There is hardly a day that passes when I don’t peer through the window of my office on the 9th floor at NIMASA HQ overlooking the Apapa seaport and quay area, the very epitome, indeed flagship, of Nigeria’s maritime expanse. As busy as the scenery may look, very often my gazing experience leaves me wondering at our wasted opportunities in the very depths of endless maritime possibilities for a nation with a population hovering around 200 million inhabitants. The indictment remains that we have yet to rise to the occasion of making the most of our maritime assets despite the fact that we are a Maritime Nation.
Nothing makes this peering exercise of mine feel more like a daily affliction than the narrative of the massive warehouse directly opposite our office which was once renowned as cocoa produce storage hub for export overseas, especially during the heydays of the Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL). To think that I was now beholding a car park extension for NIMASA staff as they daily arrived and departed work boggled my mind repeatedly, and even more bothersome was the fact that many more of such once illustrious facilities littering the entire Apapa vicinage now suffer the same fate. This is just one facet of the multitude of conundrums bedeviling our maritime domain. There are many more aspects and dimensions to our maritime challenges and potentialities that must now be addressed headlong to ensure a more economically viable path to our national wealth.
The numbers don’t lie as the maritime sector itself is rich with data evidencing both its challenges and potentialities. A 2017 estimation of Nigeria’s maritime assets from shipping activities to manpower engagement; from the environment to transportation and right up to the entire value chain of the blue economy, was put at N90 trillion. To put this in context, this amount represents close to a tenfold of the size of the nation’s 2020 budget figure. Nigeria’s maritime sector is humongous. It is capable of generating over N7 trillion annually (which is over 75 percent of the 2018 budget) and creating about 40 million jobs. According to NIMASA’s 2018 Outlook, with a yearly freight cost estimated to be between $5 billion and $6 billion, the maritime component of Nigeria’s oil and gas industry is worth an estimated $8 billion.
To stimulate Economic Growth in the Maritime Sector by addressing the factors militating against the optimal contribution of indigenous shipping operators to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Nigeria’s competitiveness at the Global Maritime Arena, NIMASA seeks Government’s special intervention. This is with the aim of building an indigenous shipping capacity within the context of Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) of the Federal Government through State support and strengthening the maritime sector for optimal performance. This is in line with its statutorily mandated functions under the NIMASA Act, 2007.
The proposal to the Office of the Vice President and the Economic Management Team for a possible presidential directive that includes, but not limited to, monetary policies such as Single digit interest rates, dedicated intervention fund for vessel acquisition and ancillary transactions, and special foreign exchange window. These are some interventions the Agency proposes to breathe life into the Nigerian maritime sector.
Other proposals for which NIMASA is awaiting approval include the full implementation of a cargo support scheme on all government owned cargoes to be implemented via cooperation of various Agencies of Government; a review of Terms Of Trade from Free On Board to Cost Insurance and Freight for crude oil cargo affreightments; special import tariff regime on vessels/vessel parts importation for indigenous ship operators.
There can be no better time to reflect on the significance of the maritime sector to the country’s overall economic prospects than now. In the face of the rampaging COVID-19, the maritime sector stood resilient and remained active on the frontlines of guaranteeing the global and local supply chains held fast to deliver the medical and other life-saving essentials from food to equipment to vital consumables to give the world a fighting chance against the pandemic while also keeping our economic life running even when over 90% of the population hunkered down in lockdowns. With the expanse of our skies deserted and our terra firma abandoned, the sea-lanes across the globe held sway even as seafarers courageously braved the spread of the virus in their dauntless navigation to make port with our much-needed merchandise. Global trade has been spared the shutdown treatment of COVID-19 because of maritime power.
Like it or not, maritime is Nigeria’s next economic frontier that must be accepted by both default and compulsion, especially as COVID-19 pushes our hitherto dependable oil fortunes to the most unthinkable brinks of volatility and uncertainty. But why must we allow ourselves to be coerced when we could be better served to choose, rather by design, to orient policy-wise towards our seas. Experts have held that all the maritime sector requires is but a fraction of the aggressive policy attention paid to the agriculture sector by the current administration under President Muhammadu Buhari that has really galvanized the nation across the board into food security awakening and diverse food production endeavours. And were it not for such foresight on the part of the President, many agree that Nigeria would have fared terrible in terms of food security during the lockdowns occasioned by COVID-19 pandemic.
The Nigerian maritime industry is perhaps the singular non-oil sector of the economy that can, if well minded and harnessed, provide our country with the sturdy stability required for sustained economic growth, devoid of the financial shocks we have become too accustomed to from the vicissitudes of the oil business. Security as topmost priority must play a guaranteeing role if this is to be achieved.
The establishment of the Integrated National Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure otherwise known as the Deep Blue Project by the Federal Government will play a major role in the Prevention of illegal activities in the Nigerian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) while enhancing maritime regulations and the safety of lives at sea. Key assets and infrastructures have been delivered. Two special mission vessels, twelve of the 17 fast interceptor boats, one unmanned air vehicle as well as ten armoured vehicles had been received among key assets of the Project.
It is worthy to highlight also that the nucleus of the Deep Blue architecture-the C4I Centre had been deployed and functional and produces the needed intelligence for the Nigerian maritime domain and the Gulf of Guinea on situational, daily, weekly and monthly basis. Additionally, the recent enactment of the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Crimes, SOPOM Act otherwise known as the anti-piracy law has provided the legal framework for the prosecution of maritime offenders. With these national efforts as well as other regional and continental collaborations already established, the Agency is confidently on the right course for a comprehensive and sustainable solution to the menace of maritime insecurity in Nigeria’s maritime domain and the Gulf of Guinea.
I hope the reader finds this piece as my humble attempt to once again corral attention towards, and in the process add to, the conversation about how blessed we are to be a maritime nation and how burdened we must now feel to, by way of responsibility, arise to this blessedness by rigorously committing to harnessing our maritime resources across all fronts – from platforms to policy; from legislation to landscape; from marine to manpower; from capacity to content; from education to environment and from sectors to stakeholders.
All hands must be on deck. Bon voyage.
Dr. Bashir Yusuf Jamoh, author of Harnessing Nigeria’s Maritime Assets is currently the Director-General and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and the President of the Chartered Institute of Transport Administration (CIoTA). Follow him on twitter @Jamohbashir or email: email@example.com.