Mrs Jean Chiazor Anishere is president, Women’s International Shipping and Trade Association (WISTA), an international non-governmental organisation in the maritime industry with 43 country membership worldwide in which Nigeria is a member. In this interview with SAMSON ECHENIM, she speaks about the role of the organisation in developing the country’s maritime industry and points out that Nigeria lacks an effective rail transportation system around the port.
What is the WISTA all about?
WISTA Nigeria is the Nigerian chapter of the international NGO, Women’s International Shipping and Trade Association (WISTA). WISTA Nigeria has the potential at the point of the stakeholders in the industry. We, WISTA members, endeavour to correct some of the ills in the industry by advocating for compliance with international standards that means we work to ensure that Nigeria ratifies international conventions especially for those applicable to maritime practice and shipping as it were.
We want to ensure that those conventions when ratified by the Nigerian government are domesticated because a nation that has no maritime laws has to start from the basics and also has to have shipping enshrined from the beginning by international conventions which are then ratified and domesticated.
Who are your members and how have your activities impacted positively on the nation’s maritime industry?
Most of the members of WISTA Nigeria are maritime lawyers and maritime consultants. In terms of advocacy, another part of WISTA tries to improve upon the lot of women in the industry. WISTA Nigeria since inception in 1994 has been able to support women in the shipping industry by buying fishing boats and nets for them. So far, we have been able to reach out to two fishing communities, namely Epe in Lagos and Oron in Akwa-Ibom state. We have also been able to identify with fishing communities in Agwileri in Anambra State and by end of August, we should be able to give them two fishing boats and fishing nets.
We also help them to ensure that they establish some kind of community fund where women can draw from the pool without any interest. It is managed by them for their own advantage. Furthermore, WISTA Nigeria has been able to identify and award scholarships to young women in the maritime academy at Oron.
We have done this for six girls. We have issued scholarships to them and ensured that when they graduate from the training they also have to pick up jobs. For this year, we have also identified young women in Oron and we gave them their scholarships in July.
From what you have said, it appears that women are more involved in the fishing business than in the maritime business. In terms of the activities in the maritime industry, what is the level of women involvement?
It’s not that women are more in the fishing industry than in the general maritime industry. It may look like there are predominantly women in the fishing industry who do not have paper qualifications, but I’m very cautious in saying this because one of our elders in this organisation, Mrs Margret Orakwusi, was president of the fish trawlers association and I know that she is a barrister at law.
Majority of women in the fishing community are those who have taken fishing as a trade, different from shipping. While WISTA Nigeria is more into shipping than fishing, we decided to reach out to the women in the fishing community because the heart of their trade is sea related; the fish they trade is from the sea, they need boats to get into the water and to catch the fish which they are going to sell. So it’s that leg of it that connects WISTA with fishing making us show interest in supporting the fishing communities.
It is true that we don’t have many female ship owners in Nigeria. I think we have just about two. We also don’t have many women freight forwarders or clearing agents. But we do have a number of top women in ANLCA (Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents) who are in the business of cargo clearing. We also have top female staffers of the Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) who are in shipping.
And we also have them in the Nigeria Port Authority. In fact, the secretary to the board of NPA is a woman. We have had the first female director general of NIMASA. We are actually located strategically in very top places and maybe I also have to mention that the ministers of finance, aviation and women affairs are elders of WISTA. Elders are those people who were members and have now gone further up the ladder into other endeavours. They are WISTA members whom we are proud to showcase as our role models.
What, in your opinion, are the challenges facing the nation’s maritime industry that should be corrected? How can wrong steps taken in the past be reversed? What would you advise on the management of empty containers?
I hear a lot about empty containers taking up space at the port but I do know that the shipping lines want their containers back and they charge for delay in return of the containers. I think the bulk of the problem here is that there is only one entry for trucks returning containers into the port. There is no maritime nation that I have been to that has only one mode of transport around the ports.
We don’t have an effective rail system around the port and there is only one route to the port; that is not ideal at all. We have to go back to the map and correct the mess that our kind of traffic we are envisaging now. We really have to move fast in getting this rail track to work. In addition to that, going down on this will continue to lead to accidents, gridlocks and loss of man-hours in Apapa. We really need to increase the mode of transport around the port.
Is WISTA pushing for the enactment of laws or domestication of International Conventions for an effective Maritime Industry?
We as a body haven’t been so privileged to bring before the National Assembly a body of laws and say domesticate this, but individual members of WISTA Nigeria have been privileged to be invited by the National Assembly to make their input. One that we are working on now is that of oil spillage. We are looking at a situation whereby the federal government would make provision for some laws that would provide liability on oil spillage due to pipelines and not spillage or pollution by virtue of ship emissions.
Where there is a burst pipeline, it can cause a lot of damages to marine lives and is not safe for fishing. It actually destroys the ecological system. So what we seek is liability of the oil companies and payment of compensation to the affected community. The international convention does not cover that of pipeline spill.
We have ratified that international convention that covers pollution by spill from vessels. We don’t have an international convention on oil spillage originating from burst pipelines. For the fact that there are none yet, we should have domestic laws that cover that. We must recognise that this is very key apart from the piracy bill which is also in the pipeline.