Our pri­vate sec­tor too weak to sup­port mar­itime dev - Amaechi

Ro­timi Amaechi had, in his early days as min­is­ter of trans­porta­tion, promised to de­liver a Na­tional Car­rier for Nige­ria. But two years af­ter, he paints a de­press­ing pic­ture of why the na­tional car­rier may not hap­pen any­time soon. Our cor­re­spon­dent had an

Daily Trust - - BUSINESS - By Chris Agabi

You’ve been min­is­ter for over two years; could you tell us what you’ve been do­ing specif­i­cally as re­gards mar­itime de­vel­op­ment?

That’s a dif­fi­cult one in the sense that there will be a mas­sive re­form in the mar­itime sec­tor but first we are do­ing a study on the sec­tor. We’ve set up a con­sult­ing firm. Gov­ern­ment has ap­proved it and it’s in the bud­get. They will do a per­for­mance au­dit in the sec­tor. It is not enough to say what the Nige­ria Ports Au­thor­ity (NPA) is do­ing be­cause we are still re­peat­ing what we met on ground.

The ques­tion the con­sult­ing firm will an­swer is: what is on ground? What is the way for­ward? First thing is to study what’s on ground. What are those things that we are do­ing and how can we make them bet­ter. Th­ese are some of the things the con­sul­tant will re­solve. But again, the ques­tion to ask is; is the man­age­ment of the NPA do­ing well? Is there any­thing we can do to re­jig it? Is the man­age­ment of Nige­ria Mar­itime Ad­min­is­tra­tion and Safety Agency (NIMASA) do­ing well? Is there any­thing we can do to make them per­form bet­ter?

The same goes for the Nige­ria Ship­pers Coun­cil, Nige­ria In­land Water­ways Au­thor­ity (NIMA), and the Mar­itime Academy Oron (MAN). So when the con­sul­tant turns in the re­port, we can then be­gin to for­mu­late poli­cies on how to make them bet­ter. If you look at the Blue Econ­omy (Ocean Econ­omy), there is a huge econ­omy that ex­ists un­der the wa­ter. There is oil, power, agri­cul­ture (fishes, an­i­mals) but the ques­tion is, are we tap­ping them? Or what are we do­ing to tap them? What about mar­itime se­cu­rity? We have to tackle mar­itime se­cu­rity.

I was told re­cently we have over­taken every­one else in the world and we are now num­ber one in sea piracy. We have even over­taken So­ma­lia. This is very shame­ful to hear that and we need to ad­dress the is­sue of mar­itime se­cu­rity so that those who do busi­ness in our wa­ter ways are able to ac­cess Nige­ria with­out in­ter­rup­tion from crim­i­nals. That’s our fo­cus in the mar­itime sec­tor.

As we speak, I’m still look­ing for the Nige­rian in­vestor. What they largely want us to do is take Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment money and in­vest in it and I don’t want to

Is there a par­tic­u­lar time frame that the con­sul­tants will turn in their re­port?

They were given nine months to com­plete the study.

When should that nine months lapse?

I wouldn’t know. I tell peo­ple that as a for­mer gov­er­nor, you will be wor­ried when you come to the fed­eral level. The level of doc­u­men­ta­tion and the pro­cesses you will have to follow are enor­mous at the fed­eral level. Imag­ine the process we passed through to get the cab­i­net approval for the con­sul­tant to be ap­pointed. Since the cab­i­net, we are still work­ing on the com­pli­ance approval from the Fed­eral Min­istry of Jus­tice. Un­til that is done, we can’t sign the con­tract for the job to be­gin.

So in ef­fect, the con­sul­tants have not even com­menced work as the con­tract hasn’t been signed.

Yes! Once it’s signed they go to work but all the agen­cies have been no­ti­fied about the con­sul­tant.

Sir, in your early days in of­fice, you con­sti­tuted a min­is­te­rial com­mit­tee to see to the pos­si­bil­ity of hav­ing a na­tional car­rier. Where are we on that?

The com­mit­tee turned in their re­port and rec­om­mended we get a for­eign in­vestor to also in­vest in the na­tional car­rier. The law says 40 per­cent eq­uity for the for­eign in­vestor and 60 per­cent eq­uity hold­ing for Nige­rian in­vestors. We got the for­eign in­vestor from Sin­ga­pore but up till to­day, we haven’t any Nige­rian in­vestor. It goes back to what we said be­fore, that the pri­vate sec­tor in Nige­ria is heav­ily de­pen­dent on gov­ern­ment.

As we speak, I’m still look­ing for the Nige­rian in­vestor. What they largely want us to do is take Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment money and in­vest in it and I don’t want to. The one we had be­fore, the Nige­rian Na­tional Ship­ping Line, died. That’s where we are on the Na­tional Car­rier. It’s a bit dif­fi­cult for us. The own­ers of the Na­tional Car­rier will carry all the gov­ern­ment cargo be it im­port or ex­port. So there is a mar­ket for the in­vestors but Nige­rian pri­vate sec­tor is not in­vest­ing in it.

So there is no clear pic­ture yet?

We are nearly stuck; let’s put it that way. I came up with the idea when I be­came the min­is­ter, every­one was ex­cited about it. We went to Sin­ga­pore; we got the for­eign in­vestor but no lo­cal in­vestor yet.

Is there any law that bars gov­ern­ment from in­vest­ing and tak­ing the 60 per­cent eq­uity re­served for Nige­ria since our pri­vate sec­tor is not in­ter­ested?

Would you want gov­ern­ment to take up the in­vest­ment?

But we are los­ing mil­lions of dollars daily by not hav­ing a na­tional car­rier?

Do you know how much we lost in Nige­rian Air­ways? Do you know how much we lost in the Nige­rian Na­tional Ship­ping Line? All those funds went to pri­vate in­di­vid­u­als. So I will not buy the idea of us­ing gov­ern­ment funds to set up a ship­ping line. This gov­ern­ment is not even sup­port­ing that it should in­vest in busi­nesses. Let the pri­vate sec­tor in­vest in the busi­nesses and we will pro­vide the en­abling en­vi­ron­ment.

Have you en­gaged the pri­vate sec­tor to know why they are not willing to in­vest in the Na­tional Car­rier?

I have held se­ries of meet­ings with the pri­vate sec­tor in my early days as min­is­ter. You cov­ered some of the meet­ings. One thing that kept re­oc­cur­ring at the meet­ings is that the Nige­rian pri­vate sec­tor is not as big. And this is be­cause they rely heav­ily on gov­ern­ment. Those peo­ple you re­fer to as pri­vate sec­tor de­pend largely on gov­ern­ment. So the pri­vate sec­tor is not well de­vel­oped in Nige­ria.

In­land trans­porta­tion is not as ex­pen­sive com­pared to the large ves­sels and all. Why is the sec­tor not de­vel­oped to be a part of the trans­port mix?

Why would you say it is not cap­i­tal in­ten­sive? To put a ves­sel in Onit­sha to Niger for ex­am­ple is not very cheap. I agree it may not be as ex­pen­sive as ocean go­ing ves­sels. Even at that, the in­vestors are not coming. There was a com­pany that wanted to in­vest, CHEC Nige­ria Lim­ited. But when they did their study, they said they needed N600 bil­lion to in­vest and they wanted gov­ern­ment to bring N300 bil­lion and they will bring N300 bil­lion. But gov­ern­ment doesn’t have that kind of money to in­vest in in­land water­ways, so we opted out.

Where are im­ple­men­ta­tion or­ders? we of the on the ex­ec­u­tive

The ones con­cern­ing my min­istry, we are im­ple­ment­ing them. If you go to the sea­ports now, it is 24 hours oper­a­tions. What­ever is writ­ten down in the or­ders, we are im­ple­ment­ing it. If you go to the air­ports, we are also im­ple­ment­ing same.

When will the Cab­o­tage Ves­sel Fi­nanc­ing Fund be dis­bursed? What will hap­pen that you will re­lease the money? Re­call you said you turned down the NIMASA pro­posal to dis­trib­ute the money.

I don’t know. I’m not keen about re­leas­ing the money. The for­mer NIMASA MD was just award­ing con­tracts with the funds which is il­le­gal. He was set­ting up univer­si­ties and fac­ul­ties of mar­itime in Univer­si­ties with money meant for cab­o­tage. I’m not en­cour­ag­ing that. I don’t know how much the money is right now but I will find out by the end of the year.

Still on the dry ports, how will they im­pact the econ­omy specif­i­cally from

Ro­timi Amaechi

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