In this analysis, ANOZIE EGOLE x-rays the occupation of Nigeria’s maritime sector by foreigners due to the dearth of indigenous seafarers
Nigeria, one of the countries at the fringes of the Atlantic, is blessed with water resources. Ordinarily, this would have made it haven for maritime business. Ironically, it boasts little of human resources in the maritime sector, especially seafarers.
Investigation by Financial Street has shown that Nigerian seafarers all over the world are less than 0.5 per cent. Foreigners have taken over 99.9 per cent of freighting in and out of the country due to the country’s lack of indigenous ships, says the Chairperson of Nigerian Shipowners Forum, Mrs Margaret Orakwusi.
In a chat with Financial Street at the end of the 2021 Symposium organised by the Mission to Seafarers, Lagos, Orakwusi stressed the need for Nigeria to train more seafarers and export them for foreign exchange.
According to the ship-owner and analyst, with Nigeria’s population of 200 million people, and its youth wallowing in abject unemployment, there is need to train more of the youths and expose them to the seafaring profession.
She also called on government to support indigenous practitioners to own ships.
Her words, “Truth be told, we do not have ships in this country. When I say we do not have ships, I mean indigenous ships. We still rely on foreigners, and because of that, they take almost 99.9 per cent of freighting in and out of our country. We need to enable Nigerians to own ships.
“In the aspect of seafarers, all over the world, there is a shortage. In Nigeria we are looking at our population of over 200 million people, but what are we contributing to the world? I am sure that it is less than 0.5 when it comes to seafarers.”
Care for seafarers
To address the problem, she canvassed better welfare for seafarers to entice potential professionals. She cited the period of lockdown occasioned by the Coronavirus Disease, when people were in the cosy of their homes and cared less about those at sea.
“During the COVID-19 lockdown, most of us were in the comfort of our homes, but some of these seafarers were at sea; crew change became a problem. People didn’t think about seafarers’ welfare. This is why we applaud the MTS Lagos for the good work they did at that time.
“To the young men and women that are seafarers, there is a lot of job opportunities out there for you in the international market. There are some countries that are landlocked, but they earn a lot of foreign exchange from the salaries of the seamen that they have outsourced,” Orakwusi said.
She added that seafaring could help Nigeria’s unemployment situation.
“Nigeria, with a population of 200 people, and with our youth looking for jobs everywhere, we should think about training more of them, we should also think about owning our own ships,” she stated.
Growing the sector
On his part, the President of Merchant Navy Officers and Water Transport Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, Bob Yousou, said that that shipping industry could only thrive when the government allows foreigners or private sector players to have major stake in shipping operations.
The shipping department of the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas, according to him, is booming due to the synergy with foreign investors.
He stressed that the Federal Government’s investment in the shipping sub-sector would address unemployment in the country, adding that revamping the national carrier would further provide sea time for cadets of the various maritime academies in the country.
“But if we can buy and partner with foreigners, then we are in for business because we will consider profit and will look at the administrative aspect of shipping. No matter the number of vessels we have, if we fail to engage the services of foreigners with interest in shipping, the vessels will definitely go aground again.
“We want the government to enter into more bilateral agreement with shipping industries worldwide because this will help to bridge the gap of unemployment of seafarers,” he said.
Bane of seafaring
At the 2021 Seafarers Day in June, the President of the Nigerian Indigenous Ship Owners Association, Aminu Umar, blamed laxity and indiscipline among Nigerian seafarers for unemployment in the sector.
During panel discussions, Umar argued that most Nigerian seafarers were complacent, indiscipline and not dedicated to duty, compared to their foreign counterparts.
While recalling an ugly incident in 2010 when 16 vessels were washed ashore by storm in Lagos, he said all the affected vessels were manned by Nigerian crew.
Immediately it is 6.00pm, Nigerian crew would dump their ship at anchor and go clubbing on the island, while some of them would take the opportunity to visit their houses, he alleged.
“We don’t want you to have this entitlement mentality. Whenever you are employed by a ship-owner, you are selling yourself first. You need to market yourself by being dedicated and committed.
“If you look at these ships that were swept ashore, they had one thing in common; they were 100 per cent manned by Nigerian crew. I have videotapes of what happened. That night, a storm came and swept all the ships without crew, most of them today have turned to wrecks. This is where the issue of discipline comes in,” he said.
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