A country’s performance in shipping activities cannot be fully appreciated without mentioning ships and who the owners of these ships are. Ship ownership is capital intensive. It involves a huge capital outlay. In Nigeria, ship owners who have been operating in the business for years abound. Presently, they are about 1,227 shipping companies and agencies registered in the country. These are movers and shakers of the maritime industry whose activities have immensely contributed to the development of the maritime sector. To a large extent, the level of aggregate demand for shipping services and a country’s shipping lines market share determine the survival of the maritime industry.
PIX: Rotimi Amaechi, Transportation Minister
Shipping professionals include captains, surveyors, ship experts, operators and others operate under one umbrella or another with the aim to advance their special professional interests while ensuring a smooth sail of shipping business in Nigeria. With time, however, divergent opinions powered by selfish interest, greed, desperation for power, among other issues crept in and led to multiplicity of different associations under one hitherto cohesive and organized body of professionals.
How it started
At inception, a handful of ship owners in Nigeria came together under one umbrella headed by Chief Isaac Jolapamo. It was christened the Indigenous Ship-owners Association of Nigeria (ISAN). That was in 2002. When ISAN was formed, the sole aim was to boost a deeper participation of its members in the nation’s shipping sector. It was also a veritable platform to constructively engage the federal government on how best to churn out policies and programmes that would encourage ship acquisition, indigenous participation and cabotage.
PIX2: Capt. Dada Labinjo
ISAN continued on this platform until 2014 when the association’s nomenclature was changed to Nigerian Indigenous Ship Owners Association (NISA). In 2015, the group conducted general elections. It was a keen contest. Capt. Dada Labinjo, the erstwhile ISAN scribe, emerged as president. Other frontline contestants at the NISA elections included Engr. Greg Ogbeifun, Temisan Omatseye and Mrs. Margaret Orakwusi.
The election was marred by controversies as most contestants and other members became disgusted with alleged cases of nepotism, irregularities manifested in tribalism and other negative tendencies which allegedly featured in the process.
Going forward, crisis engulfed NISA, leading to the unveiling of other associations by some members of the group. Reactions to the controversial NISA election led to the formation of a new one known today as Ship Owners Association of Nigeria (SOAN), headed by Engr. Greg Ogbeifun, one of the key presidential hopefuls.
PIX3: Engr. Greg Ogbeifun
On what informed the formation of SOAN, Ogbeifun, according to reports, said that the fate of that election by NISA was principally determined by non-ship owners. According to him, “this became evident when we looked at the executive that ultimately emerged, where non-ship owners now took critical positions and offices in the executive of a ship owners’ association. The result of that is that some critical personalities who are ship owners, who had left NISA because of reasons of policies that were not in alignment with what they thought the ship owners association should be doing called me and said ‘Greg, we need to set up an association that will be strictly and exclusively for ship owners’ and that made a lot of sense to me. I asked them to go ahead and set it up and when they did, I would join.”
Ogbeifun said that they wanted him to spearhead it. “I told them to go ahead with it because I had my own goal at the last election but a lot of entreaties were made and I was asked to put it together and there and then, an inaugural meeting was called by the former deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Chibudom Nwuche, who is also a ship owner.
PIX4 Chief Isaac Jolapamo
“He sponsored SOAN and gathered a few of us – all ship owners – about 13 at the first meeting and told us there was a need for us to form a strictly ship owners association, members of which must be people with track record in the industry, integrity and honour so that we can begin to talk not only about our issues but industry issues.” According to Nwuche, shipping had been neglected by the successive governments. He did not think there was a strong entity of real ship owners who could partner with government to get the maritime policies right.
“We saw a lot of wisdom in that and then we came on- board.” Ogbeifun says his group has constantly emphasized that almost all the members remain in NISA, an association of Nigerian ship owners and non-ship owners. SOAN is an association of all companies operating ships in Nigeria whether foreign or Nigerian as long as they are operating according to the rules of the land because Nigerian laws permit foreign participation in the country’s maritime industry. “So, you can see two bodies with separate constitutions, different policies and ideologies and we don’t see any conflict. That is the essence of the formation of SOAN,” he said.
Apparently uncomfortable with what he perceived as in-fighting among the indigenous ship owners, the Minister of Transportation, Mr. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, shortly after his appointment, had directed Nigerian ship owners to come together and coalesce into one umbrella. It was in furtherance of this directive that the key players in these associations held several meetings in Lagos which culminated in the formation of an umbrella body called Ship Owners Forum, with a Lagos-based lawyer, shipping practitioner and former president of the Nigerian Trawler Owners Association (NITO), Mrs Margaret Orakwusi, as the chairperson.
Since then, the contending groups have been under what appears a loose forum under Orakwusi. Even as each one feels more recognized than the other, the major concern remains lack of concerted efforts to speak with one voice, a factor the government says is necessary if the shipping sector is to be moved forward.
PIX5: Mrs Margaret Orakwusi
Of the two groups, however, SOAN has been actively engaged in the pursuit of a constructive engagement with the government on the lingering issue of Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund (CVFF) and other maritime sector instruments. It has also demonstrated practical interest in helping the government address the practical training problems of seafarers, especially as regards their certification, sea- time experience and competency.
CVFF: Government taking advantage of the disunity
Topmost among critical issues in contention between the ship owners’ associations and the federal government represented by the Nigerian Maritime Safety and Administration Agency (NIMASA) is the disbursement of the CVFF. The ship owners have come to doubt the sincerity of government in her frequent promise to advance the cause of shipping development on one hand and the refusal to disburse the funds expected to energise local participation in the business. In fact, there are strong reasons to suggest that the authorities are capitalizing on the so-called disunity among the associations to hold on to the fund indefinitely. Ship owners have come to strongly believe that NIMASA’s current leadership is interested in the proliferation of associations among the stakeholders.
Since this year, discordant voices have been coming from the main shipping bodies. Whereas a section sees the leadership of Dr. Dakuku Peterside at NIMASA as the best, others have been decrying the official delay by the agency in disbursing over $100 million CVFF statutorily domiciled in the agency.
Only recently, the Nigerian Ship Owners Association (NSIA) urged the Federal Government to intervene in the delayed disbursement of the much needed fund.
Since the Cabotage and Inland Shipping Act, 2003 was enacted 14 years ago, the fund NIMASA currently warehouses on behalf of the ship owners has maintained a steady growth.
PIX6: Alhaji Aminu Umar
Recently, NISA Vice President, Alhaji Aminu Umar, expressed worry over the non-disbursement of the fund, adding that there has been no improvement in shipping business in the country due to paucity of finance.
“We hope that in 2018, NIMASA will come up with the intervention fund for ship owners because the fund is already there. We want to see improvement in our operations”.
“There is need for the government to make the CVFF transparent so that our members will have access to it. So far, we do not know why the CVFF has not been disbursed and the government has not told us why,” Umar said.
On the usefulness of the ship owners’ forum, Umar said it is a platform for all ship owners to stand and speak with one voice as there is nothing like being together.
“Today, if you take the assets of Nigerians in the maritime sector where we have invested, we have the largest fleet in Africa. But because we never come together, nobody knows that there is even a ship owner in Nigeria. Nobody knows that there are Nigerians flying Nigeria’s flag. Our combined fleet is maybe the combined total fleet of the rest of Africa. There are so many Nigerians who have invested hugely in this maritime asset in the oil and gas sector (upstream) or in the dry cargo sector, but nobody knows them. But the ship owners’ forum is a platform where we all come together and speak with one voice.
The only reaction so far by NIMASA since the trending clamour for the release of the CVFF is that there are documentation issues to be sorted out. Terse as this may sound, the agency is not forthcoming with further details.
A prominent ship owner who justifies NIMASA’s reason for sitting on the fund says even though it is the ship owners’ money, many practitioners are less interested in how it is going to contribute to the development of the maritime sector. Interest is more in mere sharing. He recalls the fate of the Ship Acquisition and Ship Building Fund (SASBF), cautioning that this time around, government must ensure the money is disbursed only to those that will utilize it judiciously. “I sense it is the rancour and divergent views rocking these associations that made NIMASA to hold on to the fund.”
He recalled the politics played when some names were earlier presented as beneficiaries of the fund and advises NIMASA to ensure the funds are disbursed appropriately.
However, NIMASA director-general, Dr. Peterside has assured ship owners that the over $100 million fund would be disbursed as soon as the agency concludes the review of a memorandum of understanding signed with NISA to fully partner with the associations in growing Nigeria’s shipping potentials for greater efficiency and productivity.
“We will look at the MoU we signed with NISA many years ago and review it. We are pushing it back to NISA as a task and we believe that they will bring very useful suggestions on the way forward. NISA is made up of knowledgeable experts whose wealth of experience will be needed in helping the agency realize its mandate as regards the implementation of Cabotage Act, 2003 through the New Cabotage Compliance Strategy (NCCS). The agency will give necessary support to the association and will continue to engage in fruitful collaborative meetings geared towards realizing a virile maritime industry. Aside from Cabotage implementation, NIMASA will look at areas of exclusivity for Nigerian ship owners such as lighterage, and the agency is poised to put mechanisms in place to ensure that it works”, Peterside said.