Alhaji (Dr) Tijani Ahmed Ramalan, member, national fleet implementation committee and vice president, Nigerian Chamber of Shipping, was prominent in the past through his pioneering roles at the Joint Dock Labour Industrial Council (JODLIC) and the Joint Maritime Labour Industrial Council (JOMALIC, where he was founding executive chairman. When JOMALIC and the then National Maritime Authority (NMA) merged to form the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), he was appointed by the government to preside over the board of the agency. But public perception for some time now is that he has been away from the maritime sector, his first love. In this exclusive interview with IZUCHUKWU OZOEMENA, Ramalan, chairman, Liberty TV, re-affirms that he remains a maritime person. Among other issues, he speaks on the performance of NIMASA since the JOMALIC/ NMA merger, his foray into other sectors and what African maritime nations must do to improve the continent’s participation in global shipping trade.
Who is Alhaji Tijani Ramalan? What is your background in maritime?
Alhaji Tijani Ramalan is a stakeholder in the maritime industry. Not only a stakeholder, but I am an active operator. I operate a shipping company. We have two tankers of 5,000 tons each operating right now in Nigerian waters. We have a ship management company; we have a lot of seafarers in our pool who are being engaged by some multinational and national companies in oil and gas. We have maritime academies here in Lagos. One is called Coastal Maritime Academy for the training of seafarers. The other one is the International Maritime School for the training of port labour and port management.
I am also a member of the national fleet implementation committee put in place by the President. I am also a member of the Nigerian Chamber of Shipping; in fact, the vice president of the body.
My background in maritime is something that dates back to the '80s. I started from Port Harcourt to the Lagos ports in the private sector. I was heading one of the pioneer indigenous stevedoring companies in Lagos and Port Harcourt. I later went to school abroad. After that, I came back I was appointed the first and last Executive Chairman of Joint Dock Labour Industrial Council (JODLIC) by the then military government of General Abdulsalami Abubakar. After two years of my appointment to implement the Nigerian dock labour decree, a new law came into force, which is the Joint Maritime Labour Industrial Council (JOMALIC) Act.
In 2003, President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed me again as the executive chairman of JOMALIC which was a stakeholders’ council involving ship owners, maritime labour and government in line with the International Labour Organization (ILO’s) tripartite system. After our meeting, we brought peace in Nigerian ports. With the active collaboration of the NPA, the success of JOMALIC brought about the peace we had that gave way to the privatization of Nigerian ports to private concessionaires. Chief Adebayo Sarumi, the then managing director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) was of a tremendous help to us. After that, the civilian government of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo directed the merger of JOMALIC and the then National Maritime Authority (NMA) to form the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). I was appointed the first chairman of NIMASA Board - an agency that brought together maritime labour regulation, safety, and the Chief Inspector of Shipping (CIS) in the Federal Ministry of Transport under one body. That was how NIMASA was put in place and today, it is in charge of the regulation of maritime administration, maritime labour, security and safety and of course inspection of shipping. This is where we are today.
Do you think the objectives for merging JOMALIC and NMA to form NIMASA are being realized?
Yes, they are being realized. As you can see, when we were in JOMALIC, we had challenges of funding. But now, I believe that with these three arms under one umbrella, I think the issue regulating them is not much of a problem because NIMASA has no funding problem. I think NIMASA is doing its best in terms of regulating the labour, the maritime administration, and maritime security. I think it is a success story.
Rate the performance of the present director-general of NIMASA.
The present DG of NIMASA is doing his best. It is much better than what we had of recent under the PDP government of former President Goodluck Jonathan where NIMASA was turned into a kind of a gangster organization instead of them doing their statutory role of maritime regulation, it turned out to be an extension of the companyof an ex-militant which was not good. That brought a lot of problems in our maritime administration, safety and labour domain. These are the issues the new DG is doing his best to address. To be honest with you, I think he must be very careful not to continue with the bad ways in terms of the maritime security aspect. We find that so much money meant for maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea to contain piracy were being diverted into some private pockets. I believe this kind of thing should never happen again. I believe he has learnt from the mistakes of his predecessor. I think he is doing quite a good job so far. With his recent election as the Association of African Maritime Administrations (AAMA) President, Nigeria’s voice will be heard in the maritime organization of Africa and the world.
Do you agree with views that the last AAMA Conference in Abuja hosted by Nigeria was one of the usual jamborees the country has been lavishing money on?
It can’t be a jamboree. For anybody to say that the gathering of African maritime stakeholders is a jamboree is not being fair. Maritime and shipping industry is not a local business, for God’s sake. Nigeria cannot be an island onto herself. I think that gathering was unique and eventful going by presentations made by stakeholders, especially the papers delivered by Maersline and the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo. Honestly, I was so impressed. The Vice President of Nigeria, although a lawyer, showed that he is on top of what is happening in the maritime industry. He spoke off the cuff on issues about the maritime industry. I think that is very instructive. We learnt a lot from various speakers and resource persons. The conference revealed that today, Nigeria is heading Africa in the maritime sector.
Not only that, Nigeria is leading Africa into the International Maritime Organization, IMO, where issues of maritime labour, standards, administration and arbitration are being discussed. It will be madness for any uninformed person to say it was a jamboree. It was rather a big plus for Nigeria. Our voice will now be heard very clearly at the IMO and the International Labour Organization, ILO.
Suggest what African maritime nations can do to improve the continent’s participation in global trade.
I will start with Nigeria. Nigeria today, under the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, is facilitating the process of establishing a national fleet under the national fleet implementation committee. We all know it is a bit late but it is not too late because Nigeria is a cargo nation. Angola that came in just few years ago has its own national fleet and is transporting her cargo. So, it is a welcome development. This government has seen it and I am happy that it is facilitating the establishment of a national fleet.
But that is not enough. Government’s involvement, the role of government is very important through direct investment. Apart from direct investment, we need cargo support. For the Nigerian fleet or national carrier to succeed in this era of globalization, government must implement to the letter the NIMASA Act on cargo support. It might be over-ambitious to say 50 per cent. But I think for the take-off, government must give Nigerian shippers at least 10 per cent of the export and import cargo. Nigeria is not only exporting cargo; we’re importing a lot of cargo mainly refined products. So, I think government support is so important in putting the required enabling environment. This can be done with the active collaboration of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC. I’m happy the new management of NNPC under the leadership of Dr. Kanti Baru is in tune with the thinking of the federal government. In the course of our meetings with them, the NNPC is even far ahead of the Ministry of Transportation and the federal government in realizing the government objective of indigenous participation in the deep sea trade and cabotage trade.
They have already floated a shipping subsidiary called NIDAS. Today, NIDAS is chartering vessels; they have over 20 vessels under their control. Very soon, they will be flying the Nigerian flag. I think this is very important. The NNPC has told Nigerian ship owners that today, ‘if you bring a vessel, there will be cargo for you.’ That is a very big incentive. Now, it is left for us the Nigerian ship owners to go back and put our acts together by forming indigenous companies because this is not a one-man show. For you to compete with international ship owners, honestly you must have strong indigenous shipping companies. I therefore call on the indigenous ship owners to come together to form one big company that will participate so that they can have a share of the pie from the cake which foreign ship owners are extorting from Nigeria.
On the other issue, reforming NIMASA is very important to achieve the objectives of having Nigeria-flagged ships. The Nigerian Ship Register must be reformed to give preference to Nigeria-flagged vessels. The Nigerian Customs must stop the practice of collecting tax from Nigerian ship owners importing vessels to work in Nigeria. That is crazy because if I pay tax to the Nigerian government to bring my vessel into Nigeria, it doesn’t make sense. Foreign ship owners do not pay that import tax because they come, do their business and go back. I think there must be a tax-free import regime for Nigerian ship owners to encourage us to bring in vessels and compete with our foreign counterparts.
The Cabotage Act itself should be re-focused to ensure that Nigerian ship owners, maritime labour and seafarers are given priority in the implementation. NIMASA should stop this idea of looking at Cabotage implementation as a revenue generation effort. It is against the local content policy of this government. I think it should be made that ship owners that come for waivers must show NIMASA and the Federal Ministry of Transportation that after one year of the waiver, they must put Nigerians in place to take charge. But what is happening in NIMASA today - I hope it will change - is a situation where foreign ship owners just give them money so that this issue of waiver is renewed annually. So, the system must be reformed.
Non-disbursement of the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF): Is government fair in what has become a deliberate decision to starve the owners of the intervention fund?
The CVFF has been there for years. Unfortunately, it has not helped the Nigerian indigenous ship owners. Some of us in oil and gas shipping have contributed a lot. My company has contributed over two million dollars in the last couple of years. But what are we having? We have the situation where one-time DG of NIMASA came and diverted the money to issues unrelated to maritime. So, it is my view that the CVFF under the custody of NIMASA should be used for the development of Nigerian ship owners. Government should not look at that money as their money.
Alhaji (Dr) Tijani Ahmed Ramalan
That is the mistake the Ministry of Transportation is making. Each time this issue of CVFF comes, government looks at the money as if it is a public fund. It is stakeholders’ fund; it’s indigenous ship owners’ fund! It is our contribution and it should be used for the development of shipping. It is true some Nigerian ship owners disappointed the system during the NMA days. Some were given money and they looked at it as part of their share of the ‘national cake’. But that doesn’t mean we should not have another trial, instead of keeping the money for another NIMASA DG to come and squander it. So, it is my candid view that if NIMASA cannot give out the CVFF to individual ship owners, it should organize them into one shipping company so that it can be given to us as seed money to take off and develop the indigenous businesses we are doing. There is no point keeping that money as an idle fund. Plough it back to the industry either as seed money for training our seafarers and purchasing training vessels for cadets. How can, at this age and time, Nigeria - a maritime nation - does not have a training vessel for cadets? It is sad!
You are well known over the years as a maritime personality. But now, you run Liberty TV and other business concerns unrelated to maritime. What’s your motivation for venturing into other areas?
First of all, I am a businessman; an investor. I’ve been investing in maritime; in shipping. Now, I felt that with the economic diversification programme which the present administration is championing, some of us should take the advantage to invest in other areas. So, I have diverted into television and today, we have Liberty TV which is on a national platform. We broadcast in Hausa and English. After two years of establishment, we are a success story. We are having all the support from big clients in the country including government. We also have two media outfits in Kaduna, 100 per cent FM, called Liberty Radio 91.7 and Tashar Yanci which is a 100 per cent Hausa channel. It’s all part of investment. I believe very soon, we’ll be coming to Lagos because we also intend to set up an FM station in Lagos and Abuja. With digitalization, our TV signals are being received in Lagos on GOTV.
When the digital switchover comes to Lagos, you will also be seeing us. It’s part of investments; we are going to have a lot of maritime programmes. So, I have not diverted myself from maritime and shipping. The media will help in enlightening and educating people about Nigerian shipping. We call the media to partner with our Lagos office so we can have programmes devoted to packaging serious stakeholders in the maritime industry.