By Ebele Orakpo
Mrs Ify Akerele is the immediate past Director-General of the Nigerian Chamber of Shipping, an affiliate to the International Chamber of Shipping. The former president of Women in Shipping and Trade Association, member and Ambassador of the Women in Maritime Africa, Akerele is still quite active in the Maritime sector.
One of the first few women in the Maritime sector, she started her career with the Federal Ministry of Internal Affairs and later served as the Special Assistant and Administrative Assistant to the DG, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs and Executive Secretary, Institute Of Directors Nigeria.
In this chat with Vanguard in Abuja, Mrs Akerele says the only solution to Nigeria’s problems is for government to declare a state of emergency on education.
Tell a little about yourself
I am Mrs Ify Akerele, a mother of two lovely children and a grandmother of two lovely little girls. I am from Onitsha, Anambra State but my husband is from Lagos State. I am the immediate past Director-General, in fact, the pioneer DG of the Nigerian Chamber of Shipping, NCS, an affiliate to the International Chamber of Shipping. I was in the Chamber of Shipping for about 10 years, retired but was made a life member of the board which was an honour. I am also a BoT member so I am tied to the Shipping sector.
As the pioneer DG of the Nigerian Chamber of Shipping, what were you able to achieve?
The NCS has a private-public sector relationship with the Nigerian Maritime sector in that we played an advocacy role ensuring that Nigerian players in the Maritime sector are given their own fair share of what is available in the industry.
We championed the passing of the cabbotage law whereby Nigerians are given first choice refusal when it comes to contracts and activities in the Maritime sector to ensure that Nigerians who aspire to play in that sector have access to funds and contracts by international oil companies and generally look after the welfare of the Nigerian Shipping or maritime entrepreneur.
We also push for proper policies, lobby and interact on the international platform to make sure that Nigeria’s voice is heard and our aim is to make Nigeria a maritime hub for West Africa and Africa in the long run. This is what the Chamber of Shipping stands for.
Women in Maritime
We are growing. I am one of the first few. I don’t own a vessel; but I have a very good maritime knowledge so what we are trying to do is to encourage women to go into that business.
Is this the Nigeria of your dreams?
Well, I won’t say I had a dream for Nigeria but this is not the Nigeria I grew up in and I’m sure if my parents are to come out of the grave, they will ask to go back in because this is not the impression I got when we were growing up. I think we were so well protected that we were not prepared for the harsh realities happening now. Nigeria is a beautiful country and Nigerians are unique but I think we got exposed too fast. Let me put it this way: the level of exposure has not met with the level of education; education is lagging behind. That’s one big problem.
People are virtually thrown into exposed atmosphere. You go to the legislature, someone becomes a House of Representatives member by virtue of people he knows and he cannot fathom what his role is; he lacks understanding because there is a concept that government is a different entity from the people. Then we have the internet, social media etc., people in Nigeria are not ready for that kind of exposure, it is affecting their psyche.
So the problem is bringing people to the same level as the exposure we have. You can’t go to somebody in my mother’s village and tell them about wifi, they know wifi but they don’t really know wifi, they have no exposure of what wifi is for; they just know you can use it to get into the internet but where is wifi from? How was wifi discovered? A basic child abroad or in Ghana next door knows it, but here, people are exposed too fast and they are not prepared. It is something that has to be faced head-on.
State of emergency
Nigeria has got to declare a state of emergency on education; that’s the only solution. Do you know some people look at having money as class? It’s because of their level of education. We must get education right. Awolowo gave free education. We all had free education when I was in the university. I went to University of Lagos; we were given money to go to school; so with education, we were able to understand the level of advancement but now, even the teachers need education. That is the major problem in Nigeria.
Every state should take education as a priority, Bayelsa State for example has moved very fast because the Governor decided to face education and education alone, so it can be done. If education is at par with advancement or level of development, we won’t have a problem.
No connection between the leaders and followers. I just gave an example of someone selling palm wine suddenly getting into the House of Reps, if there is a problem, you can’t even go to him to discuss the state of West African coast because he doesn’t know what you are talking about. He will do all the nuances, make all the right moves but he really does not understand what you are saying. He uses money to cover his inadequacies. Ghana is way ahead of us in education because the Ghanaian selling handkerchief is educated. If they can solve the education problem, Nigeria’s problems would be solved. The priority placed on education by our leaders now is nothing to write home about because they don‘t think it is important.
I’m an optimist. It will still change. It has to get very bad to get better. Some people are worried, saying Nigeria is going nowhere, but God who made Nigeria is at work. I wouldn’t be despondent because it’s always darkest before dawn. We are all complaining but we probably needed to be where we are today to be where we are going tomorrow; we were living in dreams’ paradise. Everybody is suffering; even the rich are suffering too.
Nigeria needs overhauling
We need to restructure. We need to go back to the drawing board, hold proper conferences, proper referendum, proper discussions. Let us decentralize, there is too much power at the centre. I believe in restructuring but it has to be a peculiar type, not the type that PDP was suggesting which is encouraging but it has to be an overhauling. You will see people come out from every region with wonderful ideas. We had it that time with the Vision 20-20-20. Bring out all those papers, we have brilliant people in this country. Unfortunately, there is no patriotism. I believe the National Orientation Agency, NOA is a very important agency but it seems they are not bothered.
National Orientation Agency
They need to keep bringing out positive things about Nigeria, singing Nigeria’s praises like the Americans; have flags everywhere showing the greatness of Nigeria. When you hear of the exploits of any Nigerian hero abroad, they shout it to the rooftops, but right now, the Nigerian himself couldn’t be bothered about Nigeria, he only wants to leave the country.
There was a three-year-old boy that said a prayer for his father’s birthday. He said: “God, give my father money.” This was the prayer of a three-year-old! But he didn’t think he was doing anything wrong because that’s all he hears so I wish they could give me the NOA to run, by the time you advocate positive things about Nigeria, show positive things about Nigeria, people will start feeling proud of themselves.
So much negative things about Nigeria
There’s so much negative things about Nigeria! When positive things happen, you don’t get to hear them. We have a Nigerian woman, Wendy Okolo, who was the first person to get a PhD in Aerospace Engineering in the US and nobody knows. These are the sort of things we should be hearing; if you see that, then you say ah, Nigeria is good.
The foreigners are very happy with the negative news about Nigeria because it suits them fine; they want you to go and beg for visa so that they will make money out of you, charging you for even appointment for visa, to go where?
Journalists are key
Journalists are very key but they seem to have lost hope. Thank God for Vanguard Media and the publisher, Uncle Sam (Mr. Sam Amuka), one of the few standing pillars. Vanguard is one paper you read and get the truth. Uncle Sam has not changed.
I’ll say it again, there has to be a national re-education plan; unfortunately, the people in charge are not interested. Each one is looking for how much they can put in their pocket for survival. So it is lack of education, very fast development and greed. I am not despondent. My children live abroad and they asked me to come over and I asked them why? “Why would I do that? You have your jobs, your children are happy; what would I be doing in Britain?’ I said no, I am happier here, at least I am chasing my women projects.