By EMMA JEMEGAH
The Maritime Football Cup competition is in its ninth edition this year and the organisers of the competition, Ships and Ports, having taken stock of the gains over the years, have admitted that the aims of the competition have been met.
Bolaji Akinola, the Chief Executive Officer of Ships and Ports Limited, in this interview with Saturday SunSports, gives insight to the reason for the competition while outlining the various achievements over the years.
Before we talk of the Maritime Cup football competition, which your organization is bankrolling, can you introduce yourself and what you do?
My name is Bolaji Akinola, I am the CEO of Ships and Ports Ltd. Ships and Ports is a consultancy and media firm operating in the maritime industry and we have been there over ten years running. We help operators and multinationals operating in the shipping sector, we consult for them to assist and provide services to other consultancy in the maritime industry.
Our turf is basically the shipping sector.
The great countries we hear about today actually became great because they harnessed their maritime potentials. In those days the popular saying was “He who rules the sea rules the world.” Countries like Britain, France, Portuguese and the rest perpetrated their imperialism through the waterways and you know that the first time the Europeans stepped into the shores of Africa, it was through the waterways. It was through the waterways that trade came into Nigeria.
For instance, if there was no opportunity for trading along the waterways probably we might not have the entity called Nigeria because the amalgamation came in 1914 and it came through the Europeans who came in through the waterways. This is to tell you how important the waterways are. Countries who understand this have used it to grow their economy, trade and to empower their people and our essence at Ships and Ports is to help the government especially to understand the importance of shipping in the growth of the economy.
Today, trade drives the world, the world itself has become a global village and that globalisation happened as a result of trade. Countries being able to connect with each other within a relatively short period of time through their ability to exchange goods and services through the shipping sector.
You are organising Maritime Cup competition, what was the motive behind this?
I took time to give you information on the shipping sector because that is what we do and it is also connected to the Maritime competition we are organising every year. One of the ways to get a sector working properly is to create cooperation among the operators and the government. There has been a barrier in the maritime sector between the government and the operators. We had a situation where the government agencies in the industry were thinking their own was to wield the big sticks all time. The operators stayed away because government was seen as being unfriendly and we thought the industry would not grow that way. The best way to get the industry working properly was to create friendship for people to be able to laugh with each other, exchange banters, play with each other and that is what gave rise to the Maritime Cup competition about nine years ago. And I am very happy to tell you that since we created this competition, everyone in the sector bought into it.
What have you achieved with this competition in the last eight editions?
Our achievement is an ongoing process, so we keep working at it. But so far we’ve seen that we have been able to build a spirit of camaraderie in the industry. For instance, during the opening ceremony of the maiden edition, we had CEOs of various organisations and the private sectors coming together, eating together, and taking sides with their teams. We also had a scenario that I cannot forget when the Nigerian Custom Service was playing against Fleet Forwarders and both the Comptroller-General of the Custom at that time and Head of the Fleet Forwarding Group were throwing banters at each other and this is not what you see in the Ports. What you see in the Port is master-servant relationship, tension, distrust, blame game and extortion, if you like according to some people.
So how far have solved those anomalies?
The idea is to bring these people together, away from the normal daily life. That is, let’s meet where we all enjoy ourselves, and that is what has happened. I am happy that has been achieved and that is what will connote some level of complacency and immodesty but I will say that those objectives we outlined are gradually been realised. Another thing is that we’ve been able to break barriers, even social barriers. For instance, in the Port, the port workers are seen as the lower rung of the ladder but when you come to the Maritime competition, one of them may be a coach instructing a senior manager who might be on the pitch as a player; you see everyone calling themselves by the first name forgetting one is MD. So this has broken that social barriers and it is so exciting to see. Honestly, I will say I am happy with the way the competition has been received.
How many teams in the maritime industry will be participating in the competition?
Typically, in the first edition, in 2008, I won’t forget we had six teams and the Nigerian Navy won. That competition took place at the Sand Filled stadium at the Navy Barracks. But after the success of that first edition, the following year we had sixteen teams. We’ve had teams from the Nigerian Navy, Nigerian Customs, NIMASA, NPA, Meskline, which is the biggest shipping company in the world, APN Terminals, Tin Can Island Container Terminals, Nigerian Shippers Council and Federal College of Fishery are among participating teams that have played in the competition. Nigerian Custom Service has won the competition three times. The big players in the maritime industry have all participated very well in the competition. We’ve had a situation when the Nigerian Customs qualified for the finals and all the hierarchies in the Customs were present at the stadium to see the match except the Comptroller-General who was unable to come but yet was represented and was constantly on the telephone with them. This is so exciting and a barrier melting platform.
How do you ensure that genuine maritime workers participating in this competition?
That has been a very big problem for us, it has become a keenly contested competition but we’ve had incidence in the past where some machineries were used by some certain organisations and because we are interested in the integrity of the competition, we are also interested in the continuity of the competition.
And because our objective is not for the participants to come and win the trophy, but to create a platform where everyone will relate with each other and whoever wins is fine. So because of this we tried to address this issue of non-company workers and the argument then was that pure company workers would not make the competition exciting as we would love and we agreed that we should adopt an European league format where we will have quota system, where a certain number of people can come from outside. We tried that and it works for some time and at the end of the day we agreed to have the Association of Team Managers for all participating companies.
It’s like you are now looking for stars and not the people to represent the company in the competition?
I will now take you back to the subject. If a star comes out there will be a coronary benefit and yet again scouting for talent is not the primary aim. I think talents are full already and what we hope to do is to create football enjoyers rather than football stars. It is a good bonding platform for intra-companies who might not have the opportunity to interact during the course of carrying out their primary duties and also close the hierarchical gap between them. So everyone is on the same page; the common goal is football and to win for their organisation. It also melts away the tension in the maritime industry. Memos and issues can be discussed in few minutes during the course of this competition because everybody is happy at this time. So it helps the companies to further move their businesses forward and engage other stakeholders.
Are you attaching any reward for the winners?
If I understand you better, you mean to say if there is any financial reward for the winners? And I will say yes; we actually attached financial rewards to various categories of the competition. There are also prizes and awards for individual brilliance like the MVP, highest goalscorer but I want to emphasis that this is not the main objective.
How far have you gotten support within and outside the industry?
We have not gotten any support from outside the industry but we’ve had lots of home support from within the industry and I couldn’t have aimed higher than this kind of home support. In all fairness, considering that we are experiencing tough times now and everybody is being conservative and spending mostly these days are based on operational issues; that is understandable. Yes, it t has also affected the level of support we are getting from the industry but it’s just a transient period. The economy is now improving, the country is getting better and the competition as well will also benefit from this.