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
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