Chiemelie Ezeobi writes that in canvassing for a seamless blue economy, Dr. Okechukwu Henry Obi, a Nigerian oil magnet based abroad, has been vocal about the need for holistic safety in the maritime space
Nigeria's maritime domain is not just a rich treasure trove of minerals and resources, but also a major factor in trans-atlantic trading. However, it's been burdened by maritime insecurity, piracy, poor dredging, inadequate berthing space for mother vessels, poor dredging challenges, dock problems, reduced channel width due to silting and unwholesome obstacles, amongst others.
Others include inadequate functioning plants and equipment, inadequate financing and funding of port operations, proliferation of government agencies in port activities and waterways doing and duplicating the same work and charging multiple taxations and levies.
While canvassing for a seamless blue economy, Dr. Okechukwu Henry Obi, a Nigerian oil magnet based abroad, posited that amongst other things, including maritime safety, regular dredging and maintenance will open ways for business boom. This is not surprising because in his dual capacity as the Managing Director of Florence Petroleum Limited and Ecumenical Investment and Developmental Company Ltd, the safety of the maritime space is important to him.
Aside the natural and man-made challenges facing the maritime sector, he lamented inconsistencies in government policy and the numerous stakeholders in charge of the waterways. He therefore charged government to harmonise maritime operation of these agencies "because whatever monies we spend on them, trickles down to the final consumers, which then impacts negatively on the country's GDP."
Deep Blue Project
On the Deep Blue Project, he commended government's efforts. He said: "Presently the government is doing well with the launch of the deep blue project which, in my honest opinion, is the beginning of good things to come. Right now, there has been reduced incidence of sea piracy attacks up to the Gulf of Guinea.
"Government should be eager in the development of the blue economy. Nigeria being a country blessed with a great amount of littoral component states and waterways of great lengths, should strive very hard and concentrate its oil resources and revenues in developing a blue economy.
"Blue Economy alone can out perform any other form of economic activities you can think of. The ocean is the largest and most critical ecosystem on earth. The blue economy is the use of sea and its resources for sustainable economic development. It consists of sectors like fisheries and aquaculture, marine biotechnology, renewable energy and shipping, hospitality (like beech side hotels and bars).
"Majorly, it centers on trade and actions around large bodies of water. If well harnessed, it will solve Nigerians socio-economic problems because it will help achieve economic diversification, create high value jobs and ensure food security. All the ports in Nigeria should be developed in order to reduce tension and traffic congestion to Apapa port."
On his stance about dredging the waterways, he said dredgers should be engaged in regular maintenance. Citing River Niger as the biggest and longest river in Nigeria, he said it was unfortunate it was left unattended to.
He said: "The failure of successive government to dredge the river in time has contributed to the impassibility of the river. Dredging of waterways and channels are very big capital intensive projects. Though it can be divided into two, capital dredging and maintenance dredging, which is less capital intensive but requires regular venture. These are not done as it should be.
" We have dredgers lying all over the place in Nigeria abandoned, probably procured with bank funds and subsidies, we should engage those dredgers to be doing maintenance dredging regularly, while small scale ports should be developed around the river banks.
"There are also fears of those living in the downstream of the lower River Niger who feel that dredging may aggravate the erosion of the river banks and increase flooding incidences. These people had protested against the dredging of the River Niger in the past thereby stalling the work over the years.
"Apart from this, silting of the river Niger happens more often, so maintenance dredging should done regularly in order to make the River Niger channel navigable to barges and low draft vessels. With these, I can get a low draft vessels and self propelled barges to lift refined products from say Waltersmith Refinery in Oguta to Onitsha port to deliver to coaches, from there to the North and sub-sahara region. We will create multiple jobs along the waterways. Food supply will be made from the North to the South via same partway. Nigeria is very rich but let's fix our security.
Venture into Business
On how he veered from medicine to business he said: "I have always loved business and entrepreneurship because of my parents business backgrounds. As a student, I have always engaged in one business venture or the other. I knew I wasn't going to last long in the medical profession because, as a young medical officer in the university of Calabar teaching hospital and General hospital, Saminaka, Kaduna State, I normally travel to Cotonou those days to buy vehicles and sell to my colleagues, friends and referrals in order to make some cool profit margins . So, when I met people like Alhaji Awalu Rano (AA Rano) in the year 2008, I knew I wasn't going to continue in the medical field again because it wasn't giving me the satisfaction and freedom that I desired."
Making Mark in Nigeria
Noting that "Nigeria is a virgin forest, with population of over 200 million young and energetic youths, making good fortune in Nigeria is kind of guaranteed though there are so many challenges, and as you solve some of the challenges, you make more and more money. The market is very huge in Nigeria.
"We make good turnovers monthly and we are not even close to the market leaders. We do business in United Kingdom and Ghana, but you cannot compare those places with the kind of transactions that occurs in Nigeria in our industry."
Advice to Budding Entrepreneurs
As an entrepreneur that has gone through the ropes he offered candid advice to budding entrepreneurs. "I will give to up- coming Nigerians that want to go into our kind of business or any kind of business for that matter, is to first of all look for a mentor and serve that person or do apprenticeship for some time and learn as much as you can learn from that person before venturing on your own.
"Our kind of business is very capital intensive, so it takes a lot of time to build up capital. So, you have to be patient and trustworthy. Integrity is the watch word and without integrity, just forget it. You will just be hitting hard rocks, before you know it, nobody will want to do business or associate with you again," he added.
Charge on Security
Charging government to make Nigeria safe and secure, Obi said: "The only incentive I want government to give us is to make Nigeria safe and secure for everyone. Government should provide enabling environment for investors and entrepreneurs like us to keep faith in the country.
" When I started out in 2006, I drive from Saminaka to Jos, Jos to Bauchi, Jos to Kaduna, Zaira, Kano, back to Abuja without fear of killer herdsmen, bandits nor kidnappers, but now, whenever I'm in the country, I dare not travel by road to any part of the country even to the Eastern part of the country. It is that bad.
"So, we are not asking the government to give us money, we know how to make our money. All we need is security, peace and peaceful co-existence between the North and the South. My best friends are from the North. In fact, the first ever business support I got was N5 million in 2009 from a Muslim guy called Bashir Inuwa Ali.
"I had just met him like a week before then. I was looking for a business loan from a bank and the bank was delaying, so he just asked me what I needed, I said N5 million, he just gave it to me without collateral nor signing any form of agreement with him.
" We are family friends now. A.A Rano also has given me credit facilities that banks haven't given me. No collaterals, no sales purchase agreements signed. Just go and sell and bring back their capital. So, why will I not want to remain in the same country with these guys? Let the government make the country safe, then, we will all prosper.
"The growth of commerce and industry in the present dispensation has been in reverse direction majorly because of insecurity. Foreign direct investment has plummeted, USD inflows has dried up. You don't expect any reasonable foreign company to invest in a country where the security of life and property is not assured. My advice for improvement is to get the security of the country right, then every other thing will fall into place."
About the Entrepreneur
Obi is an entrepreneur and the Managing Director of Florence Petroleum Limited and Ecumenical Investment and Developmental Company Ltd. Florence Petroleum Ltd is registered in Nigeria, Ghana, England and Wales and it is into bulk trading of Petroleum products in the West African sub-region and also into marine services and vessel chartering while Ecumenical Investment was incorporated in 2009 to engage in property developments, importation and dealers of motor vehicles, medical services, ago-allied and farming businesses.
He has traversed all over the country, from Calabar, Cross Rivers State where he graduated to the General Hospital, Saminaka, Kaduna State where he did his NYSC and was later retained as a medical officer until he ventured into business and relocated to Jos, Plateau State where he used the proceeds of the sale of his clinics to purchase two tanker trucks and rented a filing station where he retailed petroleum products.
By 2009, he resigned from employment as a medical officer and concentrated fully in building his oil and gas, trading and real estate business after which he re-located to United Kingdom from where he presently operate and supervises his multi-million naira business enterprises with a work force of over 100 in Nigeria and abroad.
Nigeria being a country blessed with a great amount of littoral component states and waterways of great lengths, should strive very hard and concentrate its oil resources and revenues in developing a blue economy. Blue Economy alone can out perform any other form of economic activities you can think of