By Izuchukwu Ozoemena
The federal government has once again been tasked that it has no choice than to disburse the Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund (CVFF), so as to encourage genuine indigenous entrepreneurs in the shipping sector who are already demonstrating the capacity and resilience to survive in their business endeavours despite the unfriendly business environment prevailing in the country.
Ship owner and first vice president of the Ship Owners Association of Nigeria (SOAN), Mr. Alfred Okoigun, stated this at Onne, Rivers State, while fielding questions from Business & Maritime West Africa during the official christening, commissioning and inauguration of MV OSANYAMO, a new- built vessel belonging to the STARZS Group, Port Harcourt. The vessel which is the latest addition to the fleet of Starzs Marine Ltd belonging to Engr Greg Ogbeifun, President of SOAN, was built and delivered by Damen Shipyard, China.
On what the government must do now some companies such as Starzs Marine are demonstrating the resolve to survive and remain afloat under a very harsh business climate, Okoigun who is the group managing director of Arco Group, said government has no choice than to support and encourage them. “I think things like this should encourage the government. The capability that is being demonstrated by Starzs Marine and some other SOAN members should greatly be encouraged. At this point in time, it is for the government to now come up and support the ship owners as much as possible because that is what happens in the advanced world.”
He observed that in the past, people were doing things individually. “But Mr. Ogbeifun has been able to bring all of us together under one umbrella (SOAN) and told the government that these are Nigerians making great efforts to build their own boats and contribute to the growth of the national economy. Initially, people did not take us serious. But with the forthrightness of Mr. Ogbeifun, with the push, we are now becoming relevant and government is beginning to see us as people to watch out for, people to support.”
He stated that there are a lot of levels of discussion going on now with government agencies and ship owners are also aware that the government is now taking them more serious than in the past.
“What is important is for us to hold on tight, continue to demonstrate that we mean well for our nation and we need support to do more. Like this level of Starzs Marine now, is it the money for Mr. Ogbeifun to feed himself and the family? The legacy Mr. Ogbeifun is projecting is to build an organization that will continue to expand and employ more people and better the lot of Nigerians and the economy. That is the good thing the government will like to hear and support.
“In the past, we’d had people who were mere opportunists and from the way they conducted themselves, it was difficult for government to render support for other people coming in. But I think a foundation is being laid right now.”
On what the government must do now regarding the CVFF which has controversially remained in the coolers, Okoigun said: “This is where records speak, have this people been in the industry, what have they been doing? You don’t even need to do much interview with them. There is none of them that is not having any relationship with banks. Check the track record with the companies they are working for. How many of these businesses have they been able to execute as indigenes of this country as against the foreign ones that have been dominating the terrain?”
He recalled that in the past, money was based on political contacts “even when the beneficiaries did not know the job. They took the money and could not perform. But these are people who have sweated, borrowed money from banks and have built themselves to this level. What other evidence does government need to support them?”
He referred the federal government to what is happening in other parts of the world. “Today, the American government is still supporting indigenes of America. That’s a great nation. In Europe, they are doing it and that is why they have specific funds everywhere. Then, you have this CVFF money and you say you are keeping it, keeping it for who? If we are honest, we should know what to do.”
Okoigun hailed the Starzs Marine owned by Greg Ogbeifun for its practical demonstration of strict adherence to the spirit of local content by ensuring that the entire crew that sailed MV OSANYAMO all the way from China to Nigeria are Nigerians.