Weekend Ginger: Nigeria, now a permanent under-dog on IMO White List

David Mark

… As country’s maritime regulation goes into regression! 

Nigeria may have finally become a permanent underdog member of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) White List, and gradually, draining away from the  youths, tomorrow’s hope, today.

NIMASA DG, Patrick Ziakede Akpobolokemi
NIMASA DG, Patrick Ziakede Akpobolokemi

In case you are not a maritime industry person, the White List is a revered list of countries recognised as complying with IMO directives on sound management of shipping in their waters, particularly in terms of safer shipping and cleaner oceans.

Simulator Complex, Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron.
Simulator Complex, Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron.
Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron.
Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron.

The White List distinguishes the nations that have displayed and established a plan of full compliance with the STCW-95 Convention and Code, as developed by an unbiased group of “competent persons” at the IMO, using criteria based on what system of licensing the administration has, training center oversight, process of certificate revalidation, flag state control, and port state control.

Tools of training, the Gemini and another boat, on land instead of water.
Tools of training, the Gemini and another boat, on land instead of water.

Those missing on the list, may sometimes be treated as potential or chronic ‘law breakers’, whose claim, declaration or words must be taken with a pinch of the salt; after all, their notoriety for non compliance is highly pronounced!

Those who are on the list, are expected to enjoy amongst other benefits, the authority to issue certificates, acceptable and respectable by the international community. Nigeria is on the IMO White List, yet it lacks the confidence or authority to issue credible certificates!

But are we truly afraid? Or simply lacking the political will, to evolve a relatively cheap platform that could ensure a capacity to issue respectable certificates?

Nigeria, last month produced three new Master Mariners, to join a dwindling band of aged master mariners, whose memberships age range mostly from 60 years and above!

The sad news is that the private company that assisted Nigeria in producing them, the Lagos Channel Management (LCM), had to sponsor the youths to Ghana, perhaps, because the country is focused enough to have created a respectable platform for training and issuing worthy certificates.

The LCM, a joint venture initiative of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and the Landfall Towage and Transport Company is a dredging company which simply went to the streets where it snatched up 40 Nigerian youths and sponsored them to Ghana.
It did not sign any bond with them. They were free to work with the company on completion of their courses. They were free to go and work else where. Those who chose to stay would earn remarkably mouth-watering salaries. They would also be continually sent on upgrading training courses, to keep them upwardly mobile and ahead of those who may not stay with the company.

Presently, 15 of the youths have been certificated. About seven on decks. About eight currently hold certificates in third Engineering class, while working towards their second. The LCM does not make noise about its mission. It is arguably, the most efficient and effective dredging company, according to NPA records and statistics, in Nigeria!

You may not know the LCM, like the orphans or orphanages would. The LCM has in the past five or six years, annually donated a million Naira each, to five or six homes. Every year!

Next Thursday, it would do exactly the same thing: splash a million Naira each, on five or six orphanages! It is its humble, but symbolic way of celebrating the Yuletide.

We have no records of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Profile of other dredging companies. We would be glad to. But we wish it would be equally encouraging!

The Maritime Academy of Nigeria, (MAN), Oron is producing high-calibre graduates who mostly end up on the streets as “Okada” (commercial motor cycle) operators, since they wouldn’t be employed. Not because the country cannot provide a training vessel, but because she lacks the confidence to initiate policies that would see her cadets trained by those with platforms. (And by the way, what of those vessels that the agency had been provided to patrol the waters, curbing pirates and oil thieves?)
The system thus provided a public excuse for “them” to describe our cadets as “half baked” without sea time experience.

Nigeria should be issuing credible certificates. But the agency that should champion it, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) is not only shy, it has adopted the expensive option of sending the nation’s cadets to India, UK, etc; rather than bother itself with cheap certification option of looking inwards. Atract highly rated foreign teachers into Nigeria, refuse to keep them in places like Adamawa, Munbi or or Gombe where their lives may be endangered, put sea time training on the front burner, then begin to issue certificates! As at the last count, the agency has sent over 2,500 cadets out; even though, less than the cost of a thousand would ensure the country actually acquires the platform for issuing credible certification.

If Ghana can; why can’t Nigeria?! It is all about what they call Political Will!

A sickly President woke up one morning, took his pen, and scribbled in his own hand writing: “I want Nigeria on the IMO Council Seat. Please, do whatever it takes to ensure this!”

Never has there been ever, a demonstration of such zeal and patriotism in the Nigerian maritime industry. The entire industry stakeholders, both the public and private sectors simply rose in one accord!

To the NIMASA, when the note got to them, it was a most honoured directive, a call to action. To the body of maritime stakeholders, it was a most honoured appeal!

The two groups went into a process of fusion, then fission; congregated into committees, which again, broke into sub-committees. Action plans were mapped out. Brainstorming created such powerful illuminations of ideas, that the Presidential mandate not only took a life of its own, but also grew wings, and became unstoppable! The dynamism was palpably infectious.

Mrs Mbanefo anchored the IMO front in London. Barrister Mbanefo was in front seat in Lagos. Seasoned Master Mariners like Capt. Niyi Adeyemo, Capt. Solomon Omoteso were front guard generals. Mike Igbokwe, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), and his powerful colleagues of legal luminaries preoccupied themselves to ensure no loopholes existed. Just as Chief Isaac Jolapamo led a body of faithful ship-owners, frontally making contacts and building bridges! Nobody was on the back seat!

United in spirit and body; propelled by a patriotic zeal for a common goal, Nigeria reached out to other countries, each of which bowed, to various degrees of diplomatic pressure and appeals.

Tortuous. Tedious. But at the end of the year, 2007, Industry stakeholders came back from the United Kingdom, not only victoriously smiling,  both as Council Member, and also on the IMO White List!

Now, that is what is called a Political Will!

Whatever we gained in 2007, was consolidated on in 2009. The pundits predicted that Nigeria was going to move from category ‘C’ Council Seat, to ‘B’,; that Nigeria would increase its registered tonnage, etc, etc.
Unfortunately for the maritime industry, President Yar’ Adua died!

A sage once said it was more difficult to remain Successful, than to become Successful.

An election was coming; and there was a paltry sum Nigeria was owning as due to a powerful shipping group, with a great influence on the Council voters. It was gathered that every appeal that Nigeria should pay, fell on the rock. Braggadocio or recklessness? It was further gathered that Mrs. Mbanefo was specially snubbed for stressing the need to pay the money..

Unknown to the stakeholders that the “peace offering” was not yet paid they again picked up themselves and went into vigorous campaigns: the Nigerian Ports Authority Managing Director, Omar Sulaiman, the Jolapamos, the Leke Oyewoles amongst others, reportedly stormed London, selflessly campaigning.

Nigeria lost by one Vote! The music stopped. The dancers were interested in knowing why the country lost in such a ridiculous manner. The reason was not secret: a group you owed moved against you!

Quickly, and without a waste of a breadth, NIMASA paid the debt!
The Yoruba would say: “A ti ehin ge eti aja, a ge eti aja tan, aja re fi obe pa mo”.
It was a clear case of one delay too disastrous!

President Goodluck Jonathan however can not be blamed, for the slide or decay in the Maritime industry. He has appointed highly educated people, to represent the nation’s interest. And even if any of them appears like a square peg, in a round hole, the President may only be slightly, precariously liable!

A few months back, some “ratings”, consisting of  experienced cooks, fitters, welders, etc, were trained in Calabar; and thereafter the agency was invited to see things for itself.
We learnt the NIMASA moved in, set “examinations” for them, and declared most of them, Successful; and then, went to bed.

It is yet to issue them any certificates since then. Some said the delay was caused by protocols. Some said they went to print new certificates.
Some said the agency was afraid of issuing them certificates, in morbid fear that the certificates may ignite an uproar, of its competence to issue credible endorsement.

If we took our youths to Ghana, to produce master mariners and engineers, , must we also take cooks, welders etc, to Ghana, before they can work in a small tug boat?!

Looks like NIMASA is fast, running Nigeria into a cul-de-sac!