What are the reforms you have brought to NIMASA since you assumed office as its director general?

About a year ago, when we assumed office, we discovered that the agency was still struggling with the framework of the two federal parastatals that were merged to form it. This conflict of identity was inevitable as the two previous bodies had been separate entities with peculiar objectives, business processes and operational complexities. To merge them required a sustainable process for management of results and expectations. To achieve this, we set about what we christened the 3R model, which is to reform, restructure and reposition it for the new roles and responsibilities within our core mandate. We developed a strategic document which has short, medium and long-term components to serve as our roadmap. 

 This document has been approved by our board of directors. Within our first year in office, management ensured the promotion of staff, particularly those in management cadre. This was a legacy achievement because this type of promotion only happened once, in 2007.

 We have injected into the agency a completely new work ethic and energy by creating a smart vision, a mission statement and core values. We have also introduced knowledge transfer sessions to improve on internal capacity at minimal cost.

 One major part of our reforms at NIMASA has been the restructuring of the agency’s operation, leading to devolution of powers to the zonal offices. This is to remove avoidable bureaucratic bottlenecks while reducing time for business transactions with the agency. This is a work in progress and we are optimistic that the decentralisation will be amplified in the next 90 days.

Safety of the country’s waterways is one of the core mandates of NIMASA. What have you done in that regard?

The regional Search and Rescue committee, which is made up of nine member countries, namely, Nigeria, Benin, Cameroon, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Sao Tome & Principe and Togo, was dormant. For almost a decade, they never met to discuss modalities of collaboration.

However, since this new management came on board, the agency has successfully hosted two sub-regional technical committee meetings to build a formidable regional network. The network has increased our level of alertness, thus improving our capacity to respond to distress calls, which has ultimately led to a considerable reduction in the cases of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.

 Our quest to achieve a safer maritime domain has seen us working on an anti-piracy bill. We have also received the president’s backing to acquire assets that will be deployed at strategic locations, thus enhancing our ability to improve the safety of vessels within our maritime domain. Having realised the need to enhance the safety of boat users in Nigeria, we have secured the approval of the Minister of Transportation to increase the number of Search and Rescue marshals from 100 to 1000.

What are you doing to ensure that Nigeria gets a seat in the International Maritime Organisation Council?

We are working hard to get a permanent seat in the IMO Council, on which we have received the backing of Mr. President. This will enable us assert ourselves effectively in IMO. As a major step towards attaining a more effective global implementation of its conventions, the IMO Assembly in December 2013 made the Member-State Audit Scheme mandatory. The audit of Nigeria was successfully conducted by IMO in June 2016.

Has NIMASA been able to effectively improve its surveillance and maritime domain awareness?

On that awareness, I am glad to inform you that NIMASA now operates a 24-hour surveillance system, which captures all vessels in the Nigerian maritime domain, irrespective of weather conditions. We can now achieve a complete profile analysis, which includes the flag, registered owner, operator, beneficial owner and movements over a specified period. This system enables us to take swift decisions, real-time, on any targeted ship. Currently, all offshore areas of interest have been electronically cordoned off with a guard zone via our surveillance system and we can at once view live-feed (activities), especially in the oil fields and on crude oil platforms.

 The system has not only greatly increased our capacity to block revenue leaks, it has also increased our revenue, as all vessels coming into Nigeria are now captured and analysed for billing.

 Furthermore, the current administration has been able to integrate surveillance data with billing control information, thereby driving our desire for the agency’s billing system to be fully automated. This innovation encourages seamless operations and has helped reduce billing operational time by two-thirds, from a whopping 72 hours down to 24 hours, while keeping our eyes on the target timeline of six hours billing.

NIMASA recently started the billing of pipelines. What is it all about?

The quest to enhance our revenue by identifying untapped resources has been exploited by the current management in the area of statutory provisions of the Sea Protection Levy gazette. Within the last one year, NIMASA has commenced the billing of pipelines, oil rigs and Floating Production Storage and Offloading (FPSO) platforms.

What have you done to empower indigenous shipowners?

Conscious of our mandate to promote the development of indigenous commercial shipping in international and coastal shipping trade, we are poised, more than ever, to achieving this obligation. We understand it requires a great deal of capacity building, especially human, infrastructural and tonnage capacities of our indigenous shipping operators. We have reviewed the participation of Nigerians in the industry and are not satisfied with the outcome. The summary of our findings revealed a low indigenous participation in international commercial shipping trade in Nigeria. As far-fetched as it sounds, there are no Nigerian-flagged ocean-going vessels known to us.

 In the course of our review also, we observed the salience of cargo availability to the commercial fortunes of a shipowner/operator and to our national tonnage growth. We noted also that commercial shipping will less likely develop without conscious, proactive, well-structured and monitored government intervention, as is done in other sectors. One area of such intervention urgently needed is cargo availability.

 Developed maritime nations have at one time or the other consciously supported, and are still supporting, their indigenous operators in building their commercial shipping capacities.

Recently, a bipartisan bill was brought before the US Congress aimed at strengthening indigenous participation in shipping. The bill seeks to allow US-flagged vessels carry up to 30 per cent of the US LNG as a matter of both economic importance and security concerns.

 On our part, plans are on to use our existing enabling laws to make public cargo available for indigenous shipping operators in order to improve their commercial fortunes and competitive advantage over their well-capitalised and established foreign counterparts. We are out to enforce sections 36 and 37 of the NIMASA Act 2007 towards building indigenous capacities in shipping. This is already at executive management level and we are determined to take it to the highest level of bureaucratic, legislative and executive engagements necessary. We shall also involve our esteemed stakeholders at the right time because we understand they have roles to play in the entire process.

You have been talking about changing the trade term from FOB to CIF. What do you stand to achieve in this regard?

One major factor that edges Nigerians out in the affreightment of Nigerian cargo, especially crude oil lifting, is the prevalent free-on-board trade term. Nigeria has no control in the distribution of its crude oil with respect to carriage, insurance and other ancillary services. Under a Cost, Insurance and Freight (CIF) arrangement, the tide will change in favour of our indigenous operators.   

 We are joining forces with well-meaning Nigerians to move for the change of trade term from FOB to CIF to reasonably involve our indigenous operators in Nigerian cargo affreightment. This will not only give distribution control of our hydrocarbon resources to Nigeria, it will also enable us empower our people through cargo lifting and meaningful participation in the entire value-chain of our export goods. CIF will enable Nigerians participate in cargo lifting and cargo insurance, create jobs for our teeming cadets and create other ancillary economic and security derivatives. Plans are on to reach out to relevant agencies of government and, very soon, we shall do an executive memorandum to the Federal Executive Council for consideration and approval.

What is this talk about acquiring a modular dockyard?

NIMASA will soon take delivery of the 5th largest modular floating dockyard on the African continent. This dockyard will earn the Nigerian government, at least, $100 million annually in direct savings from the dry-docking of vessels operating in Nigeria, which is mostly done outside the country at the moment. It is our desire to partner the private sector to run the dockyard. 

There has been a disturbing silence from NIMASA on the Cabotage fund, on which so much noise was once made. What has made the fund inactive?

The Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF) is currently domiciled with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). It has not been accessed by anybody or organization.

 But let me use this opportunity to correct the erroneous impression that Nigeria has not made progress with the Cabotage regime. A lot of progress has been made. Before the Cabotage regime came into being, less than 12 per cent of Nigerians were on board vessels operating in Nigerian waters. Today, the figures have changed significantly as over 60 per cent of workers on board vessels operating under the Cabotage regime are now Nigerians.

It may also interest you to know that before 2003, less than 3 per cent of vessels operating in our waters were flagged Nigerian. However, today, we have over 60 per cent vessels doing business in Nigerian waters flying the Nigerian flag. The Nigerian flag has also enjoyed significant growth over the months. While 262 vessels with a total tonnage of slightly over 232,000 gross registered tonnage (GRT) were registered in 2015, the figures almost doubled in 2016 as 370 vessels with a total tonnage of almost 420,000grt were registered within the past 12 months.

Another good news about the Cabotage regime is the fact that we have been able to achieve 20 per cent in building Cabotage vessels from a completely foreign-dominated era. Our aim is to target 100 per cent Cabotage compliance in the nearest future. The CVFF issue is one we have taken a critical look at and I can categorically say that we are addressing the issues militating against the fund from being fully operational and accessible. 

What are the immediate and remote benefits of the 3rd Conference of the Association of Heads of African Maritime Administrations that Nigeria hosted last week?

That was done in line with the IMO policy in assisting and enhancing the capacity of maritime administrations in Africa in the adherence and implementation of IMO instruments.

 This crucial 3rd AAMA conference was designed to draw a roadmap for the future sustainable work plans of the association. We viewed hosting AAMA as part of our drive to reposition the Nigerian maritime sector, thereby making Nigeria a force to be reckoned with again, globally.

 Aside of the immediate benefits of having maritime administrations in Africa converge on Nigeria, the multiplier effects will go a long way to enhance Nigeria’s chances to return to Council at IMO at the Category C level. The NIMASA management has received the presidential approval to seek election into that category.

 Lastly, let me inform you that we are rebranding the agency in order to align it with other foremost maritime administrations in the world

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