The Executive Director, Finance and Administration, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Mr. Bashir Jamoh in this interview with newsmen in Lagos explained how the agency is fighting piracy and the need for blue economy to be the mainstay of the Nigerian economy. Eromosele Abiodun presents the excerpts:
The much talked about presidential election has been concluded, going forward, what are the plans of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA)?
The first thing we did was to launch our shipping and maritime sector forecast 2019/2020. The forecast shows our focus, what we intend to do and what we think people should know. We have already released it to the stakeholders to be able to know how to plan ahead in the industry. The second issue, we are heading towards International Maritime Organisation (IMO) election, and we need to act on the issue of piracy. Recently, we had top management meeting and one of the top management members read out a statistical report that about 88 piracy attacks is being reported on our sea. At the meeting, I insisted that all the units should be represented so that if there are issues like this more processionals, desk officers can be able to respond to such issues to their questions appropriately. We try as much as possible to produce top professionals in the agency; we want to ensure that any member of staff is able to answer questions on the maritime sector, marine environment and shipping development. We have top professionals who can move to any department and work comfortably without any extra training. I told you about the pirate attacks, when we heard about the 88 attacks, the first thing that came mind was what to do. During my PhD programme, my area of specialisation was maritime security.
What I discovered in the course of my research at that time was that we had so much data on the issues of maritime crime in Nigeria and Gulf of Guinea. We have over 20 countries within the Gulf of Guinea and anything can happen within that circle and that environment. The international community considers Nigeria, being the biggest country around that Gulf of Guinea, as the country that produces most of the crimes that happens there. This, however, is not correct, that is why we always tell journalists that it is your duty as reporters to report correctly and accurately. We have had a situation where something happened maybe in Benin Republic, Togo, Ghana or any part of other countries, because we are all part of Gulf of Guinea, they will claim it happened in Nigeria. By doing so, we continue to send very wrong signals to international community. Already, we are paying world premium in terms of insurance and we stand to be the highest payees of freight all over the world because of the dangers attached to our territorial waters. When you check the cost in probably freight from America to Ghana, which almost the same distance to Nigeria, you find out that Nigeria pay more than Ghana. And at the end, all of us here, we pay the premium because it ends to the consumers and when are consuming, definitely what we are paying in excess, it will be distributed even among the consumers. So the accurate reporting must be there. Now, if you report accurately, you are projecting Nigeria to a very good platform. If we go for the IMO election, these are the things they would check. What are the positions last year or two years after the previous election? Do we see any change in what they are doing in terms of these piracy and other things? So when those things are not there, definitely, we stand the chance to lose the election again. Now, the election is coming up in December, we are in March already. So we have lost about three months. So we have nine months, we have to start preparing now and we cannot prepare alone, we need your cooperation.
You talked about pirate attacks in the Gulf of Guinea, what is the agency doing to fight piracy in Nigeria’s waterways?
We have put in place a lot of measures and we are making progress. In a country like Nigeria where we have a lot of financial challenges, there is limitation in some areas like acquiring technology. However, we have deployed a lot of technology to make sure we police our water territories. We just concluded training of our own staff not just our own staff but the joint agencies that are supposed to take care this policing, the Nigerian Police, the Nigerian Navy, the Nigerian Army, DSS, NIMASA officials and among others. So this training is currently going on at our resource centres. Unlike what we used to do before, the first issue of this challenge started with Presidential Committee on Maritime Safety and Security (PICOMS) around 2012 during the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. We abandoned the issue of PICOMS and we introduced Global West, which started the issue of policing Nigerian waters up to sometimes in 2015/2016 when they existed. Between 2016/2017, we now brought in HLS. With this HLS, we have maritime domain awareness in terms of the satellite system that can look at our territorial water. Then, we have past intervention vessels, apart from what we have locally, we have supplied a lot of boats which we have been able to use as back up and we have supplied helicopters. Now, we are at the stage one, which is human capacity development and skill guide of this training.
During the time of PICOMS and Global West, we don’t have this kind of things in terms of training of our manpower. But this HLS introduces the segment of training all the agencies that are going to be involved in policing Nigerian waters and you can see we have collaboration. We have worked together and everybody we have to bring his own expertise, only NIMASA including Police, Nigerian Navy, DSS and Civil Defence and that is what we are doing now in the issue of maritime security. As a kind of back up before the HLS process take off fully, we have past intervention vessels approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC). We have about six vessels now that used to go everyday, 24 hours per day at least monitoring and striking these hoodlums and criminals around our territorial waters. The six intervention vessels may not be enough so to say but we deployed those six intervention vessels into different zones, include western, eastern zones.
What is the agency doing to engage communities around the sea to help fight sea robbery?
That was one of the recommendations that came out of my research. You cannot address the issues of crime without the local people. Most of the crimes, especially at sea start from the land to the sea. So you have to follow the criminals to the land before going to the sea and there is no better way of handling that issue and situation without the communities. When you have the brief of the community, you have the understanding of the community, you can be able to arrest that situation. We just got approval for the importation of special gadgets like walking-talkie and other specialised security items. So those are the things we have to deploy to those communities that can easily has access to us such walking-talking and cellular system you can even use under water. When things are going on, you can easily use it and get to our headquarters and our fast intervention vessels to come for assistance. This is how far we have gone on the issue of maritime security and piracy.
Recently, the Director General of NIMASA announced that the agency will commence the disbursement of the CVFF by first quarter of 2019, what stage are we now?
This is an interesting issue. The disbursement doesn’t lie on the hand of the NIMASA. It is the responsibility of the Minister of Transportation. The Minister of Transport has time without number mentioned why he has delayed it. When I launched my book sometimes last year, I discussed the issue of CVFF and at the end of that book launch, the Minister of Transport specifically mentioned that all the stakeholders should meet him in his office to discuss the way forward on the issue of CVFF. After the meeting, he inaugurated a committee where the stakeholders will come up with a standard pattern on the way they have to disburse the fund. During the end of the year dinner organised by ship-owners association, the DG mentioned that the fund will be disbursed in certain framework. But like I said earlier, we are not responsible. We are responsible for collection of the money and keeping the money. The money is there and safe, nobody can touch the money as against the assumption by people that the money has been tempered with. No, we have the money and it is intact. But until the Minister of Transport is convinced that the right things are in place he will not disburse it. All I know and I can say categorically is that money is going to be disbursed this year but I can’t say the particular time because it is not responsibility of my agency to pay until when we get such directive. There is no fear that the money is not there, we have the money there. Once we are sure that we can release the public fund to stakeholders we will have to release it on the instruction of Minister of Transport.
Nigeria is losing huge revenue to carriage of export by FOB, what is the agency doing to change the trade policy to CIF?
It is not only FOB, CIF, we have introduced a lot of measures and there are parts of things we have to envisage like cargo support. What is the essence of owning a ship and you don’t have cargo and anywhere to go. Ship cannot exist comfortably without cargo to lift. We are working towards ensuring that we have cargo support. Shipping companies are trying to get the CVFF, we have to make sure and guarantee that we have to give them cargo to lift. And how do we do that? The cargo support, that’s the government cargo and other heavy cargo that is project cargo that has to go through NIMASA onward assisting the ship-owners to lift. This is one of the things we are trying to do and we are looking for a different window in terms of foreign exchange to get favourable foreign exchange rate for the ship-owners in terms of handling, purchasing, repairing their own ships. So those are the things we put in place. The issue of CIF and FOB freight, we have gone far. We are talking with NNPC and we believe that with time, we will be able to break through ensuring some of our Nigerian shipowners will get the right to lift our crude oil. And interestingly, from our conversations, we have evidence that Nigerians are already lifting oil but we cannot unveil who and who have started lifting oil. NNPC has already given the note that some of them are already lifting crude oil without any problem.
When will NIMASA be automated?
In the next one month, we want to believe that our system will be fully automated. The issue of manual processes and other processes are going to be done with. Our plan is that before the end of this month, everything is going to be online. We are going to be more effective and more transparent. The issue of corruption the government is fighting is going to be at the front burner. We will no longer have human interactions and such thing reduce crime drastically.
Can you tell us how many NSDP cadets have been placed on sea time?
So far we have trained 2,500 Nigerians abroad on the issue of NSDP. The area we have challenge is on sea time. The issue of seat time is not only a challenge for Nigeria, all over the world we are having problems but we are having headway on that. Last year, we sent a significant number and this year, we are sending a significant number also to study marine engineering and other maritime related courses we think young Nigerians should go and study in a professional area. Without sea time, you cannot go anywhere. It is just like having a degree in law without going to law school. It is not a question of how many gain employment but how many we are able to place onboard and that is what we are doing. But I don’t have the exact figure now, we have sent considerable number of seafarers for sea time. In due time, we will be able to give you the figure and number of people that we trained.
Specifically, what is the area of focus for the agency in the years ahead?
There are special areas where the maritime sector now wants to look at which have to do with blue sea economy. There are lot of things we can gain from the sea, which we are not utilising appropriately and that’s what brings to the burner my decision to write a book harnessing the Nigerian maritime asset. The book dwells on how to secure the marine environment, how to get the asset and true picture of the asset and get the value of the asset. This is where our passion is going now, which is where every country is going especially the African countries and Nigeria is not left behind because we are not lagging. We want to get rid of this mono-economy. Every day, we talk about issue of crude oil and in the next 29 years, crude oil may not have a good place in our economy. Most of the countries patronising our crude oil today, they are working day and night to ensure they get alternative source of energy rather than concentrating on our crude oil. In so doing, if we do not place emphasis on other areas that concerns economy, we would be lagging behind. For instance, you look at fishing industry, the fishing industry in Canada is almost an industry that can be able to feed certain countries, and from there they can get their own internal consumption. From fishing they can get the one for export and do so many things with that. The value chain from fishing alone in Canada goes a long way that we sit down and harness especially when we look at the population of this country. Apart from that, there are so many things in blue economy we have to look into. We have to look at the environment to ensure we maintain the environment in a very good way so that inhabitants can be able to survive freely, then we will now exploite the benefit of such things on our own. Apart from that, we have so many things to do in that area like ship building and ship repair. So, if we do those ones, they are under the blue economy and there are other services like chandelling, protective agencies and there are so many things to do that can give our younger generation opportunities to get jobs. Those are the areas we are trying to sell our ideas to the government.