As President Mohammadu Buhari Administration winds down early next year, chances are that the Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL) which he pledged to refloat may not see the light of the day before May 29, 2019.
This may happen because the National Fleet Implementation Committee, set up to consider the possibility of reviving the shipping line has not started sitting talkess of submitting its report few months before the next general election.
It is against this backdrop that stakeholders’ expectation regarding Buhari’s avowal to cause the national carrier to come on stream again is fast waning.
Many believe the absence of the national carrier had denied seafarers sea time and employment to millions of Nigerian youths.
Director General of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr Dakuku Peterside, a few days ago, reiterated government’s commitment to the resumption of the national fleet when he hosted the Director General of Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) Mr Alex Okoh.
According to Peterside, the government has appointed a National Fleet Implementation Committee to refloat the liquidated Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL).
The committee, he said, is headed by the Executive Secretary of Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), Hassan Bello who would work closely with his agency to achieve this within the lifespan of the administration.
He said that in the new arrangement, a core investors will own 49 per cent of the shares while Nigerian ship owners will own 51 per cent of the shares of the firm which will be given the national career status.
Peterside stated that shipping to an extent defines the growth trajectory of any nation especially as it relates to seaborne commerce.
“The emphasis of the Federal Ministry of Transportation is to drive a process where we will refloat the National Fleet. This time, the core investors will own 49 per cent of the shares, whereas, Nigerian ship owners will own 51 per cent of the shares of the firm and the firm will also be given the national career status. We are looking at different models, hence the importance of this engagement, so that we can review what has happened over time and choose the best model”, the DG said.
He added that the greatest asset in the maritime space is the vessel itself and if there are no vessels, one cannot be a major player. “You can only be a major player in name, but in reality you will not get maximum benefit from trade” he said.
But as the year tapers to the end, indicating the sun set for the administration, stakeholders are now apprehensive on the possibility of the Buhari administration fulfilling its promise.
Early this year, the Transportation Minister, Mr Rotimi Amaechi raised a serious concern in the industry when he said that the sector contributes only 1.41 per cent to the national economy and to improve the situation, a national transportation masterplan to diversify the national economy will be raised. But maritime operators disproved this, arguing that the maritime industry, contributes over 51 per cent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
As an import-dependent economy, virtually everything, including the petroleum products, are imported through the seaports which is also the reason the Federal Government should pay more attention to the sector more than ever before.
Since the liquidation of the Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL) 23 years ago, all has not been well with the indigenous shipping industry. NNSL was liquidated following huge debts running into hundreds of millions of dollars. International creditors were on the prowl to arrest any ship associated with NNSL.
In 1979 the nation had a fleet of 29 sea-going vessels employing thousands of Nigerians. But before 1995 the fleet had gone down to less than 12 on Nigerian waters and later disappeared from the waters completely. What remained of them were mere carcasses which would require huge sums of money to refloat. The administration of the late General Sani Abacha, apparently because of the embarrassment the Nigerian flagged vessels were causing the country in the face of the huge debt, approved the liquidation of the national carrier.
NNSL was therefore liquidated in July 1995 by the former Transport Minister, the late Major General Ibrahim Gumel. But since the liquidation, industry stakeholders have been lamentating about the huge trade imbalance this has created for the country. For instance, it is envisaged that by now, Nigeria would have reached the capacity to be involved in crude oil affreightment. This is estimated to run into hundreds of billions of dollars annually that would have accrued to Nigeria. It could also be that the so much talked about N7 trillion annual income from the maritime sector by some prominent stakeholders could have been realised if Nigerian ship owners were involved in crude oil affreightment.
Dr Frank Ojadi, a lecturer at Lagos Business School, wanted to know the timeline for the taking off of the project and if the government is still going ahead with the project. But if the government is still serious with the idea, it should whittle down its shareholding to avoid a repeat of the past mistake.
“We need to know first why it (NNSL) hasn’t taken off. We are also supposed to know how it is going to take off. We have to find out from the Ministry of Transportation whether they are still going ahead with the project or not. If they are going ahead, what is the modus operandi? Who and who are the shareholders? Chances are that we may have a repeat of the same mistake in this one again. To this extent, the government should whittle down its interest,” he noted.
Out of exasperation, the Vice President of Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Dr Kayode Farinto, submitted that the government should discard the idea of a national carrier for now because it lacked the managerial skill to manage the project.
“We don’t need a national carrier for now because the one we had in the past was not managed well. Let us make our ports business friendly and have good roads first before talking of a national carrier. It is not part of our priority for now. It is a misplacement of priority. We don’t need it for now.
“We don’t have a managerial skill to manage a national carrier. We need a group of technocrats that will manage it well. We should sanitise the maritime industry before we talk of a national carrier,” he said.