Shipping Trade: Nigeria needs political will to make Cabotage work – Engr. Greg Ogbeifun
Growing Nigeria’s maritime industry is a joint task that requires commitment from all stakeholders, shipping entrepreneur, Engr. Greg Ogbeifun, has said.
Speaking in an interview in Lagos, Ogbeifun observed that the era of blame game was over as government alone would not do all that is required to drive the industry to greater heights.
He, however, said that as much as stakeholders should put measures in place to address youth restiveness, the government still lacked the political will in the issue of Cabotage administration, which should support indigenous participation in shipping trade.
He urged the core indigenous operators to de-emphasize money and focus more on setting agenda or pursuit of vision that could cumulatively move the maritime industry forward, and thus change both the narrative, and Nigeria’s high piracy profile.
He talks of efforts he is already working on, using his wealth of experience and professional expertise to make it ‘dream-come-through’ for the nation’s ship building sub-sector, which is capable of creating jobs that would engage young people.
What manner of value addition are you projecting for the industry with your ship repair yard efforts?
Piracy reduction or restiveness reduction is only a side product of projects like this. So, this for me is a practicalisation of my training as a marine engineer, marine consultant and marine surveyor and all of that.
I have been all over the world, either building ships; repairing ships or dry docking ships for the companies I work for. I have seen these things happening with our clients.
What got you into ship repairs in the first place?
When I came back from Europe in 1983, I came back with a British firm; they recruited me in Kuwait where they met with me and brought me back to Nigeria. I was living in England and I was working with them.
Interestingly, they were running offshore service boats; and two years into working with them, three International Classification Societies appointed the company as Representative Surveyors in Nigeria; and their appointment was based on me being one of the superintendents (at the time, I was a superintendent with a combined certificate of competency, which was a first class).
So, for the accreditation societies, that was a good surveyor to have, and to have him, we have to give the contract to his company and they will use him to do the job. So I said, fine! For me, it was part of my job.
Of course, they took me to Hamburg for induction and accreditation and then to Paris.
But I found out that to do my job, I used to have to fly out with helicopter, offshore, and those were my most scary days in this job, because the helicopter used to drop us with a basket unto the deck of a boat. You were not even put inside the basket, you hung outside the basket, so you could hold unto it and then it lowered you down. If you stayed inside the basket and anything happened, you got stuck inside. But, you could jump off if you were outside.
Of course, we wore life jackets. Nonetheless, it was a scary experience, until the basket eventually lands; and then you come out to stay a day or two, carrying out surveys as a surveyor. And that was when I made a startling discovery.
Now, what I found out was: sometimes a ship would have a problem under water; either the hull, the propeller or something that needed repair. Now that repair may only need two days in dock, but because there was no facility in this country (then, and) most of those ship owners were all foreigners, they used to take those ships out of the country to Abidjan.
Abidjan was a popular place, and to go to Abidjan to and fro was 10 days: for a 2-day repair work. That was huge loss of revenue; interruption of contracts, because there was no facility. So, that says that ‘this is a huge market’; and if anybody can create anything that can provide a room for this, that’s a solution!
That was what triggered off my venturing into establishing a ship repair yard. And I began to think deep and began to work on it. It took me a while, met with big -time stakeholders who said: ‘if we’ll do this, we’ll need a letter of intent’. I was collecting letters of intent here and there. (But that’s a different story entirely).
Now, having started that small one, everybody can see the need, the benefits. So they now ask “can we have a bigger one?” And then you say “Can you give me the money?” They will say “No. When you finish, I will patronise you!”
I have said to God, if you preserve my life to see this, after I have seen this…
I will not want to ensnare myself, because the bible says ‘be careful of what to say for the power of the tongue is big’. I was going to say I will like this to be the last project, then I can go into retirement. But then, I know who I am, before I even get there, I (know) am already thinking of something else.
But, it’s not even about money. It is not about money. There are easier ways to make money than all these suffering that we do. You know that.
The truth, however, is that we are all crying about our country. We are all crying that ‘Nigeria is this, it’s that’, ‘we don’t have this, or that.
Okay, fine! But what are you doing in your own little sphere of influence to change things positively? So, this is my own contribution.
An advice for the Authorities?
I am tired of advising them. When was Ferdinand Agu the DG NIMASA? That’s how long I have been advising them. Just look at what they are doing with the Cabotage Vessels Financing Fund! They went and put the money in the bank.
So, what that is saying is, there is not yet the political will to do the right thing.
Maybe, until we have the likes of Godwin Obaseki at such policy places, who knows what it is, when technocrats are talking, then they will understand what we are talking about; which is not to be listening with a political ear.
Therefore, what advice will you give anybody? Is it NIMASA? My friend (the Minister) sets up a committee, put a few of us in the committee saying: ‘review the existing guidelines for the disbursement of cabotage, then, send the review to us, let me look at it, so that we can send it to the National Assembly, and we can start to disburse’.
But now that they are talking about disbursing money, where is the guideline for the money you want to disburse?
Do you need somebody to advise them that that is what the Acts says?
The Act says the sitting Minister should review the guidelines and come up with his own. The Act gives him the authority to now decide: ‘I want to do it this way’, then you do it; then send it to the National Assembly for endorsement; and thereafter, you now have the right to disburse.
You don’t need to go anywhere else. Now, do you need any Greg to advise somebody on what is already in the book? We just need to harness the resources to grow the maritime industry for the nation’s good.