The Nigerian indigenous ship owners are gradually going out of business. Their participation in the lucrative inland and coastal shipping business is coming to near zero, despite the Inland and coastal shipping laws of 2003 that gave them right of first choice in the award of contract relating to the lifting of cargoes from one point of the country to another. In the this interview with DELE ADERIBIGBE, Nigerian Ship-owners Association (NISA) General Secretary, Captain Niyi Labijo said the extinction of indigenous shipping operators could be attributed to the appointment of non maritime professionals, to head key positions within the maritime sector in the country .He also blamed the ugly phenomenon on the absence of maritime bank, for the recapitalization of key players in the shipping sector. Excerpts :-
Let’s look at the issue relating to the emergence and the growth of indigenous shipping, then the decaying and now their gradual extinction. What really went wrong?
This is a simple question. The success or otherwise of the maritime business is dependent on unemployment. Employment is the same thing as contract because if we are providing services in the maritime, we need a contract. If you have equipment, such as a ship, you require employment. I have distinguished between employment and contract. Anybody who provides shipping services in the maritime needs contract. Anybody who has equipment needs employments. For as long as you don’t have employment or contract, you will be very idle.
When I was talking before, I said something about a carpenter doing an open surgery, and this is a very specialized job, and if you ask a carpenter to do such specialized job, the patient will die.
Maritime has made carpenters do open heart surgery, so the patients are dead, and that is what is killing more patients. If I become the minister today or if we have someone who is experienced; or a consultant in hearth surgery and you ask him to do this, he will do it and the patient will live.
Nigeria produces 2.5million barrel of crude oil a day and all your indigenous shipping companies are dying. It is not only stupid; it is criminal! Nigeria imports general goods and what have you, as an import oriented country. Our import is 78 million tons and all the indigenous shipping companies are dying. Using these statistics figures, if every thing comes from Europe, it will cost us $30 per tons and $30 multiply by 80 million ton gives you 2.4 billion dollars.
If any of it comes from Asia, it will be 65 dollars per ton and multiplied by 80 million tons, gives 5 billion dollars. Are you saying that our country is generating $5 billion dol-lars and your citizens have no contribution to it?
Look at the 2.5 billion we generate from oil, multiply that also and add figures from gas also. So, by the time you put all these together, you may now see why Nigeria has been a case of a farmer’s son dying, due to starvation. We have no business dying; but, that is an aspect.
I make bold to say you should forget anybody that says ‘it is because they have bad equipment’. That is not a reason for their dying.
If you peep outside this window, before the next 5 minutes, you will see a truck passing and the tanker, though so old and rugged will, it still carries kerosene. Yet, it could carry wa-ter or AGO (diesel) or PMS (petrol). In six months time or after that, go and look at the truck owner, he would have bought a brand new truck or tanker. Why? It is because he is making money. But if somebody says: ‘his truck is very bad’ and refused to employ him at all, in six months time, what do you think will happen to the man? He will be dead too; and that’ is all!
We are not saying that there should be poor standard, but we all know, in the maritime world, the efficacy of charter agreements. If you get a contract today, you can embark
on charter arrangements to beat the requirements. The only problem on our hand today, is that it’s like they don’t want us to grow our own industry. So, you will be a foolish man to continue to listen to them and allow them to continue to fool you, under the guise of ‘international best practices’. It is a way of keeping you under developed. There s nothing more.
I have already given you a practical exam-ple. Buying a ship is not like buying a car or a trailer, because they are not the same thing. If you buy a trailer and you don’t have job, what will you do? Assuming you park it; you won’t be spending on it. But it is not the same with a ship; whether you park it or use it, you will spend on it.
There was a time in this country that I was one of those who struggled, to gather every money I could get to buy whatever good ship one could buy. In those days, if we can get N100, 000 dollar or 100,000 pound, we were happy.
There was a time I wanted to buy a ship which was at marina for which I wanted to
raise 110,000 pounds; in fact I raised 140,000 pounds. For me to raise that, it took me four months.
The day I sent the balance, the broker said ‘well Captain, ‘we are having problem wit the ownership of the tanker’. And at the beginning when he wanted to sell, he didn’t tell me that there was problem with ownership. I didn’t get the ship and that was how I lost my 140,000 pounds.
What I am trying to tell you, is of the difficulty we had in those days to raise money. Our bankers will tell you what will happen if the ship runs away or sinks? You don’t blame them; there is poor understanding, even till today. An American bank will not look at you twice before advancing funds to you, if you say you have an employment and bring your request for funding. They will only be too glad to help. So also, a British bank; because that asset goes into their own asset book and because they know that even though you have
only five years contract or three years contract, they know you are gong to have more business and that even after the three years, the vessel still has a reserve value. They are not afraid. They know that if the ship sinks insurance will pay. They know so many things.
But our banks have money for short term lending and you want them to give it out for long term lending, this is not possible. So, maritime needs a maritime bank that can look and give you facilities for longer period, they appreciate the fact that the gestation period must be long and so on.
In other clime, they call you after sometimes and tell you to ‘trade in your ship; we have observed that it is costing you a lot to maintain it. Trade it in, let them go and demolish it, get a brand new one’. That is why you hear them talk about scraping their ship!
The moment a ship is fifteen years old in Europe, Lloyds starts looking forward to get rid of it. The bank won’t say he has not finished payment. They get rid of the ship. They know it takes two years to build a ship. So when a ship is fifteen, they start encouraging you to sell it off. We have the various opportunities to engage all our indigenous people, but we are not engaging them because some people have been brainwashed, they forget this aspect of charterization which has been in existence since 1935 through the Americans. When Americans were saying no to the Russians and insisting it has to be American ships that will carry the gas from Alaska. These are the facts.
So, it takes somebody who understands, to do the right thing in the maritime sector. We have been all over the world to see our maritime colleagues. They come here, and we see them. They introduce themselves very well, with the man from their Maritime Authority at the background. But in Nigeria, the man from our maritime authority will be the one in front! So, sometimes, these people don’t want to do business with the man from maritime, all they want to know is that these shipowners have behind them a Maritime Authority. That is all.
To be continued.