By Uche Usim
The newly constituted Implementation Committee to midwife the establishment of a new national carrier has hit the ground running by immediately engaging in wide consultation with relevant stakeholders, experts and investors few days after it was inaugurated.
The committee has also set up sub-committees saddled with sourcing imperative data needed to take informed decisions towards establishing a new national fleet that would be beneficial to the private investors, government and Nigeria as a whole.
In an exclusive interview with Daily Sun Monday, the Committee’s Chairman, Hassan Bello said the Transport Ministry was bent on helping to diversify the nation’s economy using the maritime sector as the springboard.
He said the new national fleet will create thousands of jobs, boost government revenue and allow Nigeria dictate the pace in international trade policies.
According to him, a website was being designed not only for effective communication, but to also enable stakeholders make inputs which will be collated, analysed and considered as part of the condiments needed in floating a sound national fleet.
“We’ve a sub-committee that specialises in gathering and analysing various data like that of the ship, that of the cargo, trade routes, new developments in shipping etc. This is to enable us chart the course from an informed perspective. What were also doing is trying to know what the government can do to enable the private sector own and operate ships. So, we’re looking at trade policies. We really have to change certain trade policies. We’re also looking at gaps in our laws. We’ve to enact certain laws. We’re also looking at institutional repositioning. For instance, we need to rejig the NIMASA ship registry policy and that other institutional reforms. We’re looking at the totality of everything. We’re already talking with foreign investors and one or two have shown interest in this project”, he explained.
Bello, who doubles as the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) expressed hopes that the project will succeed as it is a full private sector-driven enterprise that will be insulated from undue government interference.
“One thing that is clear and what is making it a departure from the past is that this is led by the private sector. The government will not put any money into it. I often say that government has no business in most businesses. So, it’s not the same as former national shipping line. That was purely run as a government business. But here, the implementation committee is dominated by the private sector players. We’ve ship owners, ship operators, engineers, ship surveyors, maritime lawyers, etc. So, they’ve private sector mentality and orientation. The Nigerian Shippers’ Council is the link between the private sector and the government”, he noted.
On the challenges facing the project, Bello said: “They’re mainly institutional challenges. Institutions must change. We need to have the mind of a businessman. It’s not the government. When we had the former national carrier (NNSL), it was government dominated and that led to a lot of issues like profligacy, corruption and all that. And so the venture died. Even the type of ship acquired wasn’t right. I know President Obasanjo always lament that he bought 24 ships and there was none left. Of course, it had to be so partly because he bought the same type of ship at the same time. That was not a business decision. That was a political decision. And that is partly why Obasanjo will not find any ship now. So, in looking at the proposed national fleet, we’ve to involve experts, even the financial institutions because the have a lot to benefit from Nigerians owning and operating ships. So, we’re starting from the beginning. We’re also talking to the legislature and look at the laws to be passed. So, it’s a holistic approach to achieving this project”, he explained.