As stakeholders continue to clamour for another national shipping carrier, former Managing Director of the defunct Nigerian National Shipping Lines Limited (NNSL), Mr. Gerald Chidi, has attributed the demise of the firm to “negative government interference”.
Chidi told journalists in Lagos that with the 100 per cent acquisition of the company in 1961 by the Nigerian government, there was no longer deliberate government policy to protect and support the line.
The line was previously operated on a 51 per cent share ownership by the Federal Government and 49 per cent share owned by two British companies as technical partners, Elder Dempster Line Limited and Palm Line Limited.
His words: “In 1961, either in the euphoria of political independence or selfish interest of the Nigerian management of the firm, the non Nigerian equity holdings were bought out rather prematurely and the company became wholly owned by the Federal Government with Nigerian management in total control”.
He asserted that the bureaucratic process in government was also responsible for the death of NNSL.
“The company and government could not react without delay to situations dictated by market and technological changes or development in the trade. For instance, it took the Federal Government almost five years to approve the tonnage expansion programme and modernisation of NNSL ships in the seventies.
"Perhaps the post civil war demands contributed to this. By the time the vessels were eventually built and introduced into the market, a measure of obsolescence had set into the original concept.
"It took another five years to convince the government on the need to phase out the19 combo vessels with a view to introducing appropriate vessels that were technologically up to-date as well as meeting market demands. "Other decisions such as rationalisation of staff members were dictated by government policies while services performed for government by the company were not paid in time when the money would have been more beneficially used,” the former NNSL boss said.
Chidi, who is also a former Group Managing Director of Aeromaritime Group, described the liquidation of NNSL by the government of late General Sanni Abacha in 1995 as ill-advised and very unfortunate.
According to him, the frequent changes of supervisory Ministers and Managing Directors of NNSL were equally responsible for the eventual death of the shipping line, which he said was a pride of the nation.
He noted that the frequent changes did not allow for policy consistency as each new Minister or Managing Director had his or her own ideas.
Said he: “Regular changes in the headship of the Federal Ministry of Transport and the company brought inconsistency in the focus and vision of the company. For instance, during my tenure as the Managing Director of NNSL from 1990 to 1993, I worked under four Ministers of Transport and my successor (1993-1995) also served under four Ministers of Transport and every Minister had his own ideas.
"In some cases changes in the headship of the company were engineered by the officials of the Ministry, not necessarily by the Minister, but for selfish reasons. It must be acknowledged however that genuine effort made by government in 1994 through direct cash injection into the company for settling creditors and upgrading the ships ironically pushed the last nail on the company's coffin because of avarice of some officials of the company in collaboration with outsiders.
"But even then the winding up of the company was like throwing away the baby with the bath water,” Chidi said.