Bob Chukwuma Hyacinth is a Marine Engineer by profession. He is the MD/CEO of King Shipping Trading Maritime Services Limited whose operations covers Ship Chandelling, Ship handling and repairs, supply of Diesel, commodities , beverages , shipping logistics and clearing and forwarding.
In this interview with our correspondent, George Aluo, he speaks on his experiences and challenges in the maritime sector, proffering solutions on how the sector could move forward. Excerpts.
Can you briefly tell us about yourself and what gave you the vision to go into maritime business
My names are Bob Chukwuma Hyacinth. I am from Enugu State and Oji River Local Government Area to be specific. I went to Primary School at Akwanga South Primary School in Nasarawa State and Government Secondary School also in Akwanga for my secondary school. Later I proceeded to Nasarawa State Polytechnic, Lafia for my Ordinary National Diploma after which I went for my Higher National Diploma at the Institute of Management and Technology (IMT), Enugu. After my youth service, I attended School of Marine Technology Oron, Cross River State where I spent two years before moving to a regional Maritime University, now Maritime University Ghana where I read Marine Engineering. I have versatile experience in marine sector. I understand what it means by agency shipping management, ship chandelling and under water services and that was the drive that led to the establishment of King Shipping Trading Maritime Services Limited. The company was set up not necessarily to make profit but to serve humanity. In doing this, our aim is to dominate West African sub- region and make the cost of shipping as low as possible and that’s why I said our main purpose is not just for profit making but to bring down the cost of clearing, cost of shipping and the cost of living for mankind.
How would you describe your experience since setting up your organization
To be honest with you, it would have been more challenging that it is now but the good news about it is that we’ve not known a better yesterday. I have able and dedicated staff and with the help of our investors, the company is moving forward. Like I said earlier, we’ve not known a better yesterday and our staff most especially in the operation department have been giving our clients the best services we can and if you give a good service to one client, he has the capacity of referring you to over ten other clients and that’s how far we’ve gone so far.
What are some of the challenges you encounter in running your organization and do you have any plans of taking your company to the capital market
I must have to confess to you that the business is extremely capital intensive and securing investors within Africa is something very difficult. You have to start with people that know you, who understand your vision and drive. Secondly one of the toughest difficulties I have come across was when the business wanted to become a monopoly but upon that, we still have a way of going around it. That was why I said we’ve never had a better yesterday. On the issue of taking the company to the capital market, we’re looking at the end of December because with the speed we are going, we have the crowd and the public in mind and as such the company should be in the capital market. For now, we have not pushed the company to the capital market because we’ve not started talking about shareholders; we are still talking about investors and our investors keep recapitalizing their investment and referring us to other investors. But we’ll be in capital market before December.
A lot of people have been calling for reforms in the maritime sector, what’s your take on this
I don’t blame them because of the because of the current crisis situation in the world today and most times people are calling for the refund of their investment and that’s the sweetest part of it. And as people are leaving, others are coming and I will advise any one going into maritime business to study what he is going into because the sector can easily drain someone. There are a lot of people with dubious character that will make you lose your entire life savings. So, I really do not blame those calling their funds back but when you meet the right type of people in this sector, you hardly call for the refund of your investment
Like you rightly explained, a lot of people are out there to cheat with so many touts in the industry. How would you like this to be handled by relevant authorities
The issue of being swindled in the sector only comes when greed comes in and once one is greedy, he gets cheated easily. Imagine someone investing in a company and he is promised 10% returns on his investment every month. Some go as far as telling you that they want 20% returns on their investment every month. But the question to ask is what is the profit margin of the company that it will give you 20 to 30% returns on your investment every month. It is not done anywhere and if you’re asking for 20% returns every month, it then means that in a year, you want to make 240% returns on the capital invested and that’s when you get burnt but if you talk of 3 % return monthly, you will see that it is realistic…when you jump into a company offering you as high as 100 or 200% per annum, your greed will lead you there and you will definitely get burnt at the end of the day.
As a big player in the industry, you’re aware that the Federal Government has introduced a lot of policies to reposition the sector. How has this affected your company
To be honest with you, I was talking to some of my staff the other day and I told them that the way you see this life is how it is going to work for you. When you get half cup of water, you either see it as half empty or half filled. And for you to be a good businessman, one thing you should be able to adopt too early is policies of government and for you to be adopting to government policies, you must ensure you’re a tax paying citizen and once you do this agents of the government won’t come after you. But when you breach any of their rules, you will run into problem. Like the last rule was that everybody must obtain a certificate to be able to operate on the sea. Although the amount is very high and cumbersome; all you just need to do is get other partners and all of you will come together, team up and secure one certificate. It needs team work, one spirit and one unity. But there is one challenge you cannot deviate from and that challenge is very simple and I may not be able to run away from it and that challenge is that some people will always want to go behind the door and do their business behind the table and the funny thing is that when they’re caught, they start blaming the government. Imagine if you’re supposed to pay 7.5% VAT and for a complete year, you’ve not paid it and the government comes after you one day and ask you let’s see your tax clearance/ certificate. Apparently, the money you’re supposed to pay in a year may be N500, 000 or 1 million as the case may be and if you have paid it, they will not come after you but if you’re in default and after cross checking, they found out you’re owing the government one million naira, you will end up paying close to four or five million naira. However another area I think the government should look into in the marine sector is our cost of anchorage. The cost of anchorage is very high and that is why most vessels anchor in Lome, Togo and most of our transactions at Kings Shipping is done at Lome and we are Nigerians. If the cost of anchorage can come down a bit and there is a level playing ground, it will be great and help the government realize more revenue.
Talking of operating on the high seas, there has been this concern about the activities of pirates on our high seas and the entire Gulf of Guinea which has led to the loss of many lives not minding security measures put in place by government. What suggestions would you make to check this ugly incident
First of all, I must commend the present Chief of Naval Staff; he has done a lot of awesome work since he came on board. Before people were afraid of going to the high seas because of the activities of these criminals but that has reduced drastically and now you can go to our high seas at any time but I would like the government to do more. They should copy the Lome system where nobody goes to the high sea without the Ports Authorities calling to verify whether they are expecting such vessel or not and if this is done, it will go a long way in reducing the rate of piracy on our coastal lines. There should also be serious collaboration between the various Navies of the West African countries which will also involve in shearing information but I think they’re doing this and it should be sustained.
Your company is also involved in the supply of Diesel, commodities and beverages as well as clearing and forwarding, how do you combine all these work. And what are some of the challenges you face in clearing business
I must be sincere to you; I have the best staff in the world. When I come out with an idea, they implement it to the latter because if it is for one man, we’ll not be where we are today. I may not know it all but I have the best staff. When we want to supply to a ship, we’ll sit down and discuss how to go about it. What do we put in place so that this vessel will not complain. So that owners of these vessels will come back to us. It is not difficult, all you need is to have the right key players but honestly it is the funding that has been the problem. In the case of clearing, the challenges are enormous and I don’t want to go into that. Every day, they keep on increasing tariffs on imported goods and it is affecting our clients. The other day we gave a client a quotation of seven million naira to clear his goods but before we knew what was happening, a new rate came out and it became 11 million. I have to invite the client and told him about it, he hit his hand on the table and demanded for his documents which I handed over to him and felt bad as a person. He then went back to another agent and they gave him a bill of 15 million. He later called me that he will be bringing back the document to us and narrated his experience with other clearing agents and I explained to him that it was not our fault and the increase is from government and beyond us. Now when this happens, inflation comes to the market and the cost of the item eventually goes up by between 80 and 100 % and this affects the local market and the final consumers and the average Nigerian. That policy is really affecting us and that’s why many importers prefer going to Cotonou or Lome to clear their goods. Having said this, I will like the government to review this policy. I know it is done for the purpose of getting enough funds to build infrastructures, construct roads, railway lines, bridges and others but they should kindly review it as it will help the average Nigerian.
Do you agree with the argument in some quarters that the inability of government to make Onne, Warri and Calabar Ports functional helps in causing high rate of goods and services in the country
There is no doubt about that because for example if you import goods from China and you’re supposed to discharge the container in Enugu or Owerri as the case may be, will you not prefer your container going to Port Harcourt of Calabar which is closer and will reduce the stress on our road network. Or if you have an iten going to Aba, won’t you prefer it to berth at Onne because from there to Aba is less than two hours and if that is the case, it will be safer and make work of security men less tedious as well as reduce the congestion in Lagos Ports. But I believe the government knows what to do and I believe they’re putting structures in place for that purpose.
Talking about funding, how have you been able to survive in business especially in a depressed economy like Nigeria
I keep telling my friends that we’re already in it. In fact I was telling them that a time will come when every citizen of this country will say we need one week holiday because we need to get over our depression and challenges. It has not been easy. It has been cumbersome but to be honest with you, I want to say that my accounts department has been excellent. They really understand when payment is due and how to pay our vendors. I thought I only have accountants not knowing that I have managers as accountants. They understand what’s called human management. So at that point, they manage you when you are upset; they try to calm you down . We pay our vendors mostly ahead of time but when there is delay, our accts department has a way of calming them down, promising them that the company will pay later in a week or two weeks’ time. In that regard, I will say kudos to my accts department because they’re doing exceptionally well.
Where would you like to see your company in the next five years
Honestly, you went too far. Am sure that with the current team I have, in the next two to three years we should dominate West Africa because we are currently in about eleven countries in West Africa and by the Grace of God we’re in two Asian countries and one American country. Some of the West African countries where our presence is being felt are; Nigeria, Ghana, Togo, Benin Republic, Cameroon, Sierra- Leone, Senegal and many others. So in the next five to ten years we should be dominating the world.
What advice do you have for any businessman planning to go into maritime business
I have two advises for them. One is be ready for competitors. Accept it as your faith and this is not negotiable. For an investor, I plead that the highest return for your investment should be 3 percent monthly. Anything above that, even if it is 3.1 percent is a scam and you’ll be burnt someday. At least go for between 2 and 3 and not more than 3 percent because anything above that is a scam and that’s my candid advice. For us here in King Shipping, we accept a minimum of N1m from a potential investor.
What is your message to your clients and how do you relax after a hard day’s job
I want to say that from the deepest part of me, I want to say thank you to our clients. I also want to say a big thank you to our investors. I want to say thank you to my family for managing me, understanding my work because I work between 18 to 20 hours a day. So I want to say thank you to them. I also want to say a big thank you to our investors because even with a lot of scam in Nigeria or within the country they still have that trust in us and most especially, I want to say a big thank you to my staff. The people in our operational sector have made our clients never know a better yesterday and that’s the most important thing for me. On how I relax, I will just say thank you to my wife. I have a beautiful family and I think my joy is surrounded around them. My relaxation is when I seat with my family and rack jokes. I don’t joke with my family because they made me and I don’t want them to break me.