‘The Maritime Industry – A Major Revenue Earner’


Following her vast experience in the Civil Service, Mrs. Monica Mbanefo had the privilege of being a Director in the International Maritime Organisation making her an expert in the Maritime Industry. In this discourse with May Agbamuche-Mbu, Jude Igbanoi and Tobi Soniyi, she explains how the maritime industry can generate more revenue for the government if properly harnessed.

Your career has spanned over four decades and in that time you have become a foremost expert in the Maritime industry locally and within the United Nation’s International Maritime Organisation (IMO). The Nigerian Maritime industry itself is estimated to soon exceed $153 billion (as at March 2016), representing 30% of the current Nigerian GDP and with current efforts to diversify Public Revenue away from oil, what is your view on the strengths and weaknesses of the Nigerian Maritime Industry?

Well, the Maritime Industry I would say if well harnessed is the most lucrative and capital creative Industry in the world.

Each year IMO and all its Member States celebrate the World Maritime Day.

The theme of this year’s World Maritime Day is “shipping: indispensable to the world”. The World Maritime Day theme for each year, provides a focus for year-round activities.

Addressing the 28th Extraordinary Session of IMO Council regarding the theme for the World Maritime Day for this year, the Secretary-General said that today 90% of world trade is carried by the international shipping industry. Without shipping the import and export of goods on the scale necessary to sustain the modern world would not be possible. Yet the fact remains that most of the world’s population is not aware of the vital role shipping plays in their everyday lives.

This population referred to by the Secretary-General is in the developing countries, particularly Africa.

In many developing countries the socio-economic context may require special attention to be given to sectors such as agriculture, education, health and housing, resulting in both governments and the general public giving insufficient priority to maritime issues.

The maritime industry makes a unique contribution to economic development. No matter where you may be in the world, if you look around you it is almost certain that you will see something that either has been or will be transported by sea. The maritime industry provides an important source of income to a number of developing countries.

It is not limited to ships carrying cargo. When we talk about the maritime industry, we include the money earned by Seafarers; include the money earned from Ship Recycling etc.

The economy of some developing countries have been boosted by monies remitted home to their families by its national seafarers serving on ships worldwide. When a ship is too old to sail it is recycled. There is a lot of money in ship recycling. For developed countries it is too labour intensive and it is not cost effective. But developing countries realise that you do not need a Ph.D. to break up a vessel and to sort out its components. You just need the ordinary man on the street. They also earn a lot from this because the owners of these vessels pay them to do it. When they have done it they sell what they have recycled so they are also making good money from that.

Developing countries now lead the world in some of the industry’s ancillary businesses including registration of ships, supply of seagoing manpower and ship recycling.

The leading ship recycling countries are India, Bangladesh, China and Pakistan.

Philippines supplies more than one quarter of the world’s seafarers and by an executive order Filipino seafarers have to remit a substantial percentage of their salaries home to their families.

The maritime industry is an industry that must be encouraged.

In your time at the UN’s International Maritime Organisation you consistently demonstrated an ability to influence, optimise and increase efficiencies of your teams and in your various roles. As a seasoned administrator in the Nigerian Civil Service, tell us about your grounding in the Nigerian civil service

In the 60s, 70s and early 80s the Nigerian civil service was an institution to be proud of. There were many experienced people in the service who were highly dedicated and willing to impart their knowledge and experience on others.

When I applied for the job of the Head of Legal Office of IMO, a United Nations Specialised Agency, one of the factors that contributed to my success was the experience I acquired from the Nigerian Civil Service.

In those days the Nigerian Civil Service was highly respected. Everybody aspired to go there. You applied there first then tried the other organisations if you failed to get in. I applied immediately after law school and just a handful of us were selected. In the Federal Ministry of Justice there were experienced lawyers who made it their duty to train you. There was discipline.

I remember when I joined the service as a pupil state counsel. I started in Legislative Drafting. Mr. Thomas (as he then was) was my first boss and then Mr. Soetan. Then I moved to Civil Litigation. My Director there was Mr. Laoye and then Dr. Awogu (as he then was). The Federal Ministry of Justice had several departments. The officers were posted every two years to a different department to enable them acquire experience of different aspects of law.

So by the time you have moved around the divisions, you were qualified in every aspect of law. You had experience of how to prosecute from the DPP, how to litigate from civil litigation. Industrial and Mercantile Law was responsible for contracts and legal advice, Legislative Drafting as the name implies, International Law.

Having acquired all the experience you were then posted out as a legal adviser to other ministries to acquire administrative knowledge and the law relating to the functions of those ministries.

The first ministry I was posted to was the Ministry of Labour, where I specialised in labour law, the Factories Act, and Trade Unions. Next, I was posted to the Ministry of Water Resources where I focused on laws relating to Water Resources, then I moved to the Ministry of Transport and Aviation. In Transport and Aviation I specialised in Aviation law, transport law, the Ports and so on. My experience from the Ministry of Justice prepared me for IMO.

What are your recommendations for restructuring and reforming the Civil Service to eradicate problems in order to raise the standards of proficiency and professionalism in the Civil Service?

Regarding the problems that prevent the efficiency and performance I would say that top of the list are the insecurity of tenure and poor remuneration.

The civil service is the foundation on which a nation is built.

It should not be politicised. Civil Servants should be prepared to serve every government, they should be insulated from politics. Today it may be the ‘green party’ in power, tomorrow it may be the ‘yellow party’ but you should serve them with your whole heart. Once people in service are influenced by politics they wreck the civil service.

The dignity that is due to the Civil Service should be restored. Security of Tenure is paramount. Once you know your job is secure you will put your whole heart in it. Dignity of labour must be emphasised. Let the Civil Servants realise that their job is appreciated. They should not be taken for granted or denigrated. A conscious effort should be made to insulate the civil service from politics. Let civil servants be civil servants, serving the nation no matter who is on the seat. In those days politics was not discussed in any office, it was not allowed.

IMO has developed a number of conventions regarding the protection of the marine environment and the prevention of marine pollution, developing countries such as Nigeria often lack the capacity to successfully implement these conventions. How does the IMO assist developing countries in fulfilling their obligations under these conventions?

IMO recognises the need for capacity building to enable developing countries fulfil their obligations regarding conventions. It is well aware that some administrations have been limited by the financial and technical resources to effectively adopt and enforce international regulations. They require qualified and skilled manpower coupled with good legal and administrative framework to achieve that.

I actually retired as Director of Technical Cooperation Division of IMO. The function of the Division is to help developing countries build capacity to enable them to implement IMO conventions effectively.

IMO has for this purpose established maritime training institutions like the World Maritime University (WMU) in Malmo, Sweden and the IMO International Maritime Law Institute (IMLI) in Malta.

IMO also offers technical and financial support to maritime institutions in developing countries.

It has included, as a vital part of its technical cooperation programme, projects for the provision of technical advice and assistance to governments on request.

It sends out experts to conduct training programs for developing countries and also gives scholarships for capacity training. It offers capacity building services in different countries. A country that needs technical assistance only need to put in a request for assistance and experts will be sent by IMO to assess and assist the country with their needs.

Currently, many experts are advocating for the government to develop a national maritime policy to enable stakeholders in the maritime sector harness its untapped potential. In your view what should be the essential features of a viable shipping policy?

In my view the essential elements to establish an effective shipping policy include

1. a more integrated approach towards the development of maritime policies;

2. better engagement with stakeholders and forging stronger partnerships with industry, regional and international organisations;

3. greater capacity building at all levels as the demand for manpower, new skills and expertise is immense;

4. addressing emerging concepts such as the blue economy and sustainable ocean governance.

A growing number of disputes in the maritime sector are being resolved through international arbitration because of several reasons paramount of which are the speed and confidentiality of proceedings. Additionally, experts have advocated for the establishment of a regional maritime arbitration centre in Africa. Do you see any merit in this proposition?

I do. I see great merit in it. Although arbitration as a dispute settlement mechanism has gained a foothold in Africa it is doubtful if the same can be said of maritime arbitration in Africa. Africa is yet to find its place when it comes to international maritime commercial arbitration. It is commonplace to find in international commercial agreements involving African commercial interests, forum selection clauses that designate Paris, London, New York or Hong Kong as a forum for arbitration. A number of things account for the absence of maritime arbitration centres in Africa. One is the issue of capacity with respect to the knowledge, expertise and skill in handling maritime disputes involving the specialised area of maritime law. The expertise for maritime commercial arbitration is gained over time, and so require a conscious effort to build capacity especially with respect to practising lawyers and judges.

In your opinion what practical steps can the courts, arbitrators and maritime arbitration institutions take to position Nigeria as a neutral and favourable forum for maritime arbitration nationally and internationally?

To build capacity for arbitrators and establish a reliable and generally accepted seat of arbitration it is important that deliberate, focused and targeted policies are put in place in Nigeria. For the resolution of disputes particularly those with an international character, parties expect the exhibition of competence and professionalism amongst the arbitrators. They expect them to have the requisite skill and experience as well as the specialised knowledge that may be required to adjudicate the cases. They must, first of all, establish expertise and capacity and create a conducive environment. Parties to a contract will only accept a venue that has the required capacity and conducive environment.

Because Nigerians are very industrious, they can acquire expertise in any chosen field. Once Nigerians acquire expertise in Arbitration Nigeria will be a good forum for Arbitration in Africa.

Ship ownership has been identified as one of the biggest challenges in the Nigerian shipping industry. Nigerian banks are said to be reluctant to provide loans to prospective buyers because of the huge capital investment involved. What can be done to ensure that Nigeria moves from hiring and leasing ships to really owning and crewing ships?

Owning a vessel is very capital intensive. New vessels may cost millions of dollars. It takes years to build a vessel, depending on the size and its equipment. Because of this you need a lot of capital. But you cannot say you intend to own a vessel because others have vessels if you do not have the capacity to do so. Shipping requires expertise. You have to be sure of the people who man the ship. The right environment should be created to encourage those who can afford it to own ships.

Regarding crewing, our young people should be made aware of the advantages of seafaring. It has carrier prospects. They are paid in hard currency. Our maritime training institutions should be given priority. More effort should be put into finding placements for the ones who have trained to do Sea time.

According to recently published reports, the estimated number of seafarers worldwide in 2015 is about 1.6 million.

With regard to supply and demand, the recent findings reveal a shortage of 16,500 qualified seafarers and that figure is expected to grow.

I believe that Nigeria would have a role to play, to help fill the demand that exists for seafarers. Our young people should be made aware of the prospects in the seafaring profession. They should be encouraged by providing the facilities and the environment to enable the training of seafarers. If this is done, we can, without a doubt become a hub for the supply of seafarers.

As a lawyer it will not be difficult for you to appreciate the role the law plays in establishing the standard of acceptable and permissible behaviour in society. However all too well as Nigerians we understand that the mere existence of law is not a guarantee for creating good standards and attitudes. As an expert draftsman how do we in Nigeria go from finely drafted laws to creating the necessary attitudes for positive change?

As the saying goes “a cloak does not make a monk”. You can draft all the best laws in the world, but if the people are not ready to implement them, it is not worth it. So what matters is the people’s mindset. Nobody is above the law. People must understand that the law is not for certain people, that the law is not for those who cannot buy their way out, that the laws are not made in order to punish people or to make the small man smaller or the big man recognised as a big man . No this is not its purpose. Take simple traffic regulations, you say to everybody “you have to drive on the right” it looks simple but occasionally you see somebody coming in the wrong direction. You know what will happen if you do not notice in time. Somebody may get killed! Every single law is made for the good of the people. It is not made to punish. Because we live in a society there must be laws to regulate our behavior. If you say “this must not be done” then nobody should do it, if you say “it has to be done that way” it has to be done that way. Therefore when we make laws we should not make them for the fun of making them. Study the law properly, know why you are making it, let people understand that the law is the law, and let them obey it. Unless we learn to obey the law we cannot progress, because it protects us, it guides us.