By Isaac Anumihe
Nigerian maritime stakeholders have been speaking on how the country can stem an estimated $6.16 billion paid by importers to foreign shipping companies as freight charges annuallu. The are also miffed by the fact that over 20,000 local and offshores have been lost in the last few years following the Federal Government inability to float a viable national carrier.
According to a maritime expert, Mr Ismaila Aniemu, former head of state, General Olusegun Obasanjo (rtd) handed over 19 ocean-going ships to Alhaji Shehu Shagari’s government in 1979 met only two vessels when he returned to government in 1999, 20 years after. Even the remaining two vessels, MV Trainer disappeared from the waters.
Aniemu condemned the attitude of Nigerians towards maritime policy, saying that Nigeria is the largest exporter of oil and there is no Nigerian ship owned by the government that carries the commodity. He said that the nation is the largest importer in the west and central African region which accounts for over 65 per cent income, regretting that there is no ship to freight the cargoes.
“Former head of state, General Olusegun Obasanjo (rtd), in 1979 handed over 19 ships to Alhaji Shehu Shagari Government. As at 1999 when he returned, 20 years after, the whole ships had been sold except one—-MV Trainer. MV Trainer was on our waters for sometime before it disappeared. You see, Nigeria owning a shipping line is not the problem. Can you maintain it? If we cannot change our attitude towards our maritime policy, even if we establish a shipping line with 500 ships, they will go the same way. Everybody that comes to government wants to rape Nigeria and go. That is what has brought us to this level. We are supposed to be a leading maritime economy in Africa. We are the largest exporter of oil and we have no Nigerian ship owned by our government that carries these oil. We are the largest importer in the west and central African region where we account for over 65 per cent income coming into the region and we have no ship” he regretted.
On job loss, Aniemu stated that over 20,000 jobs have been lost in the sector as a result of the absence of a national fleet.
“I can boldly tell you that we have lost over 20,000 employments, quality and world-class employment because when the national shipping line was operating it had offices outside Nigeria and Nigerians were working there. That Development House you see in Apapa that is abandoned today, was occupied by Nigerian National Shipping Line. Foods were going out of Nigeria; groundnut was going out of Nigeria. So many things were leaving this country and jobs were being created not just for the farmer. But today look at the fanfare and celebration that trailed the exportation of yam. That is to show you how low we fell” he lamented.
The Director General of Association of National Customs Licensed Agents (ANLCA), Mr Joel Nwosu, argued that cadet officers being churned out by Nigerian maritime institutes end up doing menial jobs instead of practicing their trade because they have no place to have sea time experience.
Besides, Nigeria loses a huge sum of money as a result of absence of a national shipping line.
“When we had the National Shipping Line, at least the revenue generated from that project went into the national coffers. But now as an export-dependent nation, most of our imports come from abroad and we end up paying freight charges to all these foreign shipping lines. These monies should have been paid to the National Shipping Line——Nigerian-owned shipping line.
“Second is the employment aspect. We have the Institute of Oceanography and other marine academies where Nigerian guys are trained. But when they come out they are most times unemployable because we don’t have a shipping line where they can go and have a sea experience. We are having an unemployment situation because we don’t have a national shipping line where most of these seafarers will go to have experience and be gainfully employed. Some of these guys are roaming the streets and end up doing menial jobs instead of doing what they were earlier trained for” he said.
A freight forwarder and national co-ordinator, Save Nigeria Freight Forwarders, Chief Patrick Osita Chukwu in his own view, argued that the absence of national carrier is causing Nigeria over $1 trillion in the aviation and maritime sectors in terms of foreign exchange. In terms of employment, Nigeria is losing over 5,000 jobs yearly.
“Nigeria is losing over N1 trillion for not having a national carrier yearly and if we secure a national carrier, all the cargoes owned by Nigerians would be utilised by these carriers. Almost all the passengers in Nigeria are using foreign fleet. This is a problem. In aviation, Nigeria has no single cargo plane. So, all the cargoes coming through the airport are foreign aircraft. For that reason, Nigeria is losing over $500 million in the aviation sector, yearly. National carrier will create employment, give room for sensitisation for citizens and create some other infrastructure. That is why it is needful to have a national carrier so that Nigeria will be able to benefit from the sector. Nigerian flag is no more flying in the mediterranean either in the aviation sector or in the maritime sector. National Shipping Line can create more than 5,000 jobs in a year when you talk of the crew members, the captains, the doctors, nurses. Then you talk of those working in high sea. All put together, the job loss will not be less than 5,000. Let Nigeria go back and get a national carrier, even if it is two ships or two aircraft.
“When you talk of shipping line you talk of air cargo. Both fly Nigerian flag. Nigerians are losing a lot because if a foreign cargo is charging $2 and a Nigerian cargo ship is charging $1, Nigerians will prefer a Nigerian ship. So,the monopoly by foreign shipowners will drop drastically. If they know that Nigeria has what they have then the relationship will be cordial. The foreign shipowners are cheating us because we don’t have what they have,” he said.