By FOSTER OBI
Ify Anazonwu Akerele, a graduate of Sociology, International Relations and Corporate Administration, is the director general, Nigeria Chamber of Shipping (NCS). The NCS is the umbrella body for the maritime/shipping industry committed to building capacity and engendering constructive and development programmes. In this exclusive chat she told Daily Sun that contrary to opinions held locally and internationally that what Nigeria is experiencing is armed robbery, that has been extended from the land to the high seas, and not piracy.
She is alarmed that Nigerians connive with foreigners to rob their own coastal waters. According to her: “It is disgraceful that our men go out there and connive with foreigners…because of dollars. What has happened to the uniform and pride? If we don’t address the situation now it would become more dangerous, because even international bodies, like the International Maritime Executive Committee (IMEC), has always wanted to categorise us as piracy prone country. We have told them that is not true. We know very well that ours is not piracy.
What we have is robbery on the high seas.” She also talked about the cabotage law, the waiver clause and the plight of Nigerian ship owners and how the country can get out of dominance by foreign ship owners. She discusses the impact of the chamber in the sector and what the future of the industry looks like, among other issues. Excerpts:
Cabotage can do much better than it is doing now but I will tell you, for example, that it is six or seven years old now, and even the National Assembly are looking at it again because it was a deal made in a little hurry. However, it started the ball rolling and, like everything in human life, we have to review it. Even constitutions are reviewed, so the Cabotage Act set the arena; got people to understand that we know that we are Nigerians and we want to take control of our own waters. We don’t mind foreigners operating but they must work in collaboration with us.
There are lots of loopholes and a lot of shortcomings, mainly because Nigerian ship-owners don’t have the capacity yet to be able to argue strongly, but we are slowly getting there. The Nigerian Content Act, which we have now, states categorically, for example, that if you are given crude allocation, the vessel with which you are going to move that crude given to you must have Nigerian presence.
As a starter, you must show that you are partnering, and that your vessel would be used to train Nigerians and, within a year or so, 25 per cent of equity of that vessel will belong to the Nigerian. It is a gradual process. I don’t want to say that cabotage has failed. Cabotage has opened up a gamut of information on our shortcomings.
The Cabotage Act, I can assure you, will be reviewed. From the mistake of that, what you think is a failure is going to be a success, because we now know awareness is growing. Without that act there wouldn’t even have been any awareness. We would still be thinking that it all belongs to foreigners. In our own country, they can bring in product and also sell it; they can go and drill oil and also move it; we just sit back and collect the crumbs.
So I assure you that the foreigners also are beginning to say well there is a law; when there is no law, foreigners will do what they like. Once there is a law, they will start falling in line. It is just now that we have this law, what the Chamber is trying to do. Within our rights behave properly, don’t look for short cut; don’t defy best practices whch is the major problem I will tell you we are having.
Waiver clause was a realistic approach to the situation on ground but it was abused as usual, but now with the Nigerian Content Act and the awareness getting louder and bigger, there is no need for a waiver clause; in fact that waiver clause has shown what Nigeria had been losing and need to sit up. The Nigerian Content Law has shown Nigerians that you stop the waiver clause because this is what is due to you; so the avenues for Nigerians to participate has opened up widely. The waiver clause was as a result of what was on ground then; there was no capacity and it was abused unfortunately.
It was a necessity though but because there was a Nigerian Content Act, that followed in 2010, Nigeria’s position has become stronger because the International Oil Companies (IOC’s) are expected to adhere to certain demands from that law which the waiver clause had always covered the foreigners.
Now before you put out your billing papers as an IOC, you have to show how much of the Nigerian situation you have taken into consideration, your first choice must be a Nigerian and if that Nigerian is okay, the partnership with foreigner must show that there is going to be a transfer of knowledge. The waiver that says lets wait till the Nigerian grows, let the foreigner be doing is no longer going to really exist because the NCD Act came along and has superseded that waiver; what we are trying to do is to merge and make people understand that the cabotage law and the NCD has to work hand in hand.
Conniving with foreigners to rip Nigeria off
The foreigner must adhere to the law. We don’t really deal with people who bring in diesel,i.e the downstream people; we don’t as much and I feel that it’s because its something we want to believe will fall in line soon. But the upstream operators, someone is going to be very careful in breaking the law so if you are conniving with the Nigerian right now to flout the Nigerian content law you are doing so at your expense because there is one thing you must understand about foreigners, they respect laws.
Now the ones you are talking about are probably akin to pirates. You have miscreants from all sorts that attack our high seas and offload petroleum products and offload it into their own vessel and take it by force; that is the down stream area which needs a lot of policing and as you can see, NIMASA is working very hard to ensure that it polices the waters properly; they are even going to take on tracking devices.
The piracy issue is more like an attack and it is going to be dealt with as a criminal offence; so saying that Nigerians are conniving with foreigners, I really don’t know in what way because if a Nigerian vessel that has to go to the mother ship and offload the products, now that Nigerian vessel may not exist, it may be that a foreigner owns it and collaborates with the Nigerian but NIMASA is now enforcing and making sure that if they bought the vessel, the papers must reflect a very solid relationship with the Nigerian.
It is not that we don’t understand that Nigerians don’t have that capacity yet, but if you want to go out and work in the downstream, let me see your partnership with Mr Smith and you have a recognized partnership, not like you are a front and that on that vessel, 90 per cent of your staff are Nigerians. It doesn’t mean that Mr Smith cannot do the job with you but must adhere to local content.
We want to grow capacity, so when you are operating and bringing in petroleum products in the next five years we want to see that the ownership of that vessel is 25 per cent Nigerian. We want to see you transverse that ownership; let you the foreigner become a small part of that business; we will always need technical assistance; there is not going to be a time when Nigerian will not need technical knowledge from the international countries and even then, they need expertise in other areas; if you go to England there is expertise that is akin to German, and so on; we are not arguing with that, what we are arguing is that it should not be that company A belongs to France come to our high seas cannot come into our water because of cabotage law but that company has a small vessel that will come and carry our products meanwhile yours is sitting down idle. That small vessel should be in partnership with you so that the money is banked in a Nigerian bank. Not just cheating us.
Empowering Nigerian shipowners
We have laws in place now. The first step to empowering Nigerians is the law; the Cabotage law was wobbly until the Nigerian Content Act came in. Those two are very powerful laws that can encourage Nigerians in the middle sector of the oil and gas industry-maritime sector. A Nigerian that is serious has to go get knowledge; you will hardly find a British, French or American shipping company that does not have such people with maritime background or knowledge.
If you came in with your MBA, they will send you on a course; Nigerians have to start doing that and that is part of what we are doing here; trying to encourage Nigerians to go into that area. If you go into the medical profession, they will not take you unless you are a doctor, even if you are an architect, you will still have to read medicine. They look at your area of specialization.
I came in as corporate administrator; my core area is administration but I had to go and do core shipping administrative courses. I didn’t want to go into technical areas, I didn’t want to go into ship building; I wanted to understand how to coordinate the shipping industry. It took years for me to get MBA and all the necessary things needed and this is why you are speaking to me. Now this is one of the problems we have in Nigeria. You want a law and you want to be spoon-fed. One of the things we do at the chamber is to try and explain that the foreigners will only act if you allow them.
They will watch your body language and if they see that you want to cheat your system, as far as they are concerned, they will encourage you because it will help them make what they are looking for-money, but you the Nigerian has to get knowledge, the indigenous shipowners have to get their house together. If A has two vessels they need to get together and find out, how do we expand our business. You have the NCD protecting you; the jobs must come to you, you must say give us this job.
When you are given a job, which is part of what we are doing, you go, Shell for example, is ready to help any Nigerian that is ready to work; you can go to a bank and say Shell is likely to give me this job, how do you assist me. NCD will also assist in making sure you get fund. But if you fail that first time you cannot go back. So there is need for commitment from the Nigerian. The ball is in our court; it is no longer how you empower the Nigerian ship-owners; they have been empowered with laws.
I am very optimistic, I have never ever doubted that Nigeria will get there. The other day somebody sent a text that Ghana has built their refinery and they didn’t make noise and we are making so much noise. It is not easy to build a refinery here; Ghanaians are fewer and less diverse; in Nigeria you are dealing with many issues to ensure that a proper refinery is in place after the abuse of military rule. Psyche has to be changed; the need has to be understood from all levels. For example, the autonomy of the CBN is being questioned. These are the kind of things you face, should the autonomy of the CBN be questioned due to a personality issue, these are the kind of things we will confront if we are going to build a refinery; also even the rats on that property will come out; so this country is really going to be the hub of maritime industry. When I go to other countries, the way they look up to us, everything we do they follow suit; the Nigerian content Act is at it again but we stakeholders have to get up and do what we should do and that’s why the chamber is fearlessly going ahead with being objective. Sometimes they abuse us that we are not even promoting Nigerians, but we promote Nigerians that show it and not just because you are a Nigerian.
This piracy, there are two things involved; in the whole of Africa, Somalia piracy is a business, in Nigeria you have armed robbery, not piracy; what we have is armed robbery. It is armed robbery extended from land to the sea; and the most unfortunate aspect of it is that it is in connivance with Nigerians. In neighbouring countries, you have all sorts of neighbouring people in this game. At times even the mother vessels that are bringing in the products they are saying they are doing piracy, it is a terrible cartel. We are trying to work out something, it is disgraceful that our men go out there and connive because of dollars; what has happened to the uniform and pride; so if we don’t address it now, it is dangerous because even international bodies like the international maritime executive committee (IMEC) had always wanted to categorise us as piracy prone countries. We have told them that it is not true, we know very well that ours is not piracy, what we have is robbery on high seas.
Nigeria has to address this. The government employed an agency that will give logistic assistance to NIMASA and the Navy to ensure that the waters are safe. There were such hue and cries in Nigeria but the people are actually doing something. They are providing the platform, they are giving everything, we are trying to address the pride of the navy, it is disgraceful that our people out there assist in this robbery, it is very bad.
Hiring private firm to safeguard our waters
It is not illegal that you engage a company that has the antecedent and has shown ability; this people have shown that this is what they can do. Nigeria is very diverse. This country should try and see things from where we are going. Let’s give this Global West (GWSL) people a chance. You see in the next five years, if you draw the chart, we should always ask NIMASA we want to see your score sheet and if we see, it is always below par. We say GWSL is not doing well go, so it will be easy to track. The international bodies say we are piracy prone because it makes insurance to Nigeria sky high. Everything is like Nigeria is in a war zone and this is not true. It is something we have always known and it’s been addressed.
CVFF is a fund that exists. It is there. Unfortunately there are a lot of political intrigues. Anywhere there is money; Nigerians always go there trying to use whatever political advantage they have. So the fund would be released but what NIMASA is trying to do is give it to the people that should have it, but when you keep having interference, you just have to wait but it is there, it is good way of encouraging indigenous ship owners. If you can come up with a contract, come up; if you qualify you are given the money. It will be monitored by your bank; you are likely to get contract if you have a vessel. So when it is released it is a very good idea, it cant fund much but it is the beginning; it can become something that one could start with but am amazed at all the political innuendo because of the N100 million or so, it is so unfortunate.