Mrs Mary Madu Hamman is President of Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association, WISTA-Nigeria. Before joining Nigeria Maritime Authority (now NIMASA) in 1993, she had worked as postal controller NIPOST GPO Marina from 1987 to 1993. In this interview, she talks about what WISTA is all about and other issues.
A few women have vessels in Nigeria. How would you describe their efforts?
I talk with most of them and they always cry out that things are not moving fine for them. We have Margaret Orakwusi and Chizob who is in oil and gas industry. If you hear their stories, you would be moved. They are tough women. I don’t know how they do it, but they get results.
We also reach out to the women in the Riverine areas. Now, we have just bought a vessel, a fishing boat with engine and net. We are going to give the women in Aguleri to encourage them. We would be going to Aguleri to present it to the community. So, those are the things that we have been doing. We have also done it in Oron and Epe and the women have been coming with feedback that they are progressing. Some thought that they are supposed to pay us back from the proceeds of the fishing boats that we have given them. But we usually tell them that it is for them to groom themselves. So, they have been sharing the profits interchangeably with the different groups. The women of Oron even built a cold room so that when they go out to fish, they have a place to keep the leftovers. So, we have been encouraging them in the best way we can. We are also organizing meetings and we have our annual conferences that we do and we encourage them to come and learn from the lectures. We discuss topical issues and we have discussed the Apapa gridlock and a number of relevant issues in the industry. Most times, we use women as resource persons and some professional men too. The women also have it; there is nothing that the men can do that we cannot do.
Tell us a bit about WISTA
The association is all about women in management position in the maritime industry, like lawyers, ship owners, and some educators. We also have women in Customs, Immigration, anybody that has anything to do with shipping can be a member, and the person must be from the top management staff. WISTA is an international association and Nigeria is a branch and I’m the president of the Nigerian branch of the association. We have WISTA in about 43 countries. So it does not have to be in maritime only. Women in clearing and forwarding are part of us. What we do is to network, try to encourage and mentor the young ones by going to schools and giving them the choice of career opportunities in the maritime industry.
What would you say are some of the challenges of women in the sector?
The reason why we have fewer women in the sector is because many are looking at the challenges. For those who are interested, it is important to let them know that it is very profitable. Maritime jobs are being paid for in hard currency. So, if they are seafarers, they are going to be on board vessels. This means that it would improve our foreign reserves. Here, we are talking about the gender gaps. What we are saying is that women can do all that the men are doing. And then we are all over the departments from administration to legal as well as teachers and instructors. These are all the areas that women can take up. The only reason there is a difference may be because we don’t wear uniform. You go out and people don’t feel that you are in the sector. But we are all over and we are making impact. Since the competition is so tight, anywhere you find a woman, she always wants to prove herself because the maritime industry is not for weaklings.
Do you see the women competing favourably with their male counterparts, in view of the challenges and harassment at work?
They have to be strong because if you know your job nobody can stand in your way. Besides, there are things in place now like cameras that can take care of things like harassment. Except you are interested, the culprit won’t get away. It can be picked on the camera and you can report it. If anybody is caught harassing another person, they will definitely punish the person. It is all left to you. So, what we have been telling them is to come out, tell your story and don’t be afraid. If it is on camera, you can verify it.
Do you see the issue of poor remuneration as another challenge?
You know they have trade unions and it all depends on where they are working and what is obtainable. There is a standard for payment for seafarers wherever they are and there are a lot of opportunities for them. You don’t just take anything because you are looking for a job. As long as you are good in your field, you would get the right job. If you have any complaints, it is better to channel it in the right direction. There are instruments in place that would guide all these problems.
Are there efforts to remove barrier for women in the sector?
If you remove the barriers, then you are making them to be a man. As women, that factor would still come up. We are women but with awareness and determination, they can excel. At WISTA, we tell them about the opportunities, groom and mentor them. Some of us are about to exit, by the end of next year, I would be retiring and then all my experiences in the industry can be used in mentoring the young ones. I have been in NIMASA for the past 26 years and I know what I saw. For instance, they would say that you are a woman, they cannot make you a port manager. So, why can’t I be in the port because I am doing what you are doing? As a head, you have people that you are working with, they do the runs and you are just supervising them. Or they can say as a woman, you can’t go to the port at night. I go to the port at night and there is nothing that they can do that we cannot do. So, the woman is left out in the process, promotion and other responsibilities. But you have to fight for it. And if they try you once or twice and see that you can do it very well, then you will keep getting things to do. But if you keep telling them that you are a woman, I can’t do it or that this is for men, then they will continue to push you aside.
Even when I came into the industry and I needed a job, the response was that we don’t employ women here. I told them I could see some women passing by, they said just a few. Then I said I would be one of them. I had to push and I think I was following my paper for over three months. Some of the security men then thought I worked there already. At a point, they said please don’t come again, we will call you when it is ready. Then to learn the job was another phase. They would give you the one that is the hardest so that you will fail. But they didn’t know that by giving you those types of jobs, you are learning. You have to know the manifest, summarize the size of the container, the area the container is coming from and the type of cargo, as well as how to calculate the tonnage and all that. It became another school, after graduating for some time, before I joined NIMASA. I had to start learning like ABC. It was also important to listen to people and learn as I do those things. There is no job that you see as too small or too big. This job is for the clerks. The clerks know it better. They have been there and so it is to come down and learn if you want to survive.
We are encouraging them to stand on their ground. It is a field that everybody can come and play. It is not for some people alone. It is for everybody and then it is a place that you can grow as well as even mentor other people. It is a new area for many and anywhere I go to speak for WISTA, you see that they don’t know what’s happening, they are excited to hear about the opportunities and potentials in the sector. So, I am encouraging them to come out to benefit, it is a beautiful industry where they can use their talents and build themselves, their families and the country. You bring in earnings that the country needs.
What keep you going?
What keep me going is the zeal to achieve, to be at the top of the game as well. And then the pay is not bad compared to where I was coming from. I was coming from a typical ministry and then when I joined NIMASA the salary wasn’t much different. But with time, things were changing and there were opportunities. The places that I couldn’t go before now, I can go to, so many places. What kept me going was the fact that I can travel around the world on the job. It is something that you want to do over and over again.
What are some of the memorable places that you have been to?
I have been to New Orleans and it was around the tsunami time. We have also been to Singapore and we saw the development there. Then you see that some of these countries are small and they are doing very well. So, you wonder why we can’t do the same thing too. We have also been to Macao, a small island. We went on a cruise for ten days from US to the Bahamas. It was a very beautiful experience being on a new vessel that was just launched. WISTA actually did our conference on board the vessel and it was a different experience.
How has the sector impacted your life personally?
I am sorry to say that if you want to look at anybody in the maritime sector, you would not go anywhere because everybody is on his or her own. If you say you want to depend on somebody for something, you would be disappointed. The thing lies with me, my family and I know the target that I want to hit. That is why I keep moving in the industry. You can be discouraged, there is no trust and you cannot rely on anybody in the industry because what they usually say is that shipping is a mafia business. Sometimes, you have work to do and somebody will keep the information away from you. So, who are you looking up to? So, what keeps you going is what you want to achieve in the industry, not minding anybody.