News Stories in 1st Quarter 2007 Edition of DDH Magazine
INTERVIEW: Mrs Mfon Ekong Usoro, DG, NAMASA.
“…It’s going to be a specialized agency so every staff here must be an expert in something...”. – Mrs Usoro.
This interview was conducted in November 2006, granted by the director-general of National Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NAMASA, Mrs Mfon Ekong Usoro. We believe that despite the short passage of time, it still contains the intellectual underpinnings under which the agency is being managed. Excerpts:
DDH: You have come to the position of DG at a very difficult time in Nigerian maritime trade…Many people believe that the National Shipping Policy which ought to have nurtured indigenous shipping and enlarged Nigerian fleet is a gross failure as indigenous shipping enterprises have declined in real terms. How do you see your prospects of making headway and in which direction would that headway be?
Mrs Usoro: It is a misnomer to talk of one codified law, one shipping document as a national shipping policy. It is a congregation of policies that becomes the policy of the country, so we have different aspects that we are pursuing. You can even talk of this port reform as part of the national shipping policy, because in shipping, it’s to position us to become a vibrant maritime nation and Nigerian is doing very well in that aspect; it’s a most successful exercise. Now, another aspect of it is cabotage. It’s also a policy of its own and what cabotage law is which is what I want everybody to see including you, so that when you see the Group MD of the NNPC, you ask him the same question; if you see the Minister of Finance, you ask her the same question; you see the minister of immigration, you ask the same question, is that, “what are you doing to make a success of the local content policy on shipping?” That is what I am selling, that cabotage is the maritime component of the local content policy and everybody has to buy in. It’s not a ministry of transport project. It’s not a NAMASA project… we are facilitating. As you know very well, we don’t own vessels. The era now is small government, more private sector investment. Neither do we employ vessels. So those federal government agencies which employ vessels have a stake making cabotage work. I want everybody to know that cabotage is a shipping component of the local content policy and all of these critical agencies have a role to play and they must be held responsible if it doesn’t work.
”For instance the aspect of manning. For it to be successful, we require it to be implemented by the customs, by the immigration, by the NNPC in the sense that they don’t give expatriate quotas, they don’t give business permits to all those seamen who are in vessels operating under our cabotage regime. But right now, because they don’t buy into it, they are thinking of it as NAMASA project or because they do not understand very well, you now see them still give visas, expatriate quotas (to foreign crews). That shows there is a disconnect between very important government agencies since Nigeria has available ratings. So what we are trying to do now is to interface, to create the linkages, to institutionalize the linkages, educate those other agencies, to say that you are responsible for the success of cabotage law as far as this is concerned. NNPC as far as employment of vessels and contract are concerned; immigration, NNPC as far as manning is concerned you have the major responsibility. So when we interface with them like that and they understand, then they will feed on our database of available seamen and then make sure as an application comes in from those foreign shipping firms, they will refuse to clear them and show them that, “look at Nigerians here to do those jobs”.
DDH: Madam, before you became DG of NAMASA, you gave us an interview on Nigerian cabotage law where you said inter alia that the department created to implement that law was not properly trained and oriented to implement it. Can you tell us, has anything changed much from the situation when you made that assertion of the state of things and this present time when you are in charge?
Mrs Usoro: It still wasn’t done. I have come to discover as I came into the agency that internally we lack knowledge capacity of the procedure of implementation…
DDH: What are you doing to remedy the situation?
Mrs Usoro: Now, we have identified two consultants who are going to train our cabotage staff. First internally, I am doing the training for them myself. Even as I came onboard… tomorrow, we are all having a meeting, the cabotage and the ship registry. The entirety of tomorrow, Saturday, we are working. So we have our own in-house training which right now I am conducting. We have consultants who are also being engaged to do the training. So, yes, I am amused you remember I made that point. So now that I am here, I am implementing it because they need to be trained to understand it in order to implement it.
DDH: Recently, you returned from your second North American trip apart from other travels you have made to Europe and other places outside the country. Does this signal a greater externalization of the roles and functions of NAMASA in the new dispensation?
Mrs Usoro: So, you have been following my movements (Laughter). First of all, the International Bar Association, I didn’t go to that one because of NAMASA. I have been a very strong member of IBA for a long time and I have been presenting papers in IBA. The one that I went in September in Chicago, I had already made a commitment to go and to speak… this issue of NAMASA disturbed me because I could only go for two days. Before, I would go from the beginning up to the last day, the gala night. Now I had to go for only two days, so it wasn’t on the terms of NAMASA, it was a previous engagement. And even that of next year, I have already been approached to go and to speak … I am a very strong member of maritime committee of the IBA. So as far as going on a NAMASA trip as a DG, it’s just this trip that I went to Miami that I went as the DG. Is there going to be more externalization? I do not know but to the extent that we have more duties now and greater functions which require more interface with the international maritime community, there will be a lot of such (engagements). There wont be much trips because I am not the trip-going type. I have been to all parts of the world that I need to go to. In fact, I have removed myself from a lot of trips since I came into this office. It’s like you have trips every week that people are supposed to go here but I don’t.
DDH: Actually my question is that by the externalization of the task of NAMASA, you have to reach out to IMO, ILO, the US Coastguard…..
Mrs Usoro: We have always related to these international organizations. Nothing new is going to happen. What is going to happen that is different is that we have effective participation.
DDH: Right now, there is talk of right-sizing to get the right size of workforce that you want?
Mrs Usoro: You know what I would love to do, a few have been retrenched and it’s mostly those that were affected by monetization policy, the drivers, the cooks, the cleaners. Those ones had to go, we are not going to employ them again because of monetisation policy. Now, what I ideally would love to do, which is why we have not done the major retrenchment yet, we were supposed to go down to about 800-850. We have not done it yet because I have spoken to the then Minister, I have also spoken to the incoming Minister, that what I would like to see happen is let this consultant that we have just engaged on human resources and all the operational aspects of maritime safety agency, let them finish their work. Because part of their work is to determine not just the operational needs but the human resource needs, the skill needs, of each department, they will determine it. Let them finish that work and then we now see and also let them see our nominal roll. Then based on the skill requirement that they have come up with from their work at the agency, we can look at this nominal roll (to see) who are the skill that we need to keep, the ones that we require, before we retrench. Ideally, I wont want to just send people out because they said you must go down to 850. And then you discover from the recommendation of both the foreign and local consultants that we need more than 850. You then start to employ again. But the issue is that because you are professionalizing the agency we must be factual too. We do not have the relevant skills, what we have are pen-pushers. It’s going to be a specialized agency so every staff here must be an expert in something. We don’t have that situation now. So, that will justify having to employ experts. However, I would have still wanted us to wait for the consultants to finish so that we make sure that we do not in the process of this retrenchment, take out the experts that we really need. However, we have a supervising Ministry, we are bound to follow their instructions gladly. We have to follow their instruction and some people would have to go but even so there are criteria and, I think I was brought here to make a difference. So even though we have this instruction and they have laid down the criteria for retrenchment, considering the new focus of the agency, if there are situations where skilled people are going to be affected and we can make a justification an objective case and retain such staff because they have something that we want, I will do it. And I believe that I will be able to convince the authorities to retain such valuable staff.