The issue of Nigeria’s maritime sector, its huge but untapped potential, the factors that have militated against harnessing its potential for the country’s economic growth, and what is required to break the jinx, will remain on the front burner of national discourse in a long time. These issues will also continue to engage the attention of stakeholders and others interested in the exploration of a gold mine that has remained untapped for a long time, as the country searches for ways to diversify its economy.
The point to note is that the problem does not lie in identifying the factors that have continued to stifle the growth of a sector that could topple oil as Nigeria’s major foreign exchange earner. The major challenge has been the absence of cooperation and synergy that is required among stakeholders within and even outside the maritime sector, as a prerequisite for achieving the common objective of making Nigeria optimally reap the benefits that are inherent in the maritime sector, in the same manner, other countries of the world are doing.
Some of the factors that have been identified and well documented as standing in the way of the development of Nigeria’s maritime sector are broadly categorized under two major issues – administrative issues and criminal activities. The administrative issues include inadequate infrastructure, international cooperation, bureaucracy, pollution, and corruption.
Inadequate infrastructure includes inadequate power supply, insufficient deployment of technology, poor port, and ship repair facilities. Lack of required manpower in terms of the availability of core professionals is also a problem. There are also issues of the absence of a national carrier and domination of the shipping industry by foreign carriers.
The criminal activities include piracy, illegal oil bunkering, cybercrime, illegal and unregulated fishing; smuggling and human trafficking, as well as illegal arms trafficking. Others are drug trafficking, militancy and kidnapping, sabotage, maritime terrorism, and pipeline vandalism.
The issue of insecurity in Nigeria’s waterways extending to the Gulf of Guinea is one that requires greater cooperation and synergy involving countries in the West and Central Africa regions to resolve. The Deep Blue Project, an initiative of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), is the solo effort by Nigeria, which cannot totally address maritime insecurity in the two sub-regions. The Project has led to a significant reduction in the rate of piracy and other maritime crimes in the last year since its introduction. But the increasing sophistication in maritime crime all over the world has brought about a compelling need for stakeholders and the relevant agencies to up the game in policing the waterways to ensure they remain safe and secure for maritime activities.
Nigeria is currently working with other countries in the sub-regions on ways of strengthening regional and multinational partnerships and cooperation to ensure not just regional security and safety, but that of the entire African continent.
On manpower development, NIMASA recognizes the invaluable role seafarers play in maritime trade, considering that they move goods and merchandise from one location to the other, ensuring they get to their destinations safely and, as much as possible, at cheaper costs. At the annual Day of Seafarers on June 25, 2021, which had the theme, Fair Future for Seafarers, the agency drew attention to the yeoman’s job this crop of professionals play in keeping the wheels of maritime trade turning, and why they must be given the fair treatment they deserve in terms of welfare and good working conditions.
The agency’s priority attention to manpower development under the Nigerian Seafarers Development Programme, which seeks to expose seafarers to the knowledge, skills, and competence that would enable them to be globally competitive has begun to yield positive results. This was evident last year, when the gender-sensitive programme produced its first female captain and co-pilot in West Africa in the person of Ms. Canus Ebinipre Robinson, currently working with LTT Coastal and Maritime Services Limited, one of Nigerian Ports Authority’s channel management contractors.
Port development must be given the priority attention it deserves. It is one of the critical infrastructures that must be in place for the maritime sector to realize its full potential. In my book, Harnessing Nigeria’s Maritime Assets (2018), I have suggested, among others, resuscitation and revamping of existing ports in Sapele, Burutu, and Warri, to enable them to work efficiently, even against the background of plans to establish new ones. I suggested that ports logistics infrastructure and facilities like rail lines, cranes, forklifts, and tugboats should be in place as well.
Port infrastructure development would also include dredging of major seaports and waterways, to enable them to accommodate bigger vessels in the future so Nigeria can benefit optimally from maritime trade.
Nigeria cannot participate fully in maritime trade and derive maximum benefits from the maritime industry without addressing the issue of ship ownership by indigenous ship owners. This is where the issue of partnership by ship owners comes in.
The drive to make maritime Nigeria’s highest foreign exchange earner will undoubtedly yield fruits when all hands are on deck to achieve the common goal. The country has what it takes to be a continental and international maritime powerhouse.
• Dr. Jamoh, Director-General and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, writes exclusively for The Guardian