Gender in maritime: Mfon Ekong Usoro
Her profile and advocacy for achieving gender equality in the male-dominated maritime sector.
Mfon Ekong Usoro holds an LL.M in Maritime Laws from University College London, an LLB (Hons) from the University of Buckingham, B.L (Hons) from the Nigerian Law School, and a B.Sc (Hons) Sociology from the University of Calabar. She is the Managing Partner of Paul Usoro & Co., a leading law firm in Nigeria. Usoro is a foremost maritime lawyer in Nigeria.
Usoro has considerable national, regional, continental, and international experience. She was until December 2020 the Secretary General of the Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control for West and Central African Region (Abuja MoU) – an Inter-Governmental Organisation of 22 member states operating under a Cooperative Agreement with the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). She is the first female Secretary General of the organisation.
Mfon Usoro is the pioneer Director-General and Chief Executive Officer of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) – the first female CEO of a maritime agency in Nigeria. She is the chairperson of the Inter-Ministerial Committee for the Finalisation of the National Transport Policy for Nigeria and produced the draft National Transport Policy.
Usoro is Member, Nigerian Fleet Implementation Committee; Chairwoman, Akwa Ibom State Technical Committee on Ibom Deep Sea Port and Ibom Industrial City; and is listed as IMO Consultant. Recently, she was one of two facilitators at the IMO/Abuja MoU Workshop for Heads of Maritime Administration (MARADs) in Lagos.
As Secretary General of Abuja MoU, she was elected the Chairperson of the 6th IMO Workshop for Database Managers held at the IMO Headquarters, London. She was also elected the Vice-Chairperson of the 5th IMO Workshop for Database Managers; participated in the IMO/Abuja MoU Workshop for Heads of Maritime Administrations in Abuja MoU Region, Uyo, Nigeria, 2012; and attended the IMO Workshop for Heads of African Maritime Administrations, Dalian, China, October 2010.
Working with a group of experts, Usoro was pivotal to the drafting and negotiation of the Revised African Union Maritime Transport Charter, and she is a member of the African Union Commission African Network for Women in Infrastructure (ANWIn). She is also a Member, Women Corporate Directors (WCD).
Mfon Usoro consulted for United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Nairobi, and International Union for Conservation of Nature (UICN), Senegal; and worked with two other consultants from South Africa and Togo for the revitalisation of the Convention for Co-operation in the Protection and Development of the Marine and Coastal Environment of the West and Central Africa Region (Abidjan Convention).
She was for several years the sole Maritime legal consultant to the Maritime Organisation for West and Central Africa (MOWCA), an inter-governmental body of countries in West and Central Africa, headquartered in Cote d’ Ivoire. In that capacity, she produced the Memorandum of Understanding on the Establishment of a Regional Integrated Coastguard Network in the West and Central Africa Region, in 2008. As the Chairperson of the Ad-Hoc Committee on the Establishment of the Sub-Regional Integrated Coastguard Network, she negotiated and developed a consensus MOU among member states for presentation to, and adoption by, the Ministers of Transport of the sub-regional organisation. She also drafted the Framework for Sub-regional Cabotage and the Memorandum of Understanding on Sub-regional Cabotage in October 2001. Between 2009 – 2010, she chaired the Ministerial Committee for the Establishment of the Maritime Organisation of West and Central Africa (MOWCA) Regional Maritime Development Bank.
Usoro has robust experience in legislative drafting and advocacy and led the Paul Usoro & Co team in the drafting and legislative advocacy of the following legislation, regulations, and bills: Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency Act 2007; Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria Act 2007; Coastal and Inland Shipping (Cabotage) Act 2003; Coastal and Inland Shipping Cabotage (Bareboat Registration) Regulations 2005; Coastal and Inland Shipping Cabotage (Ship Detention Order) Regulations 2005; Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (Annual Subscription and Other Fees) Regulations, 2010; Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria Act (Professional Misconduct and Discipline Regulations) 2010; Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria Act 2007 (Registration of Freight Forwarders) Regulations 2010; Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria Act (Organs and Offices of the Council Regulations) 2010; and Carriage of Goods by Land (Road and Rail) Bill 2022. Others are Ports Bill 2010 (House of Reps/Senate consultancy); National Transport Commission Bill 2005 and the 2008 revised Draft (World Bank/BPE consultancy); Port and Harbour Authority Bill 2005 and the 2008 revised Draft, (World Bank/BPE consultancy); and Draft Environment Management Bill 2000.
She currently serves on the following corporate and academic Boards as Member, Board of Trustees, Admiralty University of Nigeria, Ibusa, Delta State; Chairperson, Board of Directors of TIB Asset Management Limited; Independent Non-Executive Director, The Infrastructure Bank Plc; Independent Non-Executive Director, First City Monument Bank Ltd; and Non-Executive Director, Geometric Power Limited.
Mfon Usoro was conferred with Chevalier de l’Ordre du Merite Maritime, a National honour of the Republic of Cote D’ Ivoire in 2015; Officier de L’Ord de Mono, a national honour of the Republic of Togo in 2002; and Akwa Ibom State Productivity Order of Merit Award, 2022.
Joy Dimka: Why do we have significant gender imbalance in maritime, and from your experience – and knowledge – what initiatives can foster gender equality in the industry?
Mfon Ekong Usoro: To address the issue of gender imbalance, there is a need for an institutional change that embraces the culture of gender diversity. This requires deliberate policies that promotes diversity in the workforce and investment in the growth of female leaders. In addition, governments and private sector should demonstrate commitment to board equity in their governance policies and guidelines. Reporting and disclosure promote accountability in the efforts to achieve a balanced management and board. Women organisations should track the growth of women and number of women in top positions against the gender policy and guidelines.
Our advocacy at this time should be data based. The problem here is that most of the women organisations in the industry are either dominated by government employees or depend on government agencies for sponsorship and this affects the robustness of their advocacy on gender parity. More independent women should take up leadership positions in those associations to overcome this challenge.
It is important to give female candidates a chance to compete for top positions, for example, at least 40-50% of nominations should be women, and we must invest in the training of women to have a ready pipeline of talented women that can occupy top positions.
Personal initiatives which require the individual to invest in self-development in terms of skill and competence is recommended. Women should not miss opportunities to showcase their competence and leadership skills. They should create the opportunity if there is none that is readily available. We must not limit ourselves. Women must learn to put themselves forward for top positions in a positive and sustainable manner.
It is also very important to support other women. More women on top translates to more opportunities for upcoming women. Women must banish forever that retrogressive saying that “women are their worst enemies” from our lexicon.
Joy Dimka: What role can men play in promoting gender equality in the industry?
Mfon Ekong Usoro: Men are our partners in the gender equality project. Collaboration with men is absolutely essential. The men-folks who have not come round to embracing equality require more advocacy to remove the lingering reservations. At the moment, men hold the reins of power and in positions that take decisions that affect women, so we cannot and must not ignore the importance of their cooperation. In the office space and at home as parents, we should be influencing the next generation of men to embrace gender parity in every aspect of life.
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