Monday, 30 June 2014

Nigerian seafarers deserve much more

Nigeria joined the rest of the world to mark the Day of the Seafarer on Wednesday last week.
Seafarers are the people without whom food, clothes, gifts, gadgets or even basic needs would not reach our doors. We rely on them every day. 
The Day of the Seafarer was first celebrated in 2011, following its establishment by a resolution adopted by the Conference of Parties to the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watch keeping for Seafarers (STCW), 1978, held in Manila, Philippines, in June 2010, which adopted major revisions to the STCW Convention and Code. 

The Day of the Seafarer has now been included in the annual list of United Nations Observances.
In 2011, the celebration took the form of an online campaign, in which IMO asked everyone to voice their support using social networks to say "Thank you seafarers" on Facebook, via tweets, by posting a video on YouTube, discussing on LinkedIn, or even writing an inspirational blog.

I played an integral part in the maiden celebration in Nigeria. I wan part of a stakeholders committee that organised a rally for the seafarers at Onikan Stadium, Lagos. The rally was well attended with about 1,000 seafarers participating and several stakeholders in attendance. It was a beautiful outing. 
The Day of the Seafarer provides an opportunity to pay tribute to the world's 1.5 million seafarers for the unique and all-too-often overlooked contribution to the well-being of the general public.
By generating interaction on the web about seafarers, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) aims to show respect, recognition and gratitude to seafarers everywhere. 

The universal outreach of social media will raise awareness of the vital role that seafarers play in the world economy and, in many respects, in sustainable development, enabling ships to carry than 90% of world trade safely, efficiently and with minimal impact on the environment.
The Day of the Seafarer is also an opportunity to educate the public about issues facing the modern-day seafarer - issues such as piracy.

In addition to the generic occupational hazards confronting all seafarers the world over, Nigerian seafarers face several other challenges.
Many of them are not employed and except for a few that work with multinational oil companies and the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG), those employed are poorly remunerated.
There have been several cases of abandonment of seafarers at sea by their Nigerian employers who owe them months of salary arrears.
Many Nigerian shipping companies are unable to pay their seafarers living wages largely because their ships are not meaningfully engaged. I have heard of an indigenous shipping company that is owing its workers 13 months salary and when they dared to stage a walkout on the vessel, the owner threatened to sack all of them without settling the salary owed them. 
Nigerian cadets are also suffering untold hardships. There are well over 5,000 cadets of the Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN) Oron, Akwa Ibom State who are caught in the middle because they have not been able to acquire requisite mandatory sea time experience without which they cannot secure gainful employment or return to school for further studies. 
The implication of all of these is that many Nigerian seafarers become willing tools in the hands of criminal elements who use them to steal the nations crude oil, petroleum products and perpetrate heinous crimes against ships plying the nation's waters.
Beyond the fun fare therefore, the most fitting tribute Nigeria can pay its seafarers is to address the pressing problems. Give them jobs and ensure they are well paid like their peers in other parts of the world. After all, that is what the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) 2006 which has entered into force in Nigeria is all about. 
Government should also acquire a training vessel for MAN Oron to address the sea time training gap experienced by cadets over the years. 

Those who value their maritime potentials shall be great and do exploit

Greece understands the economic and military power derivable from shipping. Little wonder Greek vessels are all over our waters and all we can do is complain and whine. They are also everywhere else.
Greece organises the world’s biggest and most glamorous maritime exhibition and conference called Posidonia. Posidonia 2014 has participants from 93 countries with close to 2,000 exhibitors; and unlike our own President Goodluck Jonathan who has consistently shunned invitations for four years running to declare open Nigeria’s version of Posidonia – the Nigeria Maritime Expo (NIMAREX) – the political leaders of Greece fully participate in Posidonia.

In a stirring Posidonia 2014 opening speech, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaris paid tribute to the sea and seafaring as defining “the essence of Greece, its history and unique civilization.”
He said throughout history, it was this maritime tradition that had allowed the country to “gain hope and power, overcome difficulties, re-establish prosperity and start over again.”
So it was again now, he said, with shipping proving one of the country’s two “champion sectors” – alongside tourism – pulling the country out of its recent financial difficulties.

 “The economic potential of the Greek commercial fleet and the strategic positioning of Greece in future world commerce are gaining power by the day,” the Prime Minister stated.
The Greek-operated fleet represents some 15% of world commerce, and in the past 10 years Greek owners have built more than 2,500 oceangoing ships, mainly in Asian shipyards.
“As we speak, a new vessel of Greek ownership is being built every two days worldwide. Even more importantly, Greece is now becoming “the most stable country in an unstable region, and a perfect gateway for commerce from Asian ports extending from the Middle East to the Far East and Japan, through the Suez Canal to the continental European markets,” the Greek PM stated.
After the official opening, Samaris spent nearly three hours touring the exhibition, learning yet more about Greece’s world shipping leadership role at the world’s leading maritime event.
Back home, the entity called Nigeria would not have been created by the colonial masters but for the shipping sector. The colonial masters came in through the sea. It will therefore not be out of place to attribute our existence as a nation today to shipping.
The major actors in the shipping sector in Nigeria and indeed West Africa in the pre-independence era were Elder Dempster, John Holt and United Africa Company (UAC) and its shipping arm, Palm Line. These companies laid the foundation of shipping operation in the West African sub-region and Nigeria was a key market for them. Elder Dempster during the era of Sir Alfred Jones dominated the carriage of commodities and passengers into and out of West Africa.
Since the 19th century to the present time, Lagos port has been the most important trading port for the lines. By 1906, the inward and outward cargo freight of Lagos port amounted to 20,000 tons which was ten times greater than any other West African port.
The story of the company which came to be known as Elder Dempster Line Limited dates back to September 1852 with the sailing of a ship known as Forerunner, which was the first ship owned by the African Steam Ship Company (ASSC) which obtained a royal charter in 1852 to establish and maintain postal and other communication by means of steam navigation between Great Britain and Ireland and the West Coast of Africa.
Elder Dempster was formed by Alexander Elder and John Dempster who both worked at African Steam Ship Company and later at the rival British and African Steam Navigation Company. They were both experts in the London-West Africa trade and they utilized their knowledge to define the trade relationship between Britain and its West African colonies.
Elder Dempster had come here, set up the British Bank which is now First Bank; they ran the first airways we had, they ran the railways, in fact they had control of the lands from Ijora-Olopa to Marina Customs Wharf because that used to be the Customs Wharf up to Apapa.
Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) grew out of Elder Dempster. Elder Dempster was in the forefront of shipping in Nigeria.
The company was training pilots and engineers in NPA as cadets.
Later came Palm Line but Palm Line and John Holt were different because they were traders.
The commodities marketing boards and so on, of old, came out of the infrastructure and the framework set up by these conglomerates. They had warehouses everywhere manned by Nigerians. They had their structures everywhere.
Our colonial masters set up a framework, they built schools and till today, some of the mission schools are about the best in the country because of their discipline and the well structured academic and personal development programmes.
What is known today as First Bank of Nigeria was formed on 30th March 1894 as Bank of British West Africa Limited by Sir Alfred Jones who was Chairman of Elder Dempster. Elder Dempster it was that also brought in a sizable portion of the steel used in constructing railway lines and the cement used in construction works in the country. The company also established the first commercial airline in Nigeria when Elder’s Colonial Airways formally commenced operation in on 26th January 1936 with its proving flight from London to Kano. The plane went through Sudan to Maiduguri before arriving Kano.
I captured the details of the value Nigeria’s colonial masters attached to the shipping sector in my book titled ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT which can be ordered online from any of the world’s major book retailers. You may wish to read the details there.
Unfortunately, our post-colonial leaders have been blinded by oil. They don’t even understand the value of the shipping sector. Our leaders have not paid the required attention to this important sector. One hundred years after, we are still struggling with getting it right especially in the indigenous ownership of vessels.
One of the fasted ways of addressing the problems bedeviling our nation today is to retrace our steps, forget about oil and accord priority attention to shipping.

Adamu Aliero Committee goofed over NPA N540bn unremitted fund claim

The Public Accounts Committee of the National Conference misled Nigerians by claiming that the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) was unable to account for N540 billion. The committee's claim was rather bogus and sensational.
By virtue of its enabling law, NPA is a self-accounting agency of government that generates its revenue, submit budget proposal to the National Assembly, spend out of the money and remit the surplus into the coffers of government.
The committee took a rather simplistic approach at the issue of revenue. I am not sure they really understood the issues at stake.
Nigerian Ports Authority under the Nigerian Ports Authority Act, Cap N 126 LFN, 2004 has powers to construct, equip, operate and provide port services to the general public. NPA is a commercial arm of the Government which has to operate almost like any other business and make profit before remitting its operating surplus to the Government, being the owner. This is net of all cost of undertaking operations including development/maintenance of facilities/purchase of equipment and administrative expenses.
In pursuance of the above, NPA was given financial autonomy under sections 13-14 of the Ports Act to apply its revenues towards carrying out the operations, development of ports purchasing of equipment before remitting the surplus to government.
Section 14(l) of the Ports Act allows the Authority to maintain a general reserve fund into which it is to set aside appropriate amounts for replacement, contingencies and other purposes. The monies are to be applied for the purposes of the Authority with the approval of the Minister as provided under section 14(2). However, with the coming into force of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the appropriations in respect of the Authority are approved by the National Assembly by virtue of section 81 of the Constitution.
Section 15 allows the Authority to apply its surplus revenues for its own purposes as it may determine. With the coming into effect of the 1999 Constitution, the surplus revenues of the Authority were made subject to the Consolidated Revenue Fund established under section 81(1) of the Constitution. This supersedes section 15 of the Ports Act in order to bring it in line with the Constitution.
To give effect to this provision of the Constitution, the National Assembly passed the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007. Section 22 (I) provides that notwithstanding anything in the law establishing any statutory corporation on the application of its surplus revenues, it shall be entitled to retain only one fifth of those surplus revenues. The remaining portion is to be remitted to the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Government. The Authority has since been remitting its revenue surpluses accordingly.
The Ports Act did not authorise payment into the Federation Account.
The Fiscal Responsibility which deals with the matter however authorised payment to the Consolidated Revenue Fund. This is however in respect of revenue surpluses after meeting all costs.
It should be noted that what is remitted is the revenue surpluses after meeting all operational, maintenance, development and administrative cost as appropriated by the National Assembly under section 81 of the Constitution in each year. The Authority therefore deals with the revenues only as appropriated. And I know that NPA has been faithful in remitting its surpluses.
Members of the Constitutional Conference and the general public will do well to disregard the portion of the report concerning NPA which is highly misleading