The  Federal Government  through the Transportation Ministry is  again set to establish another National Carrier  21 years after the first one , the Nigerian... Survival of  Maritime National Carrier

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.