He was not there in 1985 when one-time Minister of Transport, late Major General Ibrahim Gumel, decided to liquidate the Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL). With that singular decision, the country’s classification as a ship owning nation, a status that had been sustained since 1959, disappeared overnight. Nigeria’s ownership of a national carrier that at a time had about 21 sea-going vessels evaporated over night.
Today, he is pioneering and assiduously driving the building of another indigenous fleet of vessels. But he is avoiding the missteps of the past. Unlike in the past when NNSL got the lion share of the Ship Acquisition and Ship Building Fund (SASBF) administered by then National Maritime Authority as Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) was then known, he has decided to empower the private sector.
Welcome to the world of Dr. Bashir Jamoh, Director General of the apex regulatory agency in Nigeria’s maritime industry, NIMASA. He believes that unlike the misadventure where the Federal Government set up another government-owned carrier, the Nigeria Unity Line (NUL), which ended up being an embarrassment to the country and was in the news more for its sole container carrier being detained in various countries than for lifting cargoes, Jamoh was walking a different trajectory.
The lessons from the demise of the SASBF, NNSL and ultimately the short-lived NUL were not lost on him while official nod was being awaited from the Federal Government for the disbursement of the Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund (CVFF). Jamoh decided that the country cannot walk the old and failed path of setting up another publicly owned shipping company.
Another lesson Jamoh learnt that the bid to get a slice of shipping for indigenous operators cannot be begin in transnational movement of goods. It had to start from the home front – coastal shipping. That path was smoothened for him by the coming of the Coastal and Inland Shipping (Cabotage) Act 2003. Though designed to restrict foreign participation in Nigeria’s domestic coastal trade, the series of waivers embedded in the Act made its implementation almost ineffectual as foreign shipping companies continued to dominate the transport of cargoes, especially wet cargoes on Nigeria’s coast.
The CVFF had provided for the levying of two per cent of the value of all contracts on cargoes lifted under the Cabotage regime to be paid by ship owners into the fund. The major objective was to restrict the use of foreign vessels in domestic coastal trade, promote the development of indigenous tonnage and establish a viable CVFF.
Jamoh’s task had an element of good fortune. He had as Minister of Transport Engr. Muazu Jaji Sambo who shared in his vision that only an empowered private sector with requisite support can guarantee the building of an enduring indigenous tonnage. More importantly, Jamoh wanted to wean the initiative from the negative impact of the direct control of the public service that made the death knell of the SASBF inevitable.
He evolved guidelines and strategies that subjected the Fund to rigorous evaluation usually associated with private financial institutions. The introduction of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) came with an unintended road block on the dream of disbursing funds from the CVFF. Sambo it was who on realising how the TSA had become a stumbling block to CVFF sought and obtained the approval of former President Muhammadu Buhari for the levy to be exempted from the TSA.
The former minister also secured approval from Buhari for the appointment of some deposit money banks as primary lending institutions for the CVFF as encapsulated in the 50-15-35 formula.
Under the arrangement, NIMASA will contribute 50 per cent of the funds required for vessel acquisition, 35 per cent will come from designated lending institutions where a single digit interest rate had already been agreed. The banks are Polaris Bank, UBA, Union Bank, Zenith Bank, Jaiz Bank. The balance 15 per cent represent the contribution of the beneficiaries of the facility. The remarkable difference in the arrangement is that NIMASA is now seemingly indemnified from failure of repayment as its 50 per cent contribution can only be disbursed when the banks undertake due diligence on applications and certify that all regulatory requirements have been fulfilled.
This is unlike the SASBF regime where funds were released to beneficiaries in manners not informed by due diligence and dispassionate evaluation of applications but on extraneous factors. Virtually all the private companies were unable to repay while some did not bother to acquire any vessel but ventured into outright trading.
When the National Assembly had to take a decision on approving the disbursement of the CVFF, it was a fait accompli. “The Committee requested the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency and the Ministry of Transportation to provide detailed information on the total amount accrued to the Fund and disbursements since inception”, chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring, Hon. Legor Idagbo, told the press on June 1, 2023 on its findings and verdict.
“The Committee met with the Minister of Transportation and the Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) on Thursday, 11 May, 2023 to find out about the details concerning the matter. After a thorough analysis of the various submissions on the matter coupled with the explanations given by the Ministry and NIMASA, the Committee discovered that due process was followed in the planned disbursement of the Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund”, he said.
With the committee’s verdict, the House duly approved the disbursement of the Fund which was determined to be about $360 million. For the first time since the Cabotage Act was enacted in 2003, a major energizer for its enforcement was finally seeing the light of day.
The significance of the milestone achieved by Jamoh was not lost on the indigenous shipping community. The Nigerian Chamber of Shipping and Shipowners Association of Nigeria were among stakeholders who commended Jamoh for raising the bar at NIMASA. President of the Nigeria Chambers of Shipping, Alhaji Aminu Umar, said Jamoh’s feats are unprecedented in the history of NIMASA. “Here is a man who came, saw and conquered”, he enthused.
However, Jamoh’s inventiveness goes beyond the promotional strategies he introduced to boost the fortunes of the local shipping community. Before his appointment to head NIMASA, Nigeria’s territorial water was rated as one of the most hazardous for ships globally. The record was so appalling that only Somalia, a failed state, and others at war were worse than Nigeria’s rate of attacks on ships by pirates. He initiated the deep blue assets which was launched by President Muhammadu Buhari in June 2021. From being the axis most prone to piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, Nigeria has been removed from the list of countries designated as risk maritime nations by the International Bargaining Forum, (IBF). The Forum is a body that brings together the International Transport Federation (ITF) and the international maritime employers that make up the Joint Negotiating Group (JNG) listed five designated risk areas and applicable benefits in the event of attacks leading to deaths and disability, mentioning the Gulf of Guinea as second extended war risk zone covering Liberia/Cote D’Ivoire to the Angola/Namibia border.
This arose from Jamoh’s focus on maritime safety that included a robust collaboration with the Nigerian Navy. He acquired a number special vessels equipped with gadgets for effective combating of piracy. In fact, just before the Buhari administration ended on May 29, a fleet of five state-of-the-art patrol boats, five refurbished Search and Rescue/Pollution Control Boats and four staff ferries with over 35 sitting capacity were commissioned and deployed.
On the international scene, Jamoh reached out and secured the cooperation of major organisations. He may remain the only chief executive of NIMASA to have played host to the Secretary General of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), Mr. Kitack Lim who visited Nigeria in November 2022.
But more remarkably, to him belongs the distinction of breaking the jinx on the accumulated fund that faced the clear danger of being ploughed into the Federation Account and shared among the tiers of government. For indigenous shipping operators, Jamoh’s landmarks represent a new dawn.