Every year, decision makers and industry professionals in the Nigerian maritime industry, including operators, stakeholders and government agencies gather at the Nigerian Maritime Expo (NIMAREX) to brainstorm on the gains and pains in the sector. In this interview with TOLA ADENUBI, the chairman of this year’s NIMAREX programme, Ayorinde Adedoyin, who also doubles as the Managing Director of Peacegate Group Limited, spoke on expectations at the 2015 NIMAREX programme. Excerpts:
Ahead of NIMAREX 2015, some stakeholders are concerned that the crisis rocking the Nigerian Ship-owners Association (NISA) over its president involvement in a $5.85 million loan diversion scandal could mar this year’s NIMAREX programme, given the fact that NIMAREX is the brain-child of NISA. What is your take on this, sir?
There have been problems within NISA. It is true that NISA started NIMAREX. They started it to showcase the industry, but other parts of the maritime industry have already bought into the NIMAREX programme. So, NIMAREX, to me, is not about NISA. NIMAREX is about the maritime industry. The industry has bought into it, so it is not a NISA thing anymore. Yes, it was started by NISA, but other industry operators like the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agencies (NIMASA), even the freight forwarders and others have keyed into the NIMAREX programme. NISA does not fund NIMAREX. The programme is to showcase the maritime industry, not just the indigenous ship-owners subsector.
In an earlier interview with the National President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Olayiwola Shittu, he stated that without NISA, there could not be NIMAREX. How true is this, sir?
People just tend to get so many things wrong. I am a member of NISA. I was an executive member of NISA for almost seven years. How can people just say without NISA, there cannot be NIMAREX? It is like somebody saying that without your father, there is no you. Yes, your father gave birth to you, but now you are a grown man that can take decisions independently. Be it right or wrong, you will have to consider where you are coming from when taking some certain decisions, but you take those decisions independently. NISA is not funding NIMAREX. NIMAREX is sourcing for funds from independent people and organisation to fund the exhibition. NISA did very well by setting up NIMAREX as an exhibition platform for the maritime industry to gather every year. NISA will always be important to NIMAREX just like your father is very important to you, but it is wrong for anybody to say without NISA, there cannot be NIMAREX. I really don’t want to discuss in details NISA’s problems because the NISA executive is already handling that.
In the area of funding, how is NIMAREX 2015 faring?
Of cause, people are keying into the 2015 NIMAREX programme. Some corporate organisations are already making commitments to sponsor the programme, even though some will not. Some organisations are already buying boots that will be used at the exhibition. We are talking to different people. It is our committee that is saddled with the responsibility of finding sponsors for the exhibition. We are working and I can assure you that the NIMAREX 2015 exhibition will be successful.
The Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF) is said to have accumulated to about $800 billion. With this year’s NIMAREX theme as, ‘Nigeria: Regenerating economic growth through the maritime sector,’ will the exhibition focus on this fund as a tool to drive growth in the maritime sector?
Past NIMAREX has dwelt so much on the CVFF fund. This year’s NIMAREX will be looking at alternative funding for the maritime sector. The topic this year bothers on funding. What we are more concerned about is that apart from CVFF, people are able to raise money to support maritime business in this country. What we are trying to do is to find companies and banks that are ready to finance maritime business and projects in this country. We have like two foreign banks that have shown interest in coming. For now, I really don’t know what is happening to the CVFF fund. I know the money is there. I know we contribute money. NIMASA and NISA should be in a better position to give details on the CVFF fund.
Why the choice of that theme?
Due to the fall in oil price, which has been Nigeria’s main source of revenue over the years, we realised that the maritime sector can generate so much money for the country. If you look at Nigeria as a whole now, we are import-dependent because most of our industries are not that functional. I won’t be surprised now if we are importing water. Despite the fact that we are an import-dependent country, Nigerians are not participating in the importation of cargoes because we don’t have freighters, we don’t have container-carrying vessels. The majority of the indigenous ship-owners in Nigeria are either tanker owners or offshore ship-owners. We are going to look at the opportunities in cargo exportation and importation, and the laws that guide cargo importation in this country. Nigeria is losing so much money because Nigerians are not participating in cargo importation and exportation. The Cabotage law says a certain percentage of government cargoes should be carried by local companies, are we doing that? No. It’s because of issues like this that we came up with this year’s theme so that Nigerians can be given a direction on how an ordinary ship-owner can make money from that sector and the government too will make money.
Some stakeholders have began to view the NIMAREX exhibition as an annual ritual which does not translate into reality because most of the issues raised in past NIMAREX programmes remain unsolved till the next one. What is your take on this?
It will be unfair to say that past NIMAREX has not added value because to some certain extent, government policies have been worked on and amended based on papers presented at past NIMAREX programmes. The problem we have in the maritime sector is when the government allows people with little or no knowledge about the sector to head policy making parastatals in the sector. There are so many opportunities in the maritime sector. We have opportunity for a container transfer port in this country. We have the opportunity for about five shipyards in Nigeria but as a ship-owner, I still take my vessel to Cameroun for dry-docking. We have opportunity for training school like the Maritime Academy in Oron, Akwa Ibom State, yet we send our seafarers to India to study what they can learn in Nigeria. There is so much in the maritime sector that the government is not touching. Let the government spend 50 per cent of the energy they are currently spending on the agriculture sector on maritime and you will see a noticeable difference. I took a vessel of mine for dry-docking in Cameroun and they gave me a bill of about $100,000. They told me it will take three weeks before it would be ready, but it ended up taking three months and I spent nothing less than $500,000. You can imagine the huge capital flight the country is losing. That is just with me. You can imagine the ripple effect of more than $500,000 Dollars in an economy. This is what NIMAREX is here, for we cannot force the government to change any policy, but we can make them realise that there is opportunity here. Imagine a shipyard in Lagos that is more than 2000 jobs off the labour market.