The Federal Government through the Transportation Ministry is again set to establish another National Carrier 21 years after the first one , the Nigerian National Shipping Line(NNSL) was scrapped and 11 years after the second , the National Unity Line (NUL) also became moribund.
Already, a Ministerial Committee with the Executive Secretary/CEO of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Comrade Hassan Bello as its Chairman, accompanied by the Transport Minister, Rotimi Amaechi just signed in Singapore a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with a Singaporean Shipping Company on behalf of the federal government on the need to make the Company a reality.
For the benefit of hindsight, NNSL was established by the Nigerian government in 1959. Despite heavy investment and subsidies in its operations, it could not compete with the European lines but only succeeded in enriching the political elite.Consequently the Late Sanni Abacha administration liquidated the company 1995 and all 21 of its vessels were sold.
However its assets were inherited in 1996 by the NUL, also fully owned by the federal government but operated with only one ship, MV Abuja , but ran into trouble waters having being plagued again by the malaise of the NNSL before it was sold off in 2005.
Little wonder that very many well – meaning Nigerians have been worried since the news to float another National Carrier broke out to the effect that the proposed company will again not go the way of the first two and how the new venture will avoid the pitfalls of its predecessors , survive and stand the test of time
It is pertinent to know that the malaise of the NNSL and NUL were simply undue government interference, bureaucracy , politics , corruption , and poor management while the only way the proposed company can survive is for the Federal Government to allow the private sector to be involved in its management.
This is because collision by the past Ministers and top officials of the Transport Ministry with the managements of NNSL and NUL , frequent changes in the headship of the two former companies and even the Ministers themselves by the Presidency also contributed to the demise of the past National Carriers.
We are indeed in support of the plan of the government to re- float the National Carrier because of its numerous advantages and benefits for the maritime sector in terms of human capacity development and its capacity to conserve and earn the much desired foreign exchange for Nigeria’s economy especially now that the country is not earning much from oil, which is its major source of revenue.
Apart from the fact that the vessels at the disposal of the National Carrier will serve as a veritable source of training platform for the country’s cadet in Maritme University , Oron while they will be able to use that platform to acquire the very vital seaworthy time they need direly before they can ply their trade within and outside the country and be able to earn FOREX for the nation.
Also floating the country’s National Carrier which goes beyond ownership of vessels , and which ships will fly the country’s National Flag , also serves as something of Pride for a big maritime nation like Nigeria , while it will make it possible for the country to carry its cargoes instead of the current situation where foreign vessels lift Nigerian goods Free on Board (FOB) instead of Cost Insurance and Freight(CIF).
Apart from other benefits , the primary motive of any business of course is profit making and it would be most unfortunate and in fact Nigeria’s economy can ill afford it now if the proposed National Carrier would again serve as a drain pipe and another white Elephant Project to exist for some time, gulp scarce funds and again fizzle out just like its two predecessors.
However , no matter the level of failure of the past two National Carrier companies , the fact still remains that Nigeria direly needs another of such establishment which will be in control of ocean going vessels for the simple fact that that there is no way the country can identify itself as a maritime nation or that critical maritime stakeholders will be encouraged to facilitate trade without such a National Carrier.
Perhaps, this is why before now,, the Nigerian Shippers’ Council(NSC) which is the seaport economic regulator , the Nigerian Ship owners Association(NISA) , the Shipowners Association of Nigeria(SOAN) , both umbrella associations of local ship owners among other meaningful stakeholders have for some time now been clamouring for the re- floating of such company.
In fact the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) , which naturally has the mandate , as enshrined in its Enabling Act , to establish the National Carrier made spirited efforts to ensure the company came on board in 2014 following a marching order from the former President Good Luck Jonathan to refloat the company but all to no avail.
The Transportation Minister, Rotimi Amaechi has announced that the new National Carrier should come up before the end of this year the reason the ministry must have moved fast to signed the MOU with the PIL. We are however of the view that Due Process , the lack of which was the undoing of the NNSL and NUL should be respected right from the beginning in the processes and procedures for re- floating the company.
However, since the Minister has decided to drive the process , it is only good that the task is performed in the right manner.We do support the Minister’s decision that part of the proceeds of the Cabot age Vessel Finance Fund(CVFF) , which has yielded more than N50 billion now will be used to start off the company while the ownership will be on the basis of 60 per cent (Nigeria) and 40 per cent PIL.
Most importantly however, especially as Nigeria strives to make its refineries work and stop foreign refining of crude oil say in two years’ time, it is necessary for government to work harder on the development of our exports for foreign markets so that the vessels of our National Carrier will readily have cargoes to carry even as it would also have to compete in the international market for goods to be lifted.
Herein lies the crux of the matter, this time the National Carrier must be run like a business where all services rendered for government or its parastatals must be paid for in the right currencies.It should not be like what happened to NNSL where government used the vessels to carry soldiers and equipment and military wares meant to prosecute the ECOMOG war in Liberia in the 90s and refuse to pay the company for its services.
Also most of the services rendered by NNSL and the NUL for government ministries , agencies and parastatals were also later written off , while most of the trainings carried out by the companies for government bodies were also not remunerated.
It is our strong believe that the PPP model being proposed for the establishment of the National Carrier , will also be in semblance with that of the Nigerian National Liquefied Gas (NNLG) where the shareholding and management reflect a true government , private partnership, comprising , local and foreign interests which has ensured the success of the company overtime.
This we are convinced will eliminate the problems of bureaucracy, interference, collusion of government officials with the National Carrier’s management among other vices which culminated in the death of the erstwhile NNSL and NUL.