Bashir Jamoh: My dream for Nigeria’s maritime industry
Dr. Bashir Yusuf Jamoh was Thursday last week appointed Director General, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency NIMASA by President Muhammadu Buhari. He granted this interview sometime in 2018 while he was still Executive Director Finance & Administration of the agency. This was shortly after the public presentation of his book entitled: ‘Harnessing Nigeria’s Maritime Assets-Past, Present & Future’. He probably never thought he could become CEO of this apex maritime agency at the time of granting this interview. Our editorial team decided to serve our readers again with this evergreen chat as he officially assumes duty today as substantive DG of NIMASA. Excerpts
As ED F&A, what is your vision for NIMASA?
I want to see a maritime administration that can equate with those of the world powers, when you go to the IMO; we have categories in terms of rating of your maritime industry. Nigeria is not yet on category C, we are observers. There are three categories A, B, and C, we contested the category C position and we did not win. I am benchmarking Nigeria’s maritime industry in the nearest future as category A because we have started. At the IMO, when you mention Nigeria, their eyes come to NIMASA because we are the focal point. So what it needs to take Nigeria’s maritime industry into proper perspective is in the hands of NIMASA. The grading of categories A, B and C has a lot of components; how you handle your maritime administration, how safe is your water, the size of your tonnage, that leads to the fact that we do not have ships in your register, then foreign vessels would come into your waters and they will attack them, rob and kidnap the crew; and all these kind of things are the factors the IMO looks at in grading a nation. Even though it is done through election, when you click on Nigeria, you will see the capacity, the tonnage, security, marine environment, pollution, search and rescue, if there is accident on the waters, how is it handled? Others include the Global Maritime Distress System; do you have helicopters to rescue individuals? All these are what determine the category a maritime nation belongs to and if you do not have all these, you will not go to category A. So in my lifetime I would like to see Nigeria competing with US, UK and Germany in category A in terms of these indices we have listed above because those people are not better than us, it is about commitment, honesty and focus.
In a recent chat with newsmen, DG NIMASA, Dr. Dakuku Peterside, said that foreigners account for over 95 per cent of the N5billion annual freight component revenue generated in Nigeria. What is your take?
That is what I called in my book the ripple effect lost value. I have given all these data in the book in terms of how much of cargo we generate and how much freight we pay. But what constitute this kind of thing is that we have no vessel. When you export cargo to Europe, you pay and when you import from Asia for instance, you pay. I have illustrated all these in terms of the volume of cargo generated and the freight components. It is like when you take your goods for instance from Lagos to Abuja or from Anambra to Abia, you have to pay the truck owner. We generate over two million barrels of crude oil per day and we have no single vessel, so all the money we pay goes to the foreign ship owners. Since the 1960s, no single Nigerian vessel that lifts even one metric tonne of her crude oil. In my book, I made analysis of 10 years because for NIMASA, whatever the ship owner collects, the agency gets three per cent as levy and we have the data for every vessel that comes into the country or is going out and how much that is being paid. So I calculated for only 10 years and I got over $68billion, out of this only four per cent of Nigerian ship owners partake and even that four per cent, if you interrogate it closely, it may not be owned by Nigerians because they do bareboat charter, so if the freight is $5,000, under bareboat charter, you can pay as much as 70 per cent of that to the ship owner. That was why the DG told you that over 95 per cent goes to foreigners and less than five per cent comes to Nigerians. That is why our children, brothers and sisters roam the streets after graduation, see the case of my friend Tunde from Ondo State, look at the value chain, Nigeria is losing ultimately. There is no ship that employs less than 35 workers no matter how small, assuming that Nigeria has 10 ships, that is minimum of 350 persons and you know that people that work on board ships are paid based on international standards, it is not Nigeria’s N18, 000 minimum wage, we are talking about N2million monthly salary and above. No ship Captain earns less than $15, 000, that is about N3.6million monthly. So the losses are enormous and my heart bleeds, I hope and pray that this book opens doors.
Why has Nigeria retained this Cost, Insurance and Freight CIF, for crude export and Free On Board FOB policy for her imports?
All these amount to politics; I have a gazetted government white paper reversing the policy long ago. The problem of Africa, not only Nigeria is the fearful mentality of some leaders. Once you continue to do certain things with fear, the person will die and will not be able to achieve anything. Several governments made attempts; we were in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation NNPC in February this year and we discussed this at length with all the stakeholders in the shipping industry. What the NNPC told us was that they are ready to go back to the basics by allowing Nigerians the right to lift crude, but that we should to introduce a bridge gap about where we are now and where we are going. It also recommended that we should have a roadmap on where we are going in terms of people we can recommend to be allowed to lift crude. There is fear that Nigerians lack the capacity, capability. When you listen to them, you know that they have a point but as a patriotic Nigerian, you know that you cannot begin to compare a two-year old child with an 18-year old child. You must start from somewhere. Nigeria is the only member of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries OPEC that does not lift her crude; I want you to investigate this. My argument is that if Nigerians do not have good ships, they can be given the right to partner, they can do partnerships, Joint Venture with the ones you believe have capacity. Government can give these foreign companies condition that they cannot lift the without partnering the indigenous companies, if you do that, the foreign firms will queue behind Nigerians. We have trained over 3, 000 seafarers under the Nigerian Seafarers Development Programme NSDP, we don’t have ships to place them for their mandatory sea time training, what they want is just to be placed onboard a ship, if you like don’t pay them for them to get the experience for the award of Certificate of Competency as required by the International Maritime Organisation IMO. If we give the condition that for you to lift crude, you must have indigenous ownership say: 60:40 or 51:49, 51per cent for Nigerians and let the indigenous shipping companies come together under one umbrella and form a consortium. Currently, there are serious indigenous companies in terms of dynamic positioning in servicing oil companies and they are doing well, why can’t we empower them by enacting a policy that gives them a say? We can start somewhere; we can never have capacity if we don’t try because these foreigners will never want us to have capacity. I am an ED here, I have my schedule and so I will not wait for the government. So if the people in authority do a memo to the government on the issue and tell them the pros and cons, the government will approve it and Nigeria will be the better for it. As far as I am concerned, this issue of reversing this CIF, FOB policy is doable today because there are evidences that previous governments have done it in the past but it is all about politics. But like I told, talks with them are ongoing, there are processes and within a short time, there will be a head way.
Your book is incisive and comprehensive. What inspired you?
There are so many reasons for writing the book but primarily is because of my more than two decades of practice in the maritime industry, if you look at the preface of the book, you would have a glimpse of what motivated me. When you look at this part of the Apapa Port (pointing towards the former warehouses on Creek Road Apapa, some of which have been converted to NIMASA staff car park), I remember the story one Mr. Tunde, the owner of the warehouse told me about how he used to store his cocoa for export in those warehouses. Every day, when I look out through my office window and see this car park, it reminds me of the story the owner told me about cocoa production. He came here and told me that he was giving the place out for rent and we needed a place for car park for NIMASA staff. So we now use it as car park, we concluded negotiations and we paid him. We have been using the place for four-five years now and when he came for renewal, I asked him what were you using this place for? He told me he was using it for cocoa export. I asked what is happening to cocoa export, he told me that he is still doing it but in a very small scale because of the challenges of gridlock on Apapa roads. He also said cocoa production is less coupled with the lack of ocean going vessels, especially with the liquidation of the Nigerian National Shipping Line NNSL and so he has to wait for a long time for those bringing in imports and sometimes they will not go through the routes where he sells his cocoa. I asked him to give me the history of the gridlock and how it affects y him. As you know, the Apapa traffic became terrible in the last five months, if you are coming to Apapa you spend over five to seven hours. He told me that he is from Ondo State and his farm is there. According to him, he spends three days from Ondo to Lagos and from Ojuelegba to Apapa it takes him seven days that is 10 days before he begins to queue again for the vessel that would take his cargo, so he decided to close the warehouse. Then he would now take the cocoa from Ondo directly to Togo, where he gets the vessel and now starts preparation for exports. Now you can see some shanties across the water over there and behind them is Eko Atlantic City. Assuming we use those shanties to build a very good five star hotel, if you are very conversant with Dubai, they use ferries to take you across the waters to the hotels and bring you back and they eat your money and go. So when you talk about tourism, you see what we are wasting there and when you look at the environment, you see everywhere empty, you see the wastes, I see some vessels moving empty and so I started thinking and that was how the inspiration came. Now, before this came to my mind, you know I was a conventional staff for so many years and when I was appointed Executive Director, there are so many opportunity cost for me. First, I have so many years left to retire both by my age and service years and I have this political appointment for only four years and after these four years, what next? So if the government refuses to renew my appointment, I will be in the labour market and I said, I have spent 25 years, what legacy do I have? And I told myself that I have no legacy, I have served over 12 Directors General and as you know, NIMASA is an agency that has very large turnover of DGs, within an average of two years, they sack you and the government does not renew my appointment, what legacy do I have? So I started looking at all these wastes and that is where the concept of the book comes from. I looked at avenues how we can begin to harness these assets. You meet a Nigerian on the road and you ask him about maritime, he does not know anything about it. You look at the services that we have, the manufacturing industry within the maritime industry, you look at ship building, recycling, which we do not have any in Nigeria. You know the value of a ship, it doesn’t get bad at all, and any day you want to get rid of your vessel, there is always market for it. In terms of services, you have ICT, underneath the waters; you have cables, and you have the West African Cables. Again in terms of services, you look at chandelling, protective agencies, etc. So having looked at all these, I decided to put my pen to paper so that I would write something that would remain a legacy even if I am no longer in the maritime industry because of my passion for the industry and I know that everything you touch in the maritime industry is money. The Fulani man would say that cow has so many values, the beef, hides and skin, the legs; even the waste products are manure. So everything in the shipping industry can be converted into money. If you look at the book very well, I started with the introduction, then I delved into the historical perspective. That area is the place I love so much in the book because I tried to look at the history of shipping in Nigeria as it relates to slave trade because in every good thing, you see the bad side and in every bad thing, you see the good aspect. Even in the bad aspect of slave trade, I saw how the route of slave trade shaped our international trade. So I linked the historical aspect to how they developed seaports and so through research, I developed more interest and that was how the motivation kept coming.
Most people write books at retirement or shortly before that but you wrote yours while in service. What is responsible for this?
That is another interesting aspect of it. Earlier, I told you that there are a lot of factors that motivated me. Interestingly, I am a doctorate degree student of the University of Port Harcourt, I want to specialise in maritime security. When I was admitted into the university for the PhD, you would be required to write a proposal, a thesis, so I wrote my thesis on the Cabotage trade, which is part of the maritime asset. This is another aspect of the book I have passion for because of the indigenous participation and Nigeria’s Cabotage is linked to the Jones Act of the United States and so also I have passion there. This passion also stems from the fact that indigenous operators have not benefitted from it since the act was signed into law by former President Olusegun Obasanjo since 2003. So I told myself that if I carry out my study in that area, I will be able to proffer solutions to some of those challenges that would be useful to the government to move the businesses of those indigenous operators forward in terms of ship ownership, trade and other issues like that. I chose that area and wrote my proposal and my supervisor approved it. One day I went to see my supervisor and he told me that he wants me to change my topic. I said Sir, I have spent about six months working on this topic, I have made tremendous research, this is an area I know so well and I work with an organisation that warehouses this Act, we are the one to implement it so I want you to think twice about it. He asked me, are you challenging me Mr. Jamoh, I said no but why do you want me to change the topic? He said I will tell you, first I have this number of persons that wrote on Cabotage at Masters level and at PhD level, I also have this number of people that are writing on Cabotage, so I have the feeling that if you also write on Cabotage, you may not be able to contribute to the knowledge gap. But I told him that majority of these people that wrote on it must have based the work on their findings but I am a practitioner, a practical person as long as this Act is concerned so I will write from the perspective of an operator and so my own work will be different. I have read their works but as an operator, there will be significant difference no matter how little, it will add to the knowledge base of the industry but he insisted that I have to change. Now when you see the portion of the material that I have already written, it would be enough to write a book. So in the process of analysing these materials, I realised that the 852 nautical miles spanning from Badagry where Nigeria has borders with the Republic of Benin up to Calabar, around Nigeria’s borders with the Cameroon. So this stretch of water is where Nigeria can trade using the Cabotage scheme, so I look at this also as a maritime asset and I quickly dusted those materials and put them together to form a unit of the book. This book is also related to my PhD studies, which gave me a platform as a civil servant, so whether I like it or not, I must complete my doctorate degree and if I must do that, I will continue to talk about Nigeria’s maritime assets.
As a maritime journalist, I have read a lot about what happened during the Nigerian National Shipping Line NNSL era. In your view, why has Nigeria failed to effectively tap these maritime assets over time?
This is an interesting question and it is not far-fetched from where we found ourselves today. I did my Master’s Degree in South Korea, it was during the Abacha era and you know he was not patronising these western nations and so when I went to Korea, all of them would gather and start wondering why I did not go to the UK or US, that time, they were called the Asian Tigers-South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and those other countries that followed them like Taiwan, Hong Kong and others. South Koreans at that time were telling me that when they were in secondary schools, they used to study Nigeria’s model of economy, they were envying Nigeria as at that time in the late 1960, Nigeria’s per capital income was far above that of Korea. They began to wonder why Nigeria did not improve on that and they are coming to their country to study. So it is a combination of what I called in my book, the ‘Enabling Triangle’. You see, the enablers we have in our country took us to where we are today. I dedicated a session of the book to the history of the NNSL and when you read its history, it is not far-fetched from that of the Nigerian Airways, which had several aircrafts all of which became grounded. There are many problems ranging from policy inconsistency, etc. We were not conscious of where we were going, changes in technology and so many other things that have to do with productivity of our people in certain areas. I listed all these factors in the book. Some times in life, when you miss your road, the best thing to do is to go back to where you are coming from. So that is why I started the book with the historical perspective so that we can go back to the basics. The entire problem we are having in Nigeria is the lack of good governance. I also mentioned lack of infrastructure; maritime security and these are what I called the enabling triangle. If we take the maritime industry for instance, that time we bought 10 ships, you can’t buy 10 ships of the same configuration and specification at the same time when you know that every two years you must mandatorily dry dock your vessels, so you will have to dry dock the 10 at the same time, they will age at the same time. You can’t pay cash and carry the ships because there are many models of financing ship acquisition and NNSL got grounded. All these are now history and after that you now went and established the Nigeria Unity Line NUL, all these ones are now history and they are all in the book. By my principle, I don’t like discussing problems, I rather discuss solutions. I did not write all the solutions in my book, I wrote some and so opened the debate. You too can join the debate, but I want to tell you one thing, all these developed nations, none of them got to where they are without the element of shipping and I am happy that Mr. President mentioned it that they are going to take the maritime industry as one of the areas they will use to resuscitate the economy. I am also glad with what the government is doing in the agricultural sector. President Muhammadu as soon as he came in said he would diversify the economy by developing the agricultural sector, so he was in Jigawa, Kebbi and Zamfara to commission large scale rice production facilities. So I feel that if the government also gives this kind of attention to the maritime industry, it will be very nice. One of the fallouts of the book launch was that the Minister of Transport, Rotimi Ameachi, took some stakeholders including myself from the venue to his office to discuss the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund CVFF. There is no single individual that can acquire a ship, so all hands must be on deck to develop the industry and harness these assets. When you travel from Lagos, say to Abuja, you see places that produce yam, cassava, plantain while some other soil produce banana so it is in the sea. On the top bottom of the sea, you can see a different type of fish at the second layer, you see another animal, at the main bottom, and you see other animals, which probably do not like sun light. Also at the different layers, you find crude oil, in some countries; you find diamond, gold, uranium, sharp sand, granites, among others. So by wring the book, I told Nigerians to come and harness these maritime assets scattered everywhere for the benefit of the country. By NIMASA’s research in 2017, we projected that we are to make N9.12 trillion per annum in terms of our own maritime assets, this amounts to ten third of the 2018 national budget. So this can be achieved with sincerity of purpose, supervision, clear direction and monitoring of the key performance indicators. That is why I recommended the development of an integrated marine plan in the book.