By ENGR. IBRAHIM ABDUL KAMARU
What is business without a strategy? Strategy is important in shipping because it facilitates the identification of business opportunities, Lun at el (2010). Competitive strategy aims to establish a profitable and sustainable position against the forces that determine industry competition, Porter (1980). Therefore, the intensity of competition in an industry is neither a matter of coincidence. Rather, competition is rooted in the profit potentials of the industry and quick returns on invested capital. Strategy is either deliberate or emergent; what strategy our ministry and parastatals saddled with maritime affairs operates? The interest of Nigeria should be sacrosanct.
The main aims of Government are full employment of its citizens, security and economic growth, few among its numerous responsibilities. A situation where what belongs to the citizen is freely offered foreigners leave much to be desired. To put it mildly, these are not the most auspicious times for Nigeria in general, especially Nigerian seafarers. Even before COVID-19 pandemic, Nigerian seafarers never had it rosy. Downsizing by owners was based on whimsical ideas not economics; poor condition of service, unemployment and poaching of the few available job opportunities by foreign seafarers is the lot of Nigerian seafarers.
Comparative advantage as formulated by (David Ricardo in 1817) is a term that refers to an economic ability to provide goods and services at a lower opportunity cost than that of trade partners. Nigeria has huge human resources and comparative advantage within its own maritime domain but lacks competitive advantage; nevertheless competitive advantage as in the case of seafarers lies with the sole agency saddled with these responsibilities. The Nigerian Maritime Administration & Safety Agency (NIMASA) must repackage the Nigerian seafarer, build capacity, formulate relevant policies and continuously follow its own rules and regulations on Cabotage law. This will go a long way in giving the country and seafarers competitive advantage.
Shipping itself by nature is an international business, but a situation where abundant competent locals are rejected for foreigners is a disservice to the nation. Everybody goes into business to make profits, but profit void of sound economics is a disservice to humanity, dereliction of corporate social responsibility and common good. The greatness of any nation is only realisable as inclusive projects by all its citizens.
Enough of the preamble, let me go straight to the motivation for this article- any rational being with modicum of understanding about the state of Nigerian maritime domain will be alarmed to see the devastating impact foreign seafarers have brought on the economic and social well-being of our seafarers: The average salary of a foreign Captain operating in our coastal waters ranges from 12,000 to 15,000 USD per month. For a conservative calculation, 15,000 USD for a foreign captain can pay the salaries of a similar vessel manned by 15 Nigerians seafarers without counting other cost and expenses associated with foreign workers and the economic implications the dollar payment exerts on our common patrimony and foreign exchange policies. If this hypothesis is subjected to quantitative research, the economic impact will be over a billion dollar or more per annum.
Incidentally, there are many shrewd business men around, with egoistic managers who demarket Nigerian seafarers at any giving opportunity, they never see anything good in Nigerian market of which they are part of the market. An intelligent investor or business person cannot rest on subjective judgment, unsupported by any, body of favourable evidence or any conclusive line of reasoning to opt for higher wages in business, where lower wages can accomplish the same goal efficiently.
Nigeria has 870 kilometres of coastal area and hundreds of thousands of seafarers, currently, maritime contributes zero to the nation’s GDP. This compared to an annual average of 43% percent for Philippines and 27% percent for Singapore, with Nigeria better positioned to earn from maritime than any of the two countries, Ships & Port (2016). Nigeria as a country has been in the business of shipping and sailing for the past 80 years, some Nigerian families have had three generations of sailors. How did we get to this precarious situation? Why are we struggling to repossess what belongs to us?
Crook at el (2011) established that organisations or institutions that cultivate their human capital outperform other organisations and institutions lacking human capital. If human capital is wasted, the products become a nuisance to society. It is against such backdrop that Government and its appendages – existential workers must focus on job creation for our seafarers. There is overwhelming evidence that many of the sea pirates troubling our water ways are former seafarers, among them are well trained professionals, who are either unemployed, underemployed or economically dislocated and are standing on the brink of precipice. There is a correlation between unemployment and insecurity, and a system must be in place to turn the tide as a matter of national importance.
Time is of essence in all human affairs. A Nigerian Captain whose certificate expires at a wrong time, when his is not gainfully employed, may find it difficult to go onboard soon because he needs at least one million naira to update his documents for a job that has limited vacancy and hundreds searching. The Nigeria situation can be likened to a capable businessman who tries to operate in an international environment with complete disregard of all the sound principles that will gain him success. The environment is broad, encompassing many international entities with more than 100 years experience, and so the businessman must be well prepared.
The audacity of hope- there is hope if Government is committed to investing in building the capacity of ship owners, through single digit ship acquisition loan to enable them acquire more vessels because ship acquisition is capital intensive.
There is hope if Government is committed to investing in our maritime education, improve the curriculum and manpower of our institutions, improve our certification system, so that our seafarers are competitive to capture more grounds beyond our domain.
There is hope! In maritime business, every nation takes a defensive position; Nigeria’s case should not be different. Our seafarers must be well groomed, competent, competitive, not timid and not inferior to anybody. If NIMASA exercises its full regulatory powers as enshrined in the constitution, not that of a guardian and counselling organisation and the new team at the helms of affairs does things differently from the past, then, there is hope!
If Government and all the parastatals saddled with these responsibilities (maritime affairs) are passionate about the Nigerian project , if they will safeguard the interest of the country against many of our trade partners and foreign investors, then there is really hope!