29 Dec 2021

Conversations on cabotage – stakeholders perspectives

In my book, Harnessing Nigeria’s Maritime Assets, I had the privilege of interviewing various stakeholders in the maritime industry ranging from past DGs of NIMASA, leaders and representatives of various maritime-related bodies, independent business practitioners in the sector amongst many others. Their wide-ranging views could serve as signposts for navigating some of the challenges faced by the Cabotage regime and how to surmount them.

For instance, Dr. Ziakede Patrick Akpobolokemi, a former Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) admits that the Cabotage law is problematic and that the law has not worked because of the problem of enforcement. He faulted provisions in the law that says vessels to be used in cabotage trade must be built in Nigeria and crewed by Nigerians. Indeed, the queries, how many shipbuilding yards do we have? How many qualified seafarers and maritime academies do we have?

He acknowledged the Agency’s frantic efforts over several administrations at building the capacity of Nigerians in seafaring through the Nigerian Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP). So far, over 3,000 young Nigerians have been sponsored on training at different maritime institutions abroad. This is with a view to creating a large pool of qualified seamen. Another maritime consultant, Green Ekeledo, noted that one of the factors that have militated against the law is the inclusion of the waiver clause, which appears to have become the norm, rather than the exception. He lamented that waivers are granted to foreign firms without due considerations for Nigerians with capacity, as guaranteed by the Cabotage law.

In his own view, Otunba Kunle Folarin, Chairman, Ports Consultative Council (PCC), pointed out that the four pillars of the Cabotage Act are mere façade that is not really obtainable in the industry. He identified shipbuilding and ship repair yards as areas that Nigerians have not been able to venture into and which are fundamentals of Cabotage. According to him, there has not been the required synergy between NIMASA and the various government agencies and Ministries like the Finance and Agriculture Ministries, among others that will assist in the realisation of Cabotage.

Reports from maritime operators in Nigeria asserts that Nigeria loses about N4 trillion annually to capital flight and 700,000 direct and indirect jobs in the shipping sector. This is because of the continued involvement of foreign companies in the carriage of wet cargoes within the Nigerian Territorial Waters. He further said that while the foreign ships operating illegally were smiling to the banks, Nigerian Ship-owners were being hounded by the operatives of EFCC for failing to repay their loans.

Certainly, the protagonists of the Nigerian Cabotage Act did their homework and had travelled around the world to understudy countries where Cabotage had worked, especially in the United States of America and came to the conclusion that Nigeria can do it too. It is a statement of fact that the Coastal and Inland Shipping (Cabotage) Act, 2003 has been a welcome development in the affairs of not only the shipping or maritime industry, but to the nation.

Recalling the late former Transport Minister, Ojo Maduekwe: “In view of the actual and expected impact the Cabotage trade has, it has generally been acknowledged that it would lay a solid foundation for the entire maritime industry in Nigeria and stimulate activities and breathe vibrancy into the sector. The implementation of the Act is expected to give the industry operators the required and desired tools to systematically indigenize coastal and inland waterway transportation to service national needs and control a business whose gross annual potential could be up to half a billion dollars. That is what the Cabotage strength could be.”

Okey Udeh (2003): The Nigerian Cabotage regime if efficiently and effectively implemented is expected to help the Nigerian Industry operators master the local environment before they can now go to international shipping operations. Weighing in from a legislative angle, Senator Musa Adede in 2003 observed that the Nigerian Cabotage regime is expected to eliminate unfair competition in our coastal trade and guarantee full Nigerian citizens in their domestic trade which viability cannot be questioned. While former Minister for Interior, Master Mariner and maritime industry front liner, Captain Emmanuel Iheanacho welcomed the development of the Cabotage law as one that has “effectively created a captive market for indigenous operators and it has created a big facility for them to have a market entry into the Nigerian Maritime Industry.”

From the perspective of Mr. Ferdinand Agu, former Director-General of the then Nigerian Maritime Authority (NMA), the coming into effect of the law creates an opportunity for everybody to do something. In his words, The law will take us from where we are to where we want to be. It is a bridge between our hope and our history.

The Federal Government, NIMASA and the Federal Ministry of Transportation need to work assiduously to ensure that Nigeria is catapulted into maritime world affairs. It is important for Nigeria to rectify and implement all International Maritime Organization (IMO) Conventions dealing with maritime concerns such as security, pollution, prevention and compensation.

The instrument of Cabotage regardless of its shortcomings in Nigeria is one that should serve as a much needed and welcome signpost to take the maritime industry to its expected destination in terms of development, efficiency and global competitiveness. With strong synergy and commitment among all government institutions and stakeholders, with all the relevant legislation that brought these agencies into existence and the mandate to perform their duties, the sky is the limit to what the Nigerian maritime sector can accomplish in the nearest future.

• Dr. Jamoh, Director-General and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, writes exclusively for The Guardian

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