Hon. Violet Olaitan Williams is one of the newly appointed Board Members of the Nigerian Shippers Council. She is also the Founder of the Ocean Ambassadors Foundation (OAF), an initiative which urges students in Secondary Schools in Nigeria to choose to pursue careers in the maritime industry. This Not- for- Profits through its programmes showcases a seemingly ‘unknown sector’ in ways attractive enough to convince the younger generation that investing their lives seafaring is truly worth it. Hope you find this interview interesting.
TNMN: What is the Ocean Ambassadors Foundation about?
Hon. Olaitan Williams: The Ocean Ambassadors Foundation is a catch-them- young initiative in the maritime sector. We are a School-to-Sea advocacy that started 7 years ago. We are endorsed by the University of Lagos (Geography department) to post graduate level.
This initiative is a succession plan to bridge the gap especially for the girl-child because of the male dominance in the sector
Nigeria is a maritime nation with vast untapped opportunities. I come from a coastal community in Lagos Island that knows nothing about maritime and the opportunities it offers. So, I started the OAF to enlighten the younger generation about the sector.
TNMN: How easy has sourcing funds for your projects been?
Hon. Olaitan Williams: Over the years, we have had challenges just like every other new initiative but funding has been a big one. We have been privileged to have some companies and people buy into our projects and really support us at points we had lost hope. We are not yet at that place where we are able to focus on our work without thinking or worrying about how to raise the funds to push forward the initiative but we are grateful for the little we have gotten. Those little support brought us here so to speak and we know that the kind of support we desire will eventually come especially as the campaign for 2030 Blue Economy keeps growing.
TNMN: What are some of the programmes or ways you carry out your advocacy for the sector?
Hon. Olaitan Williams: We have taken over 720 students on career tours. We have had the children visit the seaport and boarded vessels. The children visited Lagos Port Complex, visited ENL terminal – the children friendly terminal -where they boarded vessels. We also visited shipyards. We visited LTT and the students toured and rode on the tug boats. It was quite inspiring for the children and their teachers to have to enjoyed a smooth cruise piloted by the West Africa’s first female tug boat pilot, Captain Preye Canus.
In our last advocacy drive, we partnered with the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) through LTT Coastal and Marine Services- a friendly maritime company that is willing to help train the students to become seafarers. They have supported many cadets by offering them sea time, they have sponsored the training of many more and they gave our students the experience of their lives on board NPA tug boats. We are hopeful that our good relationship with LTT will continue for the students as regards training and sea time.
The OAF also conducts quizzes annually. We have in the past taken our winners to Tema and Takoradi seaports, and the Regional Maritime Academy. Visiting those sea ports in Ghana provided a ground for comparative analysis and pushed for the maritime industry as international.
TNMN: You have recently focused on the girl- child seizing as much opportunity as the males. How is this progressing?
Hon. Olaitan Williams: We decided to concentrate on the girl child after we saw the statistics from the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) which says that only 9% of the seafarers are females. Right from our inception, the girls have always topped the competition, 65% of our best 10 during our quizzes are girls so, we decided to encourage them further. We still cater for the males but females have a higher percentage.
Our experience has shown that that the girl child is desirous of learning something new to improve herself even in male dominated environments.
TNMN: What feedback have you gotten? Are there any results/testimonials since you began to steer youths to the industry?
Hon. Olaitan Williams: Our results are trickling in because right now we have one of our female participants studying Marine Engineering at Effurum, another one is studying Nautical Science in Ghana, while one is currently having his sea time at LTT. We have a number of them awaiting their WAEC (West African Examination Certificate) results before proceeding to their various universities to study Marine Insurance, Nautical Science and Marine Engineering. It is quite encouraging.
TNMN: Any regrets?
Hon. Olaitan Williams: No regret. No doubt, there are hiccups but when you are passion driven, you really seldom see them. You just will always hope for a better positioning of your advocacy.
TNMN: Do you have any upcoming programmes?
Hon. Olaitan Williams: Yes, we do. Our next program is in celebration of Children’s Day (May 27) but we will be holding it on May 30 in collaboration with LTT Coastal and Marine Services. It is titled, “Seafaring and Digitalisation in Maritime Services: Is it a career for the GIRL Child?” Schools are already showing interest.