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Maritime grossly under-explored in Nigeria, stakeholders lament

By Adaku Onyenucheya
29 September 2022   |   2:49 am
Stakeholders have described the country’s maritime sector as an overlooked goldmine with its enormous potential to drive economic growth under-explored.

Maritime

Stakeholders have described the country’s maritime sector as an overlooked goldmine with its enormous potential to drive economic growth under-explored.

According to them, the sector is capable of becoming a key engine of economic development in line with the diversification agenda of the Federal Government, in the face of current global economic uncertainty.

They gave the submission at a Port Users’ Conference organised by Maritime Anti-corruption Network (MACN) and the Convention on Business Integrity (CBI) in Lagos, with the theme: “Retooling the Maritime Sector for Stronger Economic Growth.”

The stakeholders said, as an import-dependent nation, it is critical for the government to support and pay more attention to maritime issues and needs to allow it to realise its full potential and contribute meaningfully to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

According to them, the nation’s maritime sector embraces all related business activities ranging from off-shore economic activities, such as fishing, salvage, towage and underwater resources to on-shore economic activities, such as port activities, maritime transport (shipping), ship construction, repairs and maintenance activities as well as the enterprises involved in carrying out these activities.

While delivering his speech titled, “Setting the Tone: The Place of the Maritime Industry in Nigeria’s Economy,” the Executive Secretary, Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Emmanuel Jime, said the country’s ports are currently classified among the worst ports in the world due to challenges such as; delay in import/export processes, traffic congestion, poor access roads, safety and security concerns, infrastructure deficits and logistics shortcomings.

Other reasons, Jime stated, are policy and regulatory inconsistencies, overlapping functions and duplication of roles among the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) operating at the ports and high incidence of infractions by the MDAs, among others

He said there is no doubt, that the situation has created avenues for gross misallocation of resources and imposes a tremendous cost to the economy as well as distorting development policies and undermining the confidence of foreign and local port users

“Nigeria being a coastal state possesses great potential to generate huge revenue from both local and international transportation of persons and goods by water.

“Approximately 80 per cent of the shipping business done on the coast of West Africa is done in Nigeria. Sadly, Nigerian participation is zero, as most vessels are foreign-owned and benefited from the freight cost,” he explained.

Speaking on the way forward, the NSC boss, said there is a need for the deliberate and conscious effort by the Federal Government and all relevant stakeholders in the maritime industry to ensure the right things are done for the sector to optimally contribute adequately to the GDP of the nation’s economy.

He said the government should also ensure that Nigerian trade benefits from both the regional trade agreement (ECOWAS ETLS) and the continental trade agreement (AfCFTA).

Jime said the government should focus on investment in infrastructures, such as the provision of rail linkages and the development of other transportation modes for cargo evacuation in the ports.

He said there should also be synergy among government agencies involved in port operations to adequately address issues of overlapping functions, sustenance of the implementation of Ease of Doing Business Action Plans, the speedy passage of proposed port reform bills at the Presidency and National Assembly as well as the implementation of the International Cargo Tracking Note.

The Secretary, National Trade Facilitation Committee, Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment (FMITI), Mr. Abdullahi Usman, said despite the enormous opportunities accessible to the Nigerian economy in the maritime industry, it is still grossly under-explored.

He said the maritime sector is an overlooked gold mine, which is capable of becoming a key engine of economic development in line with the diversification agenda of the Federal Government.

Usman said in the face of current global economic uncertainty with the volatility of oil prices and the winding down of oil relevance due to technological advancements, which are gradually replacing the use of oil with renewable energy sources, diversifying into the maritime industry will boost the economy of the country.

According to him, challenges limiting the potential of the industry include, lack of legislation and legal matters /reforms, limited access to foreign markets, inadequate funds/finance as well research and development among others.

Recommending solutions, Usman said there should be efficient and effective implementation of government policies and reforms that will attract investors and stakeholders and the use of all ports across the country to avoid congestion and traffic at a particular port.

Others, he listed, are effective implementation and enforcement of the Anti-Piracy bill, improved law enforcement bodies’ capacities and regulatory frameworks in the Gulf of Guinea countries, and increased investment in shipping infrastructure and maintenance by indigenous operators to continually meet acceptable international standards.

He also suggested the institution of policies that encourage domestic investment participation to curtail foreign dominance and repatriate profit for a more sustainable economy among others.

Usman noted that the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement has significant implications for maritime transport and services trade, as it is expected to increase demand for different modes of transport, including maritime transport.

He said implementing AfCFTA would double maritime freight from 58 to 131.5 million tonnes, as Africa’s maritime network includes 142 links connecting 65 ports and accounts for 22.1 per cent of intra-African freight transport.

He said AfCFTA requires 126 vessels for bulk cargo and 15 vessels for container cargo by 2030, adding that this may reduce to 121 and 14 vessels respectively if planned infrastructure projects are also implemented.

Usman said, in meeting the diversification agenda, the government is poised to reposition the maritime sector as one of the country’s main economic drivers and fulcrum for diversification.

He said this is why the Federal Government has estimated an investment of N7.73 trillion for the maritime industry and other industries under the transport sector in the N348.1 trillion earmarked for the five-year National Development Plan (NDP) covering 2021-2025.

On his part, the National Coordinator, Presidential Port Standing Task Team (PSTT), Moses Fadipe, while presenting an overview of the progress and current state of operations at the ports, said every stakeholder has to understand its expected practices better, adding that abuses set in when and where sanctions are lacking.

On the part of the terminal operators, Fadipe noted the need to equip the port with modern/adequate cargo handling facilities to keep berth production at an optimal level as well as the need to maintain a well-organised container yard for berth storage and handling of containers.

He also stressed the need for an effective, accurate and well organised ship planning depth to ensure proper storage, a highly computerised system to control smooth delivery of cargo to and from the port to avoid congestions and delays as well as proper planning of terminals to allow for unhindered stacking, locating and retrieving of boxes.

He, however, called on the shipping companies to automate all invoicing and delivery processes in real-time in a portal for accessibility and transparency as well as maintain functional holding bays outside the port logistics.

Fadipe charged government agencies on the need for the creation of a special window for the shipping companies to move all empty containers from holding bays to the port between 12 am – 4am as well as unimpeded access to all export cargoes to the terminals after all documentation is completed.

He added that the ETO system needs to be reappraised to allow for a seamless flow of trucks call up with time belts that are synchronised with terminal yard cargo reception reality.

The Associate Director, Global Operations & Industry Engagement, Maritime Anti-Corruption Network (MACN), Mr. Vivek Menon, advocated for incident data and collective action through the Global Port Integrity Platform (GPIP).

He said this would ensure compliance with International and integrity standards, improve efficiency, transparency and predictability of port operations, ensure safety/security considerations of port employees, eliminate port delays, ensure trust across the supply chain as well as improve port governance and competitive advantage.

“GPIP will function as an advocacy and investment tool for international donors, the private sector, investors, and any stakeholder with an interest in port sector reform and development, as it can help to highlight ports or governance reform areas that require attention and investments,” he said.

Menon stressed the need to put in place a system for the electronic exchange of information between ships and ports (single window), adding that port procedures should be accessible online and cover the inspection, verification and clearance of vessels at ports.

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