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.