As Nigeria celebrates its 56 years of independence, maritime stakeholders have expressed mixed feelings over the slow pace of development experienced in the maritime industry since independence.
Speaking in separate interviews with LEADERSHIP, the stakeholders identified policy inconsistencies, poor funding, inadequate infrastructure and lack of clear roadmap as bane of development in the sector.
The president, Shipowners Association of Nigeria (SOAN), Greg Ogbeifun, said that even though the industry has attained some growth, much is yet to be achieved.
“Though Nigeria has attained some growth in the industry we believe that much more is yet to be achieved. We should not look back and dwell on our failures and successes rather at 56 years, we should be looking and thinking ahead on how we can gain lost ground and move to grow the industry at par with the rest of the developed maritime nations. We need to put the things that divide us aside and have all hands on deck to work together to grow and develop the Nigerian Maritime industry,” he said.
He also stated that Nigeria’s maritime sector cannot be described as successful if the country has no flagged ships participating in its affreightment.
“Our maritime industry cannot be adjudged to be successful if we do not have the Nigerian flagged ships participating in the affreightment of our colossal import and export cargo. Without the ships all other affiliated activities, such as seafarers employment, skill development, capacity building as well as related maritime financial players like insurance, banks, and not to forget the maritime legal stakeholders, become moribund. We need to be in a hurry to reestablish a Nigerian shipping fleet whether through public, private or public-private initiative.
“The sector has potential for accelerated growth and a critical requirement for the success of this initiative is that the Nigerian Flag Administration needs to be largely reviewed and restructured to become internationally competitive and attractive to the international trading shipping world,” Ogbeifun stated.
On her part, the chairperson, Shipowners Forum, Margaret Onyema-Orakwusi, said that lack of investment in the sector had made the Nigerian Maritime industry unattractive to be a hub in West Africa.
“We have not fared well, by now our services should have improved, investment in the sector would have been huge to make it attractive for us to be a hub in West Africa, but thinking about where we were 56 years ago and where we are today, we see some new things being introduced, and at least our port received more goods. But in terms of infrastructural development, we have not grown.”
The one time chairman of Nigeria Maritime Expo (NIMAREX), however, advised government to increase funding and draw a roadmap for the growth of the sector.
“Funding is also a big issue, there must be consistency in policy, there must be a roadmap for the maritime sector and it must happen because we rely on import and export, and being the most populous country, certain things have to be in our country. We should be able to serve the landlocked countries in Africa. So a lot of investments ought to go into the maritime sector and maritime transportation can create more employment, and I think we should pump in money to develop our infrastructure,” she advised.
A maritime lawyer, Emeka Akabogu, described Nigeria’s woes in the Nigerian maritime industry as a shortage of policy implementation. He argued that the maritime industry fared well immediately after independence until it started failing in its policy.
“The maritime industry has obviously expanded volumetrically from the early times, but that’s where it ends. From a policy perspective, the country has been short of creativity and will to implement. Across key sub-sectors, there’s either a shortage of policy initiative where gaping need is evident, or there is simply no political will or competence to do what is necessary. The stand-out failure is obviously the Cabotage regime which has been spectacular in its under-achievement. In the area of sectoral coordination, there has been a historical and continuing failure by the supervising ministry to ensure policy harmony amongst the relevant agencies,” he said.
Akabogu also posited that the ports industry have not seen any significant investment but for port concessioning.
“Outside the port concessions, the maritime industry has not seen significant investment over the years. This is a natural corollary to obtuse policy as investment is driven by policy clarity and confidence in the administration of same.