few bad ones who are there. I have faced a lot of political battles, but I will give God the glory for taking me through them. It has been tough and I am trying to change things so much in one or two years. I gave myself two years because of the banana peels in NIMASA. So, when you see things happening, like a man in a hurry, please bear with me because we have to hurry as much, and as fast as possible, because you don't know how long you can sit in this place. I give myself till May 29, 2011 but if I survive longer, that will be fine. By virtue of that, we are a little bit in a hurry. I believe that things are moving…not necessarily the way I will like it, but things are moving.

What challenges are you facing doing the job, and how have you surmounted them?

The challenges I am facing include the challenge of the stakeholders; first of all you have the CVFF fund. The money has been sitting down there in the bank, and they said they wanted it now. So, we needed to make sure we get the figures, then disburse the money. But I didn't want the CVFF to become like the Ship Acquisition and Building Fund (SABF). What I wanted is for us to have a system where the money can be disbursed. So, now I think we have come to a stage where it is time for the money to be given to the banks, and we are releasing the money to them. Once that is done, the banks can begin to lend the money out. So, that has been a challenge.

The issue of piracy is a major challenge. It is a major challenge because the first thing I saw when I came in here was that first we needed to buy boats. As I speak to you, it is only when budget was released about a month ago that I can begin to say I want to buy boats. Everyday people are shouting, but we can't walk on water. So I don't have boats, how can I patrol.

Secondly how can you patrol the waters, you cannot be seeing them. In the international world they rely on radar and satellite. We've managed, luckily Americans gave us something, which is at the Resource Centre. How can I do that? It is a challenge. How can I monitor the water? And then pollution. Our waters are being polluted. We can't monitor our water for pollution. There are so many little things that are coming up; the oil companies are moving the goal post.

You move here, they block you. We've summoned them now because they are making life very difficult for us. We've done everything we need to do but these people will always find a new thing to create the blockage for Nigeria. I have just heard that one foreign company now is about to bring in 16 boats. As I speak to you now, the managing director of SLOK is sitting out there and their boats are down, they are not working.

Then the stakeholders? How can you operate what does not meet international standards? You put junk boats there.

In the area of cabotage, you mentioned how the oil companies give problems here and there and indigenous companies are still complaining that they are not getting a fair deal; how are you tackling the NNPC, the Oil companies and their so called conditions they give for allowing indigenous companies to come in. This issue has been dragging for a long-time.

What we want to do is this. I am working with the Nigerian Content Management Board, they've given me the list of the vessel requirement of all the oil businesses in this country? So I have them; what we are trying to do is if we can get Nigerians helping them to buy these things. So if we can help them buy, then let us see what excuse they will make. Next complaint they are making now is Certification Society.

They are saying IRS is not an internationally recognised Certification Society and to be fair to them, they are right. We need to see how we can go back to the Lloyds, the ABS and get them do the certification and let us see what excuse they would have again. These are the small challenges but what we are telling them, as an agency is that Cabotage is an indigenisation thing. It is not that all transportation should be transferred from foreigners to Nigerians. And I have said it quite clearly. We will still effect some changes.

We do not have the real capacity, sometimes for vessel management and some of the specialised crews now. What I said, cabotage has three, components, 100 percent foreign, 100 percent Nigerian or 60 percent foreign, 40 percent Nigerian. And we are saying let us work on the 60-40 so that the man that should bring the vessel can bring 40 percent and bring in full technical expertise, then we at NIMASA can give you 60 percent. You can imagine a vessel that costs $100 million, the foreigner brings 40 percent, which has reduced the costs to $60 million.

We in NIMASA will give 30 percent; the bank will bring 35 percent, so all that the man is looking to fund is just $15million, which has reduced his exposure. You can imagine if we are going to buy that vessel as a cabotage person at $100 million, it means that from our CVFF fund we have to put down $50 million first, and then before he will now bring $15 million, and then the bank will bring $35 million. But with this one now, if we bring a partner, the partner agrees 40 percent, balance $60million.

Out of that $60 million NIMASA brings 40 million, from that amount's balance, the man brings 15percent which is $4.5m instead of $15million; so you can imagine if he is redeeming, then he gets work to do. The problem we have is that if the vessel doesn't work, people are in the habit of saying; I have collected my money. Somebody will just go and buy a vessel, the vessel will be worth $5 million, he will quote $10 million. He will collect $5 million, and then tell us to finance $5 million.

He will not care whether the vessel works or does not work because he has collected his money upfront and the balance will be left for us to pay. These are the things we have to look at because it involves the taxpayer's money. The cabotage money we have collected at the ports is the taxpayer's money. So this is why we are having challenges but because I have been there, I know the tricks, so I am able to say bros, it is not like that, this is how we are going to do it and many of them are beginning to comply; so these are the problems we are facing with cabotage. But it will change.

What have you been able to achieve on port state control?

On port state control, we go back again to the issue of surveyors. You people should understand something very quickly. You know how NIMASA came about, NMA and Jomalic? When they named the director general and the two executive directors, nobody touched the organogram of NIMASA; they left it as it is. The same NMA structure. What we are doing now, we are getting approval for a structure and what that means is that really NIMASA as an agency, every port, every terminal, every jetty, there should be NIMASA staff; that is the new organogram. Everywhere, if you go to, every terminal, we will position our staff. Every vessel that ducks in Nigeria, there will be a NIMASA staff who is at the port.

You know why we are not doing our port and flag responsibility, because we are loaded here with so many administrators, and not enough technical people to do the job. We want to train them. If you look at my port and flag department, we have people that we call on and most of the guys they are over 60. They've retired and we've recycled and recycled, so that is why, if you look at our survey development programme, we are going to start training the young men; we have too many young men; we have too many young men sitting doing nothing; engineers, marine engineers, so these are the things we are working on.

You are right, we have not really achieved as much as we like in our port and flag responsibility but I am telling you that it is the structure we have that does not allow us to develop that within the short term.

That brings us to what you are doing in the area of human capacity development. I know you are collaborating with some state governments to train some seamen, how far have you gone?

Very very well. I must commend them, the lady in charge just left here now; I think last week or two ago, Lagos state sent 24 people; they are in Egypt right now. The people for the second year from the first step we launched they are due to go to Glasgow but we have visa challenges but they will soon get their visa to go and join the January course.

The programme is quite on course and the Northern governors are really supporting it quite strongly. It is just unfortunate that we are not getting enough support from the South. I think Ekiti and Ondo are in, Lagos State has joined, Ebonyi, Benue and Kogi, Niger, Kaduna, Adamawa, then Bauchi is coming; it is quite a nice programme but you know we have a second window. Individuals who can bring their 60 percent, we give him 40 percent. And we have a third window for any state that gives the total 45 or 25, we give them 10…

Why are states like Delta, Rivers, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom, Cross River not participating?

I don't know, I would not lie, I don't know. We have gone there. I know that Bayelsa and Rivers have their own programme, which they are doing; they are in Norway or something like that, but why the other states have not begun, I don't know. I have tried, myself, as somebody from Delta State, I feel bad, but I am not the governor.

Do you think that the port concession has succeeded?

I try as much as possible to avoid saying anything about my colleagues, but I think that as regards the port concessioning, I cannot blame the Nigerian Ports Authority, because I believe that may be it is the concession agreement that they have. This is my own personal opinion; I have not read the port concessioning agreement. My opinion is this; with a port that has all the major infrastructure on ground which government has spent huge amount to pay for and the job of these guys is just to come and improve efficiency and just buy one or two additional equipments which is neither here nor there; I believe that cost of doing business in our ports is still too high. That is how I feel because really, with the number of vessels that are coming into Nigerian ports, how much are they investing?

I know how much we are collecting as an agency; we know how much NPA collects as landlords, so that can best imagine how much the concessionaires are collecting. But really I have been to the ports and what I have seen at the quay side and other things that are being done are not encouraging. I don't know whether you have been to the ports, the cost should have come down; it is little bit too expensive.

Lets go back to capacity training, how far have you trained your staff?

Training is what we have been doing all year. As a matter of fact, it has become a big problem for me because sometimes I will go and be looking for somebody and they will tell me that Oga, he has gone for training. I think what we've done, the first time in the history of NIMASA, training has been spread to everybody. For the whole year, we have been doing it but next year we will get a more focused training programme.

If you ask people around shipping development department, they are saying they are not getting enough training programme, procurement people are complaining, so you get pockets of complaints which we are working on but what we realized in NIMASA now, we've looked at competency and we have trained across board; so everybody is doing one course or the other; but we don't want to do it anyhow. This year we just trained everybody but from next year, our training will be based on the career which a staff want to follow, and based on the professionalization of what ones duty is. Training has been quite beneficial, I went for training. I must say I have the benefit of training.

What are you doing to ensure that the indigenous shipping companies have advantage over their foreign counterparts?

What we are saying is first things first; the cargo is there. Section 36 is very clear. It says that the national carrier has exclusive right to carry all federal, state, local government, federal parastatals, and state parastatals cargo. It is very clear. Something somewhere is definitely wrong. Every government cargo must be carried by a national carrier. But you can't blame them; we don't really have a national carrier. What I am saying is, let us have a national carrier, once we have that national carrier, we can move from there.

The meeting I had last week, they showed me a section on the carriage of goods by sea, which also imposes a right on carriage of goods. I am trying to investigate that because what will happen is this, the moment national carriers are set up and they can do the job, I will encourage them to go and meet people that will give them the cargo.

A national carrier can demand to lift Nigerian crude by virtue of Section 36 of the NIMASA Act. Once you are a national carrier, you can go to NNPC and say I am registered as a national carrier, I want to know what is your cargo and I am going to carry it and NNPC cannot refuse and if they do, they can sue them for that. The law is there; we cannot be afraid of it; I am not afraid of people suing NIMASA, because the only way we can know whether we are doing the right thing or the wrong thing is to go and arbitrate; so these are my own thinking of the necessity of us getting a national carrier, so that we will be able to use the law.