The newly-crowned maritime icon of the year, who is a foremost maritime investor, Emi Membere-Otaji has advised the Federal Government to rather create a commission or department under the presidency to oversee the ‘Blue Economy.’
He said that a ministry would compact the vast blue economy into limitations.
Membere-Otaji, who made waves in Rivers State when he became the youngest chairman of a public quoted company in the early 1990s (West African Glass Industry, WAGI), argued that ‘Blue Economy’ was beyond the maritime sector and could thus not be managed as a mere maritime ministry.
The one-time special adviser to then Governor Peter Odili reminded the Federal Government that ‘blue economy’ deals with everything around water, including offshore oil (ministry of petroleum), subsea mining (under ministry of solid minerals), fishing (under ministry of agriculture), open sea wind energy and hydro energy projects (under ministry of power).
By this, he further argued, the ministry managing ‘Blue Economy’ would only be dealing with maritime aspect and would lose sight of the other subsectors of the ‘Blue Economy’ under other ministries.
For that reason, he called for the creation of a special commission, agency, or commission in the presidency to superintend over everything that has to do with business in the water no matter the ministry under which such an activity falls.
The medical doctor and bigtime health sector investor who was one-time commissioner for health in Rivers State, described the blue economy initiative of the present administration as a giant stride in the right direction.
“Blue economy is economy from the waters; river, ocean, lake, swamp, etc. They say a journey of a thousand miles starts with a step. Other countries have gone far, but this government has started it,” he said.
According to him, the present nomenclature being envisaged for implementation of the laudable initiative would rather create a problem because it has slightly missed the point.
“Blue economy is beyond maritime or shipping, it is about the economic value that you can extract from the waters. Yes, the bulk of it is in maritime space both cargo and passengers. This is because over 90 percent of global trade passes through the waters. Imagine the economy of the US and China alone and 90 percent of their produce passes through water. Maritime thus, carries the bulk, but if you limit it to maritime, you have lost the other ones,” he said.
Membere-Otaji, who also is the chairman/CEO of Elschon Nigeria, said that Nigeria’s offshore was taking over the oil industry and that this activity was taking place in the maritime sector.
“Global offshore oil is huge. It is in blue economy, not in petroleum. River beds have valleys too. They have minerals which can be exploited. Fishing is in Ministry of Agriculture but fishing is done in water. The dams are in water but they generate power. So, these things in agriculture, power, solid minerals, petroleum, etc, are blue economy but in other sectors,” he said.
It’s on this basis that he advised the FG to strive to get it right from the onset to avoid regrets or being crashed along the line.
“So, why not have a ‘Blue Economy Commission’ under the presidency so they manage it from all other sectors? A Commission or Agency will coordinate in all ministries to get more value, but for a mere ministry, they will be limited. They will be forced to turn it into a Maritime Ministry,” he further said.
He was crowned the maritime icon of the year by the Maritime and Offshore Omis Award. He has also won many other awards including one bestowed by former President Muhammadu Buhari and one by immediate past governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike for outstanding achievements at one time or the other.
A book on leadership, ‘Push Through The Wall; Way of Successes’, has just been published with his life as case study.
It was gathered that the selection processes were rigorous to bring out the best icon of the maritime industry for the year.
The organisers had told newsmen that the awards were in recognition of leadership and significant contributions to the maritime industry. The event took place at the Oriental Hotel in Lagos.
Experts in the sector say maritime is wide, not just shipping, logistics, finance, lawyers, journalists, etc. Seafarers are critical stakeholders in the maritime sector, there are operations, safety professionals, the regulatory bodies, etc. Omis award thus, cuts across these subsectors.
Membere-Otaji’s award is not just for being a shipowner, a founding member of Ship Owners Association of Nigeria, or as an advocate.
Observers note that he was part of the team that fought for the eastern ports (from Koko, Wari, Port Harcourt, to Calabar to be back on stream. He was president of the Port Harcourt Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (PHCCIMA).
On this, he noted: “A lot had happened that diverted traffic away from the region. For you to get them back, you will have to network from the stakeholders because they have a say on where they want to go.
“We made the point that you cannot push all your goods into ports in one corner of the country. You need to spread out. Also, a chunk of the importers is in the East.”
He said his team asked for 30 percent reduction but faced some resistance from those he termed mischief makers who he alleged to have said they cannot tell companies what to charge. “But we said, no we are directing the request to public sector charges, and this amounts to a big chunk.”
He recalled that the then leadership of the Nigerian Ports Authority approved only 10 per cent, a gesture he described as still good. He regards this as one of his many contributions in the area of advocacy.
Another striking contribution recorded in his favour could be what he did that helped to reduce the then notorious Apapa gridlock. As president of PHCCIMA then, he was invited for presidential breakfast roundtable which was always chaired by the immediate past vice president, Yemi Osinbajo. One of such meetings focused on the Apapa gridlock, there was big debate on what to do. Membere-Otaji said he intervened and told them that what they were trying to do had been tested in the Niger Delta where oil thrives in water.
He showed how oil and other oil-related equipment were easily moved the swamps and the creeks with flat-bottomed barges to terminals. He showed them how it could be done in Apapa.
According to him, the suggestion attracted huge attention and he was invited for more talks at the NPA. The result is that barges now ferry containers at Apapa to some terminals in Lagos from where trucks take over.
He said: “People may not know that it took us under the chairmanship of Osinbajo to get this done.” This may have added to some other breakthroughs he has recorded in his tour of duty in the maritime sector.
The organisers had disclosed that they got the nominations by voices in each subsector and that screening took over before the few persons were picked and before Membere-Otaji emerged as the maritime icon of the year.
The icon said he was excited because his background actually is medicine. He has however, made so much impact in the maritime sector by training himself in the best places around the world including in Singapore. People like him are seen to have paid their dues.
On whether he has any plans to push more persons and youths up from his zone, the expert said he participates in some startups and youth development programmes.
“In that I get involved in mentoring. I tell them, look, I made this mistake, don’t make it. I did this right, try to perfect on it. That is why people pressed me to write my story to leave behind a legacy. It was not about my personal story but I have done some good things here and there.
“This led me to look for people to support me to write my story. It is not all about Dr Membere Otaji, but what can new people learn. I may not parade an international profile but whatever it is, I have done my beats here and there.”
He expressed gratitude to the organisers and judges who picked him to ear such recognition and award as the “Icon of Maritime.”
Repeating his adage that the dancer does not see his back, he reminded observers that since he was not in government to dish out contracts that could win him friends, it was clear that he merited his awards and recognitions.
He lamented over the apparent hunger in the younger people for money instead of name. “Ours was that name first and money will surely come. Those days, people strived to get degrees and doctorates. Now, people have other things on their minds.”
He however, insisted that those who buy doctorate degrees from degree mills would never use it to work.
“My prayer each time is that my life and my story should motivate others. That is why the book was titled, ‘Push Through The Wall’, and succeed. There are many challenges but push through the wall. Never give up! That is my biggest joy.”