Eighteen years ago, the CVFF, which is a two per cent contribution by indigenous ship-owners from every contract they execute, was introduced to develop cabotage fleet and local shipping capacity. But till date, the $200m Fund, warehoused by NIMASA, has yet to be disbursed. In this interview with ANOZIE EGOLE, former Director General of NIMASA, Temisan Omatseye, explains why the fund can’t be distributed
What is your reaction to the Nigerian Petroleum Industry Bill recently passed by the Senate?
From my understanding, the Senate has passed the PIB but the House of Representatives stood it down and proceeded on recess. I am a lot more focused where I think my strength lies, which is shipping and logistics, I try not to be a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none. Whatever the impact of the PIB, I will like to look at it in respect to shipping. But one aspect of it, which I am definitely going to read that might be of interest to me, is the issue of crude oil transportation. My expectation from the PIB is that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation will be focusing on its core function, which is oil production and exportation. But the issue of transportation, which is the issue of shipping and logistics, and which is the movement of the crude within and outside the country, should not be an area the NNPC should dominate. You cannot be producing the oil and also set up a shipping line; where does the private sector come in? I will fight tooth and nail to ensure that NNPC does not handle the shipping of its products; that it should be given to other people as a form of empowerment.
What do you intend to achieve with this?
The bottom line is that an organisation like the NNPC or the Ministry of Petroleum, as a government, is producing – let us be hypothetical – 2.5 million barrels of crude oil daily, and wants to determine the means by which it will be shipped to the end users.
So, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency can insist that all vessels coming in must do it on bareboat charter and provide the necessary regulatory policies to support the charter, which is even under the Cabotage Act. But this is more of international trade; issue of registry is going to change, the registration of vessels is going to be a lot more flexible to attract international financiers, but the vessel should be Nigerian-flagged. So by virtue of that, NIMASA can then insist that once you are flying this, we insist that there must be a capacity building plan that in five or six years’ time, they must have captains that are going to be on board. This was what the Nigerian National Liquefied Gas did. You must have some number of cadets on board at any given time; it could be three or four, depending on the agreement. So with that, it becomes a system where Nigerians begin to have their sea time. While we are training on Nigeria Seafarers Development Programme, they can still come back and get their flag vessels. That is the impact it will have. NIMASA can begin to create policies that will lead to manpower development on Nigerian crew and officers on board those vessels. So, if you don’t give Nigerians the cargoes, they will not be able to acquire the vessels and therefore they will not be able to train the required manpower.
Some Nigerian ship owners accused Nigerian seafarers of laziness and indiscipline, what is your take on that?
From my personal experience, it is a bit of a challenge and I try as must as possible not to accuse NIMASA on this. But I think I will have to point the finger at them. The reason is that the maritime administration takes more control of the maritime labour. My own thought on this matter is that NIMASA should, as a matter of urgency, create a portal, in collaboration with the association of maritime engineers, master mariners and merchant navy for the junior officers. Then they should first of all insist that all mariners at those levels should be members of these associations, so that you have a body you deal with. You ensure that their biometric are captured before you do anything with them, which will be linked with either their Bank Verification Number or National Identification Number. So, at any given time when a ship owner wants to engage a seafarer, he pays and goes to that portal to get someone. And when the person comes, he can verify the person, though this must not really be done by a ship-owner because he must have a crewing agent. So, whoever is coming on board, you know the biometric of that person, and if for any reason that person steals while on board, you report to the police and copy the association to blacklist the person. So if the seafarer knows that this will be the punishment, nobody will steal because they know that they will lose their jobs. It will generate revenue for NIMASA. All the foreign captains operating must also submit their biometrics and register with the local associations before they go on board. By virtue of that association, you are linking up to their own register, so that if the seafarer messes up here, you can report the person in his country and they will be deleted. With that, everybody will be careful.
What is the update on the committee on five-year cabotage waiver cessation plan by NIMASA, which you head?
That was during the last NIMASA administration led by Dr Dakuku Peterside, through the Executive Director, Maritime Labour and Cabotage Services, Ahmed Gambo. Sincerely speaking, we have gone far. Why I liked it was that it was a five-year waiver cessation plan with stakeholders, so we didn’t engage individuals; we only engaged associations. We were dealing with the presidents or representatives of the associations. We had already set the machineries to work. We had set up sub committees; we appointed people and I had already prepared their scope of work and terms of reference, and we have submitted all the reports, even to the new administration. But since they came in, they have never invited us again. Even on the Cabotage Vessels Financing Fund, we had already sat down and discussed how we are going to restructure that. But since they came in, they have not invited us; they have not even spoken to us. We have not been disbanded. So we are there.
Earlier this year, NIMASA said the CVFF did not belong to ship-owners; that it belonged to the Federal Government. What is your reaction to that?
I am sorry to say that it was a very wrong statement. There are some stories that when I read their headlines, I don’t bother reading further. But taking it with all due respect, it is all wrong. The money does not belong to the government because it is a levy on ship-owners and the Act is very clear that he levy will be managed by NIMASA. The fund is to support indigenous ship-owners. It is not a gift to the government; the government was collecting the money to build up a fund to help develop ship-owners in Nigeria. So, it is the ship-owners’ money that is being held by NIMASA on behalf of the ship-owners. It is not a tax; it is a levy.
Why do you think it is taking time to disburse the CVFF?
Disbursement of the CVFF cannot work. The guidelines cannot work. You are a maritime administrator setting up a regulation for the banking industry that has a regulator. The CVFF asked the banks to bring some money, like bring 30 per cent, and CVFF to bring 50 per cent. The CVFF guideline is only a subsidiary legislation. Go back to the National Assembly and cancel that guideline. The minister can go to the National Assembly and tell them that, in line with the failure so far and inability to disburse the CVFF, we want to suspend the CVFF guidelines.
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