Director General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Bashir Jamoh recently fielded questions from journalists during an interactive session in Lagos. He speaks on pertinent issues concerning the delay in the disbursement of the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF), deployment and sustainability of the assets of the deep blue project among other sundry industry issues. Shulammite ‘Foyeku was there for Maritime Today Online
When you took over as the DG last year, you promised to disburse the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF), to ship owners before the end of December 2020 but that is not the case as we speak. What exactly is delaying the disbursement of the fund?
Yes, when I came in, I made a promise that before December, we will disburse the fund. But what I did at that time was a projection. Our system is such a dynamic one, whereby you start making your trip thinking that you will get, for instance, from here to Apapa for a maximum of 30 minutes. But by the time you get to Ijora bridge, you encounter gridlock, you may end up making the journey for five hours. That is the nature of where we find ourselves. The first challenge I could attribute is that here, we formulated law. As soon as you introduce a policy, you have brought a product into the market. If you notice, everybody will embrace it. But when you are implementing the policies, you begin to find some shortfalls or shortcomings of such policies, so you start to review the policy to stand the test of time. We have a law but for 17 years, we did not implement the law. We didn’t see where the strength or weakness of the law is, we don’t know what to do because we have never implemented the disbursement of CVFF. That was why in February, I think, 2019, the Minister for Transportation was here to inaugurate a committee, to look into the guidelines of the Cabotage Act, to see whether it has to be reviewed to stand the test of time. So, the committee sat, we looked at it and discovered that whatever we want to do, we must go back to the National Assembly for the review of the Act. Because what other people are suggesting may likely be a hindrance to the disbursement and the law will not allow us to do so. The first thing I did was to advise that we should implement the law as it is and let us see if we will have a problem. When we disburse the fund and we discover the problem, we will now use the problem to propose a review of the act in line with what we have observed. So, that was the basis of the promise. Today, we are now working towards that to see whether we can implement the law as it is. Then later, we will now review the Cabotage Act entirely, not even the guidelines alone. So, we have two things here. One is for us to implement the guideline the way it is and then see whether we have problems, secondly, to go for the review. This is one of the challenges we are facing.
Besides the disbursement of the Cabotage fund, what other challenges are you contending with?
Yes, part of the challenge is for us to implement the disbursement of the Cabotage Act, which all stakeholders are looking forward to. The second challenge is the issue of maritime insecurity. It is not enough for me to tell you that we are recording only one incident or ten. What we want is zero tolerance of maritime crimes or any attack. The issue of maritime insecurity is a big challenge, we still have a long way to go and we must have to tell ourselves the truth. The third has to do with fleet expansion. There is no way you can develop shipping without the fleet. So, if you cannot expand your fleet, then where do you go? So, lack of that fleet expansion is giving us a lot of concern. The issue of infrastructure, ship repair yards is also a challenge. You have ships but you cannot repair them within Nigeria except when you take them to Benin Republic, sometimes South Africa, and some go as far as Turkey. It is because we don’t have such facilities and the few repair yards that we have are still struggling to survive. The challenges are enormous, I cannot exhaust them all, but we will continue to do our best. We are now talking about the deployment of our modular floating dock, by the time we fully deploy the floating dock, our ships, within that capacity will be repaired here, we will save foreign exchange, employ Nigerians to work under the modular floating dock, and at the end of the day, our economy will continue to boom.
There are concerns over maintenance and sustainability of the assets of the deep blue project. How do you intend to go about it especially in terms of funding? Secondly, now that NIMASA has taken over the Secured Anchorage Area (SAA), do vessels pay, because when it was contracted out, vessels pay to berth. Does that still exist?
When I was confronted by some industry stakeholders who said that the Secured Anchorage Area, used to charges fees and now that we are no longer having the private security outfit, to maintain the Secured Anchorage Area, why can’t we start charging fees, my heart started to beat because that is the last thing I can do. Shipping is all about competition. Shipping is about attractiveness, it is all about efficiency and about cost benefits. If you decide to make your port the most expensive port, within your neighbors, then where will you go in terms of competition? People will decide to go to other ports and leave your port. If you want to attract people, you don’t need to charge arbitrary or exorbitant fees. The first thing that came to my mind is that the issue of security is the responsibility of the government. It is not that of the citizens to provide security for themselves or their assets. For me it is wrong for us to do that. But most of those that are giving advice were worried about how we can sustain these assets. I decided to look into the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences Act 2019 (SPOMO) Act, Section 19 of the Act tells me how I can manage piracy issues. It is for me to provide the budget; the Honorable minister will now give me go ahead to open a dedicated account on maritime piracy. If I can provide a budget of N1billion, I can keep it in the piracy fund. The second thing is what the SPOMO Act says that if you arrest a vessel and you confirm it is used for piracy, you take it to court and the court seizes that vessel, that particular piracy fund has an entitlement of 35 percent of the cost of that vessel. Assuming we arrest a vessel, sell the vessel, let say $1 million, so $350, 000 is going to that account. The SPOMO Act also provides that donations from donor countries can also be utilized to fund the piracy issues. Four, the section still provides that you can use maritime funds to appropriate money for funding. The Act also provides that you can use 2 percent surcharge of cabotage to fund it. So, we don’t have fear, the SPOMO Act provides the sustainability of the particular act. So, it has solved my problem. Today, we are providing security without charging anybody a dime and the sustainability of the asset is being contained in our own SPOMO Act, Section 19.
There are concerns over wrecks littering the nation’s waters thereby making navigation difficult. What is NIMASA doing to address this problem?
Our navigational waters are very dangerous with a lot of wrecks and derelicts under it. Over the years, we have been having issues with our own laws. The NPA Acts, under section 9 provides and gives power to NPA to remove wrecks within the navigational areas that lead to the port. The NIWA Acts under section 7 also give the agency the powers to remove any wrecks within the coastal or inland waters and many at times, we interpret these coastal or inland waters to include the sea that brings in the major ships into our ports. Under section 22 of the NIMASA Act, NIMASA has the responsibility to remove wrecks without any limitations within the Nigerian territorial waters. Sometime last year, we decided that anywhere we are having clashes including the gridlock that we are having, let us come together as heads of agencies in the sector and have meetings to see how we can solve the problems and see it as a matter of collaboration instead of competition. In the course of that, we agree with NPA that NIMASA should go ahead to remove the wrecks. So, we have already commissioned contractors and consultants to identify the numbers of wrecks, where those wrecks are and mark them all over the country so that we can have the safest navigational area. I am happy to announce that we have already completed the procurement process of the four zones without charging Nigerians in the zones. We have Badagry, Tin Can Island creek area, Lagos Western zone area and the Eastern zone in Port Harcourt and the Central zone in Warri. The Federal Executive Council has approved and re-awarded the contract of the commencement of the removal of the entire wrecks from the first submission we made from Badagry to Tin Can. So, any moment from now, the minister of transportation will be with us to flag-off the removal of these wrecks. With this, we can be sure that our waters will be free from any issue that has to do with navigational areas and the tagging of Nigeria’s navigational areas as one of the most dangerous will cease.