IMO Council Election: Nigeria must engage its maritime technical resources for best results- Ilori

Nigeria's delegation to Lloyd's Register HQ, London in 2007
Various opinions concerning Nigeria’s performance at the last International Maritime Organisation (IMO) Council election for Category C have raised a discourse, which has made it imperative for the country to address a number of issues as observed.
For that discourse, marine engineer, Emmanuel Ilori, states clearly that Nigeria must put its vast technical resources into required perspective in order to make real impact satisfactory to the maritime sector at the level of the IMO.
It is important to note that Ilori once worked with Lloyd’s Register, in the classification committee, with a job demand of collecting technical information to build knowledge database for the shipping industry. At that point, his core duty helped people to understand ships and their relationship, and operations better.
From the position of depth knowledge of the technical requirement of a maritime nation, Ilori gives quality insights on what Nigeria must begin to do from now if the country must apply to contest and scale through for the category ‘C’ membership slot in the next two years.

What is your view of Nigeria’s performance at the last IMO Council election into the Category C seat?
Nigeria losing the IMO Council seat should not really be seen as a failure per se, because if you remember, Nigeria used to be a prairie State in terms of the IMO and the global maritime community until the present administration came on board. Then, the effort has been to raise the Nigerian profile and turn the negative perception to a positive perception for Nigeria. By and large, we have succeeded in doing that, and these are all through political efforts. We have raised the Nigerian maritime political status significantly; we became the president of the Association of African Maritime Administrations (AAMA) and hosted a few conferences. Those were all part of raising awareness about the importance of the maritime. They are all political efforts. But, the IMO is not just a political organisation. It is basically a technical organisation, and by and large, IMO supports global maritime economy. So, when Nigeria went for the election, her focus was in leveraging on her political prowess. The result of the election is telling us that have we not exhausted the political goodwill that we had? What else have we failed to do in terms of the other two legs? Because the IMO election stands firmly on three legs; what have you done about your maritime economic achievement, how sound are you on maritime technical aspects? And these are the areas where there are shortfalls at the moment. So, it is time for us to rethink how strategically we will engage globally on the other two platforms.

Nigeria’s performance for same position back in time?

Back in 2007 when we won the election, in as much as we went politically, Nigeria had some technical and economic input. We just had the LNG ships, we were going to the NLNG development. So, we were able to convince the global community that Nigeria had a role to play in the maritime economy, and that Nigeria had a role to play in the global maritime technical direction. Weeks before the election that time, Lloyd’s Register threw its weight behind Nigeria; the big delegation was welcomed at the global headquarters of Lloyd’s Register, which made a global news. Then, only two nations were hosted in the global headquarters during the election week, which is Greece and one other. As it made big news that Nigeria was being accepted into the big boys club, we went for that election and we won. Though a weak win, it was a statement of intent that they were bringing Nigeria in. Beyond that, in 2009, we made many promises, and they were being followed up at global maritime technical level that Nigeria deserved to be supported, because there were many technical roles for Nigeria to play, many maritime economic potential for Nigeria. At that time, Nigeria was compared with Brazil, Turkey. We had potential. 

Come 2009, we won by very big margin in Category C, with about 6 points. Thereafter, all the technical promises we made, all the maritime economic promises made, Nigeria lost out. We started to backtrack, and these things are not easily forgotten. Looking at history, at one election we went to campaign with Atilogwu dancers. We should not campaign with Atilogwu dancers. When we do our homework well, we should actually be celebrating with Atilogwu dancers and with the talking drums. There is a bit of misplaced priority in terms of Nigeria maritime development, and of course, it was downhill thereafter until all the negative perception came to play.
So, we need to up our game in terms of maritime technical development, in terms of maritime economic development. Then of course, the political goodwill, we can continue to play the maritime political arena. But what are we bringing to the table? These are some of the issues we need to address strategically. Some have played on maritime security issues. But again, some nations are over playing their hand surreptitiously and then scoring cheap point, because of the perceived security threat. Nigeria is making a lot of efforts in terms of trying to address the maritime security issues. We are not the only one in the area, but when they talk about the Gulf of Guinea, some nations see it as Nigeria. To the extent that they even attacked Nigeria at the IMO. So, I don’t think  it is due to lack of effort, but then, some nations are gaining, even from their engagement within Nigerian maritime domain, and these nations are active in Nigeria maritime domain. But, if you hear anything else, they amplify, they blow it out of proportion. Take the issue of war risk. They overplay it to the detriment of Nigeria, so that they can gain more premium from sending the cargo to Nigeria. These are things that we can respond to at the national level. 

What should Nigeria do to address the issues?
Don’t forget, some of these are very technical issues and at the IMO when you do not have people within the system who can articulate our positions very well, this is what you get. Let’s go to the aviation sector. If you remember many years back, planes were dropping from the sky and things were not going very well, and then, there was a change of tap, they started putting people in place, who actually understand that industry, technical people who can look at their colleagues eyeball to eyeball and ask “what are you talking about my country”? Then, Nigeria is a member of the International Civil Aviation Organisation(ICAO), which is the highest global body. Nigerians became members of international global body and the aviation economy turned around. You begin to see  Nigeria as a destination for investment. I hear recently that tax on aviation spare parts and engine has been removed. So, they are moving in the right direction.  When you have people in place that can articulate technically and economically Nigeria’s position, then it is a game-changer. So, people will exploit your weaknesses once they know that you are not in position to defend yourself.  Like Ghana, Ghana speaks very well at the IMO. So, I will not be surprised if in the near future Ghana makes a go for the IMO Council.

What is happening with the collaborations agreed on at the GMSC to tackle insecurity in the GoG, considering the sustained pirate attacks on vessels?

We need to look at it. It is a global problem. In the Gulf of Aden, the Somali area, when we had the pirates’ issue, there was a global effort to stamp pout the security threat there and they produced some guidelines for operating in the area and that effort yielded positive results.    Don’t forget, the threat from the Gulf of Aden was the traffic through the Suez Canal, which is a serious global economic belt. 
Therefore, the global community needed to respond. Now, the Gulf of Guinea(G0G) is slightly different, because the traffic coming to Nigeria, on one hand, and the other traffic is North-South Trans-Atlantic traffic, which is significantly far away from the coast. So, the area of operation for this people is significantly further out. Most of the international traffic are relatively safe. Whereas, the big traffic is coming to Nigeria, so the problem is Nigeria’s problem. But we can exploit that situation to our advantage. When you say collaboration, what is in it for Togo when the bulk of trade is coming to Nigeria? The problem is your problem, sort it out. But having said that, I think the government's response through the Deep Blue Project is very good. Don’t forget that there are so many fifth columnists, who do not want that project to see the light of day. Personally, I think that the project is long overdue. Like Peru, they were able to capitalise on their maritime security infrastructure. And the global community recognised them and they are there in the Council. Peru’s effort was recognised when it hosted the global community at the parallel event on the World Maritime Day a few years back. They were able to showcase their maritime security architecture as part of their efforts to make the ocean safer in their area. 
Now, Nigeria is trying to stamp out insecurity within our maritime domain. The Global Maritime Security Conference(GMSC) was good. If we had been able to successfully implement that process and they know that Nigerian water is a no-go area, then we could have been able to tell the global community that actually we are in control of our waters.  Again, it is part of trying to articulate our position; who is talking about it, who is responding to it, who can look at everybody eyeball to eyeball and say “actually, this is what it means for our nation to invest.” How much are we talking about, less than $200 million? Other nations are spending billions of dollars to make sure that their waters are safe. So, for those of them who are complaining that we are spending less than $200 million to keep our waters safe, what is the value, compared to the damage that is being done to Nigeria, to our economy, to our image?