I Can Never Tell You That Piracy is Gone in Nigerian Waterways Because … Capt Abel Ogah

Retired Navy Captain Abel Ogah is currently, a training expert for the Nigerian Navy, Western Naval Command.

 He is also currently the Director of the Merchant Navy Directorate in Lagos.
Recently, he spoke with our correspondent,DAPO OLAWUNI on issues of piracy on Nigerian waters.
Capt Ogah disagreed with the report of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) that piracy has reduced on Nigerian waters.
Excerpts

Q.,Can you please introduce yourself to us?

A..I am Navy Captain Ogah, retired but not tired, because I am still a captain, have been in the Navy is always a Navy, whether serving or retired.

 After retirement, I connected to the Merchant Navy Directorate by reason of personal interest, passion and commitment because I have chosen to remain in the maritime world, that is where I was brought up and up till today, I remain a maritime professional.
I trained in the Navy as a seaman, specialising in communication and information technology, and other diverse areas of maritime security and safety including administration, navigation and everything that can make a vessel move on water, float, fight and serve all purposes including movement of logistics and personnel.
One of the major areas I served in the Navy is training, in my thirty one years in the Navy, I served as a teacher, an instructor, a directing staff and a lecturer. So, when I retired from the Navy and I saw an opportunity where maritime training is being organized, I quickly keyed into the opportunity, that is the genesis of my coming into merchant marine training academy.
 I have been privileged to be recognized by divine providence, not because I am better than other persons that I am made the Rector of the Merchant Marine Training Academy.

Q. What is Merchant Marine Training Academy all about?

The Merchant Marine Training Academy is a subsidiary of Merchant Navy Directorate under the auspices of Society of Nigerian Mariners, authorised by Nigerian Shipping Act of 2007, meaning that it is a legitimate subsidiary.

 However the merchant navy in its drive and vision to expand and revamp the dying maritime activities have subscribed to so many subsidiaries including Merchant Detective and Security Agency for which all I am privileged to be the Director.
Haven also observed that the seafarers in Nigeria are being sidelined in welfare, attention and management, so we have registered a Merchant Seafarers Health Foundation, it is like an NGO (Non Governmental Organisation) that caters for health conditions of seafarers, by divine providence, I have also been given opportunity to chair the foundation.
 In all, apart from being the Director of the Merchant Navy Directorate, I am considered to lead the members in the other subsidiaries which I have mentioned. In all of these, we have a purpose, it is no gainsaying that for more than three decades, the Nigerian merchant  activities have been suffering from quite a number of issues, particularly since the defunct National Shipping Line, the activities in the maritime environment in Nigeria has been on individual basis who are self centered, they are not organized by the government, and even the government agencies that are supposed to run these maritime environment, either for lack of competence, professionalism and interest have played to their own pockets rather than growing the economy of the country, but the Merchant Navy Directorate is a formation comprising young men who have the interest of growing the economy of Nigeria through the maritime environment, so we have some core values which includes standardization, training, logistics provision, collaboration with other agencies because we don’t want to operate in isolation, we are working with other agencies because a tree cannot make a forest.

Q. Is this body a duplication of the already established merchant Navy directorate with the Merchant Navy Senior Staff Union?

A. In every profession, there are the practitioners, there are the management and there are just supporters club. So, in the maritime environment, there are the activists and there are union members.

The maritime sector is one of the largest sector in Nigeria, so it is definitely not limited to a particular association, it is a matter if choice to belong to any association of your choice, so long you are abiding by the rules and regulations guiding the industry.
The Merchant Navy Directorate is supposed to be a formation that will look into various areas of the existing associations, and coordinate them, but when people see you coming to checkmate their illegal activities, they become aggressive.
All of us in this formation are professionally sound in our various specialisation in the maritime industry.

Q. The IMB has released a verdict that Nigerian waters are now safer from pirates, do you trust this report?

A. There is a difference between an ideal situation and the reality on ground, it is like the case of the more you look the less you see, and also, some statements are made based on political drive, the people who are making these statements, how much of the sea do they know? Do they even understand what piracy is all about and the difference between piracy and sea robbery? Do they know the demarcations in the maritime environment?
Piracy is not just something that somebody come to your backyard at the waterside to steal something, somebody who have just been sailing from CMS to Ikorodu, and because he is not harassed on water does not mean that there is no piracy on Nigerian waters, the piracy exists on the high seas, while sea robbery is just the hungry thief that operates in the inland waters.
Again, how many of our vessels go to sea to see what is happening on the high seas, it is only when you go to the high seas that you would know whether there are pirates on the high seas or  not, piracy takes place on the high seas, so you cannot remain in Ikoyi in a fenced house and say there are no more thieves in Lagos, until you get to Ajegunle and Mushin.
I cannot say that there is no reduction in piracy, but I can never tell you that piracy is gone in our waterways because the agencies and the instruments to carryout their operations and police against the pirates, I don’t think they are confidently doing their job, and that is why, if you see a police man on the street, this does not mean he is there to do the job of policing.

Q. The employability of Nigerian seafarers have been called into question, meaning we don’t have qualified seafarers

A. The first question is; do we have trained seafarers? If you don’t give somebody an assignment, you cannot know the person’s competence, in Nigeria for example, NIMASA claim to be training people yearly, but the only way you can know that the person you trained has competence is when you give him a vessel to handle. Definitely, out of every twelve, there must be a Judas, and today, even the employment we have is not based on competence, three people graduates from school, but the person that will get the employment is the one with a pass, not even a third class, this is because he has the connection, and because he doesn’t have the competence, he would be judged as somebody that is incompetent when he begins to perform, meanwhile the person who came out with first class is still carrying papers up and down.

Until a competent person is employed and tested, you cannot know his competence by mere looking at him, you cannot say that people who go to train in ideal places like United States of America, Ghana and so on, coming back home, they are not employed and you say they are incompetent.
And because they are not employed, they revert back to piracy, it is only a person who knows how to control cow that can steal a cow. So, it is only a person that knows the secret of the maritime environment that can be a pirate.

Q. NIMASA says it has stopped issuing waivers to vessels on crewing, have this been effective?

A. If you want to monitor the vessels and localise the seafarers on Nigerian waters, how many vessels belong to Nigerians, when a man goes and bring a vessel from outside the country, and the man does not trust you because of antecedents, he would come with his own crew, there are so many fishing vessels prefer to use foreigners, they prefer to pay more money to the foreigners because they believe in the ideal.

 Shipowners are also taking advantage of the situation because there is no regulation and monitoring, so they go and bring their brothers from the villages who has no ideas about the maritime sector and employ them onboard, while the people who are qualified are not employed. An ideal seafarer has an amount of money is paid when he goes to sea, but how many shipowners are ready to pay it? So they look for cheap labour.

Q. Can we conduct arrest of ship owners violating these Cabotage laws?

A.,The people who are enforcing, how much of what they are enforcing do they know? It is what you know that you can enforce, there is a lot of ignorance and political influence, when you arrests somebody now, even before he gets to the police station, a call would come in and the person would be released, so in order to enforce the Cabotage law, there must be political will.

Q. The security contract government entered into with Israeli firm, do you think it would reduce piracy?

A.  Who can secure your house more than you? It is only the person who know where the item is kept that can secure it, why do you have to bring outsiders to secure where you have kept your property? To me it is a wrong venture, it means we don’t even believe in ourselves, and we have seafarers that are not employed, why don’t we create our own indigenous security outfit that would man our own maritime environment? Why are we bringing people from outside?
If government provide the necessary logistics for the people in Nigeria, they would do better than the people coming from outside because they already know the in and out of what they are securing.

Q. What are the major strides your NGO has made so far?

A.  We are trying to ensure collaboration with relevant agencies, there is a department they call Seafarers Welfare Board in Nigeria, they are supposed to be concerned with the welfare of seafarers, no matter the organization they belong to whether it is Nigerian Navy, merchant Navy or private outfit, that you go to sea, you should be conversant with some of the diseases that are common to you, and if you have need for treatment, there are places you should go to, but the Welfare Board is existing on paper, so, we are trying to first of all create awareness about related challenges, health challenges, illnesses, diseases that are common to seafarers. Secondly, we council them before they go to sea, and also, depending on logistics, we help those who are constrained in one way or the other to see how they can manage their health situation. It is not every time that you go to sea and they tell you about sea sickness, sometimes it is not sea sickness, when you don’t have the logistics to survive at sea, naturally, it would begin to have some effect on you.

Our first step is to create awareness about those things that can happen when you operate at sea, secondly, if it happens, how do you manage it? We were collaborating with relevant agencies to create more avenues for such awareness because we cannot do it alone

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