In the News:
Chief Shahimi Jamal:
"The major jobs are ending with briefcase contractors"
Chief Jamal Shahimi is a Port Harcourt-based dredging and marine contractor, the managing director and CEO of M.F.W Dredging and Marine Nigeria Ltd. The son of immigrant Lebanese grandparents who arrived Nigeria in the early 1900s, Chief Shahimi has cut his teeth in the ever-busy oilfield environment of the Niger Delta, especially in Port Harcourt and surrounding cities where he deals in sand and engages in dredging for shoreline protection and canalization. Chief Shahimi is now advocating a serious cleaning up of the Nigerian dredging sub-sector so that all sectors of the economy including banks, government and the general society can repose more confidence in dredging operators. Equally, he sees such cleaning up which he figures can come about through “organizing” as the panacea to solve many of the teething problems that confront dredge operators and contractors in Nigeria today. A titled chief of Akpajo in Eleme area of River State, Chief Shahimi says he employs over 100 local people accounting for the welfare of well over 2,000 families in River State and he maintains cordial relationship with his project host communities by contributing to the upliftment of their living standards. This forms part of his counsel for solving the Niger Delta ferment: oil companies, government and operating companies should embark on development, education and employment in their host communities. The chief who says all his life’s earnings are in Nigeria and calls himself a son-of-the-soil has tough words for suppliers of scrap equipment, briefcase dredging contractors and the unhealthy rivalry amongst indigenous dredging contractors and sand dealers in Nigeria.
Chief Shahimi beats his chest and says he controls over 70% of sand dredging in Port Harcourt. For this he has thanks for his expat and local employees whom he praised for diligence. He also spoke well of Sterling Bank Plc for having supported him so much in the past and even currently. According to Chief Shahimi, he started getting help from Sterling Bank before the banking consolidation when it was called Trust Bank of Africa when it gave him a loan using the dredger as the 100% collateral. He said the bank trusted him enough to do this and he paid up duly, without any hitch. Perhaps this explains the new loan Sterling Bank gave to Chief Shahimi’s company this year to buy another dredger.
MFW Dredging has worked in various projects including harbour works, sand-filling, sand stockpile, reclamation and jetty maintenance. Chief Shahimi in this interview boldly proffers many practical ideas to boost the fledgling Nigerian dredging sector. Excerpts:
DDH: Mr Shahimi, Can you tell me your track history in Nigerian dredging?
Chief Shahimi: Actually, I am a Nigerian you know. I am the second generation of my family in this country, you know. I came to Port Harcourt in 1992 and I started dredging, and slowly we were hiring equipment. In the year 2000, I discovered that we should get our equipment and be a major player in the industry and that is what we have done. Now, I am a major player in the industry in Port Harcourt, everybody says this.
DDH: Do you have a dredger?
Chief Shahimi: I have one and I am getting one soon.
DDH: How do you see the dredging industry in Port Harcourt?
Chief Shahimi: The dredging business in Port Harcourt is a good business actually because dredging business is part of development in Nigeria. Because without sand you cannot develop an area or a town, you need sand to develop it. But the major problem in the industry, you know, is that it is not organized. We should form an association where we can organize the business and sanitize it and then it can be for the benefit of everybody. Take for example, my small contribution to this business, you can go and ask anybody about it here in River State, Port Harcourt, they will tell you. I have up to 2,000 families benefiting from me on daily basis. So, imagine you have ten companies like mine here, you will have 20,000 families and you won’t have any problems. Everybody will be working and there won’t be any youths for these militants, for armed robbery because everybody is engaged in a business, genuine and clean business.
DDH: What is the benefit of organizing dredging the way you are saying, can you expatiate on this?
Chief Shahimi: The benefits, first of all, everybody will be under one umbrella. For example, now nobody knows how much you have to pay to government, how much you have to pay to local government, to every part of government, you know. If we were organized, we are law-abiding citizens, we are doing a genuine business, we are paying our taxes. And what is there, let us organize ourselves and agree with government, we are not running away from our obligations because if we don’t pay our taxes, there won’t be development. So, if we organize ourselves, instead of paying ten authorities, we may end up paying one or two authorities, which are the rightful authorities, so the money can go round many people. Because at the end of the day, government is taking the taxes and money from you and they are doing development. But 80% to 90% of the money that we are paying to government is going to the wrong hands.
Chief Shahimi: Now.
DDH: So this is one of the advantages of organizing?
Chief Shahimi: Yes, one of the advantages of organizing. Secondly, this is the most important: the brief case contractors. We the genuine people, we are going round to get jobs, we are not getting the jobs and the major jobs are ending up with brief case contractors. So, if we have an association, everybody is registered, then we can distribute to the oil companies, to NDDC, to the government, to everybody, this is the list of the genuine dredging companies. So, if there is any tender, these are the people who are legitimate and they are entitled to tender for this job; not an outsider. These are the companies which have equipment, each company with its own profiles, details, its own contact addresses, with its own bank references, with everything. And thirdly, banks are not helping matters. They are charging very exorbitant interest rates and they are giving the wrong people the wrong loans. We genuine people, we go to banks we have our records, I mean you cannot hide anything, you don’t get what you want while other people…briefcase contractors, they get millions and billions and at the end of the day, nothing happens. And we are being accused … because the biggest 419 in Nigeria now is dredging, everybody knows that.
DDH: So, these are some of the benefits of organizing?
Chief Shahimi: Yes, organizing…you are protected. If there is a problem with one of our members, if we are together, all of us will jump and help him out of the problem as long as it is a genuine and legitimate problem; it’s not a problem where you go and dupe a bank or dupe government and then you expect us to support you. As long as you are doing a legitimate business and you have a problem like multiple taxation, some people close your site, whatever it is, we join hands and help him. Somebody mismanages his business but his intentions were genuine, okay we may come together, all of us and bring him back to life, you know.
DDH: And also the issue of dialoguing with equipment suppliers on integrity of equipment…
Chief Shahimi: This is one thing I will tell you from experience. I am advising people because I paid for it dearly. What we do here, everybody, I take a (dredging) contract of N1 billion, for example. The dredger is $2m or Euro2m, that is N500m finish and I have made N600m, whao!, you know what I mean. So, they go to Europe and they are desperate to buy equipment and they don’t know what they are buying. What they are doing in Europe, they are cheating them, giving them scrap equipment. They do the cosmetics for them. Like what has happened to me with some companies which were in your last summit preaching that they can get Nigeria this equipment, that equipment. They showed to me, they sent me pictures. I bought three machines from them, three (bull) dozers, D6, the pictures they showed me and their serial numbers. And I opened a Form M and LC (letter of credit) to them. I paid them around $350,000. At the end of the day, they sent me scrap, like a 70-year old woman, they put cosmetics to present her to you as if she is 30 years old. (General laughter). When I told them and wanted to complain, they told me that if you read paragraph so and so in the conditions of sale, you have to sue in Houston or Louisiana, you cannot sue in Nigeria. So, if we are together, one of the things is that we share information, so nobody can cheat us, nobody can play on our intelligence. And the major issue now, like the multinational (dredging companies) were doing with the oil companies, there is 8 contracts, for example, with the oil companies, (they will say), ‘come, our price is X amount of dollar and X amount of Naira. We don’t have to drop it you know. Okay, come instead of competing with each other, you take two, you take two, you take two and you take two’. And they make more profit than you executing the 8 contracts alone. But what we do (Nigerian dredging contractors), we are excited that we are working with oil company yet what we are taking now because of competition is 10% of what the multinational oil companies were charging the oil companies. You can go to major oil companies, it’s on record there, you can check it. So, if we have on association, what we do is to fix a price, a standard price, which will be of benefit for the common man and for the dredging company. So this one will not be cheated and this one will not be cheated, so everybody will be happy… Like now nobody knows….we are thinking seriously, because of taxation, because of increase in the price of diesel, because of increment in Euro price, the duties, all these things, we are not sure that we will continue in the industry. For example, if I close tomorrow morning, you have 2,000 families, they are jobless. If I take you to my site, you will see what I am talking about, it’s not bragging, it’s facts, it’s on ground.
DDH: You said you were expecting a new dredger, can you tell us about that?
Chief Shahimi: I just acquired a new dredger. It was meant for a job, a three-year maintenance contract with Shell but due to security situation, which is another aspect of it, you know…that government should address, in the Niger Delta, even in Lagos, everywhere, you know, it’s the security situation. If you are not working in a secure environment, you cannot work.
DDH: And your dredger could be damaged?
Chief Shahimi: Everything. They can be destroyed, kidnapping of your staff, everything. We are expecting a new dredger. What I am doing to show my intention that I am ready to work with everybody is, if I have this my dredger, and tomorrow the market is so big, we don’t have to compete with each other and kill each other and all these crisis, I am ready to stockpile for anybody in public as long as he is genuine and we are able to agree on a price, we can agree. If everybody will join hands, we have machines, we have everything. I have almost 25 Caterpillars, you know, different ones, Dozers, Pail loaders, etc. So, if we join hands, we can all benefit from the business. The business is so big and there is so much development happening in Nigeria that you can work without any problem.
DDH: So you believe information dissemination amongst you operators is crucial to forming a good industry?
Chief Shahimi: It’s the best. Without information and education and calling for seminars, everybody will keep information to himself. So if I am cheated, I will pay for it alone. Fine, I have paid for it but we are all in the industry. I will advise Mr A. and Mr B. come, look I have been cheated by so and so person, be careful. Don’t fall into the same trap, you know. But what is happening, we are all cheated by the same person for one reason: we keep information to ourselves. I will say Ok, because I am cheated by so and so person, let him (another operator) also suffer. (General laughter).
DDH: Now you mentioned the security issue in the Niger Delta, what are your suggestions? How can this thing be tracked?
Chief Shahimi: Actually, this is a very sensitive issue here in the Niger Delta. But security can be tracked if there will be development, if there will be employment and sincerity. I don’t think there will be any problem if the major oil companies and government and everybody will embark on development projects, employment and education. If you can’t find somebody to work, instead of leaving him on the streets, build polytechnics and everything, teach him. For example, I need a dredging master in the Niger Delta and I can’t find, I say for example. But there is another five persons, put them in a polytechnic, we teach them dredging, (to become dredge masters), instead of them roaming the streets unemployed.
DDH: In your site, how have you coped with the problem?
Chief Shahimi: I have to cope with the problem, you know because, for example, I am chief. I did not pay for it.
DDH: How did it happen?
Chief Shahimi: I contributed to the development of the community.
DDH: Which chieftaincy is this?
Chief Shahimi: Emere Onensi 1 of Akpajo, meaning chief of development. This is in my village where I am working, Akpajo.
DDH: Is it in Eleme?
Chief Shahimi: Even in Eleme, they recognize me, you know, because of employment, when I am helping the community, what I am doing. Of recent, the youths, we discovered that they needed a bus to help the community. We bought them a brand new Nissan bus, we presented it to them. It’s on record and was even published in the Thisday newspaper and on television, NTA. So what is there, every company, you look into your immediate community’s problems, and you try to help them as much as possible, from what they are getting each day from each tipper (sand lorry). For example, if they take from each tipper everyday N1,000.00. What they do, they gather all the money and at the end of the day, let’s say they want to build a school. The schools costs N10 million, they have N5 million, then the company pays the other money (the balance). Transport buses, (drinking water) boreholes, whatever, electricity… So, we do from time to time, projects like this and everybody is working, almost everybody. I am lucky where I am working, we have two major projects, me and Petrochemical, you know. So they Petrochemical employ and I employ, that’s why you see we don’t have a lot of problems.
DDH: So this way, the villagers feel they have a stake in your company?
Chief Shahimi: Yes, and they protect me. Go and see, I don’t have any security.
DDH: So they made you a chief. What are your responsibilities and what symbols did they give you, a crown or cap or what?
Chief Shahimi: Everything, this is something that they appreciate. I did not ask for it because one thing I will tell you, as you see me, nobody does not know, I am a low-profile person, I don’t like publicity.
DDH: You said you are the second-generation of your family here in Nigeria, how did that happen?
Chief Shahimi: Yes, of my family. My late grand-father came almost 100 years ago to Ibadan.
DDH: What was his name?
Chief Shahimi: Musa Shahimi. My father was born in Ibadan and he died in the first plane crash in Lagos in 1969. I was born in Ibadan. My children, all of them, were born in Kano and Port Harcourt here. So they are the third generation and here we are. Everything I own in this world is here in Nigeria, so that’s why I am a son-of-the-soil. (General laughter). And I am comfortable here, I don’t have problem, you know. I tell you a story. I went to Yenagoa ( Bayelsa State) to see a friend, and there was an army check point at the beginning of Yenagoa. They saw me in my Jeep, me and my driver, and the army man said, ‘white man, where is your escort, where is this, where is that?’. I said I don’t have an escort. He said, ‘how are you moving, you know they will kidnap you?’. I said I am a chief, you know, and I don’t have anything to hide, I have no skeleton in my cupboard’. So, I hope now tomorrow they will not come and kidnap me. (General laughter). So, really if everybody will work like what I am doing and
DDH: What are your closing remarks?
Chief Shahimi: I am still appealing that we should all come together, join hands for the benefit of everybody. For me I am doing my business, my bank is supporting me. If I want to say like that and everybody says like that, there won’t be any development. But if we join hands, there will be a lot of development.