Hon Iju Tony Nwabunike, a Maritime Transport Expert and National President, Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) at the 8th Nigeria Annual Transport Lecture organised by Transport Day Newspaper on Friday, May 21, 2021 while speaking on Blue Economy: Pathway for Nigeria’s Economic Diversification noted that maritime is critical to the historical, economic, political and spiritual life of Nigerians and is capable of funding the nation’s funding challenges.
By Ovie Edomi
According to him, aside crude oil, the second highest revenue earner in Nigeria is the maritime industry. Accordingly he stated that Maritime is capable of cushioning the temporary effect of inadequate oil revenue. Some of the areas he identified include: import,export, fishing, tourism, transport, chandling, dredging and so on. Accordingly Nwabunike said these areas have potentials to give governments at all tiers more taxes and provide sustainable earnings that will go round than what we have in the oil sector presently
NIgeria’s economy cannot afford to keep quaking anytime there is a downward slide in prices of oil in the international market, he lamented and noted that National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) had declared that it would deduct N112 billion from oil and gas proceeds for April to ensure continuous supply of petroleum products to the country and guarantee energy security. The implications he stressed
include not having oil revenue for the federal government to share with the states and local governments. Furthermore, Nwabunike argued that the
situation is premised on the hike in crude oil prices on the deregulated downstream sector and the need for uninterrupted supply of petroleum products to citizens. Consequently he averred that even if oil prices rise astronomically to $200 per barrel, Nigeria is a country in debt and still looking for loans to fund the 2021 budget as at May this year.
By implication Nwabunike meant that crude oil money alone cannot satisfy our national thirst for funds especially as Federal,states and local governments struggle to pay salaries while pension and other welfare liabilities are almost unattended in many parts of the country.
While calling on the nation to look beyond oil he stated that over 97 percent of ships lifting Nigerian crude oil to buyers in refining countries and vessels bringing refined petroleum products into the country are foreign owned.
According to Nwabunike, “these ships trading on Nigeria’s territorial waters and carrying the nation’s number one foreign exchange products are manned mainly by foreign professionals and deckhands, while Nigerian ship owners are struggling to break into this area of investment” Though he noted that
some Nigerians are involved as crew members onboard Liquified Natural Gas and Liquified Petroleum Gas ( LPG) vessels under the Nigeria LNG Limited and it’s subsidiary, Nigera LNG Ship Management Limited (NSML), the situation, he stressed calls for where Nigerians are first line beneficiaries of benefits derivable from NIgeria’s natural maritime endowments.
It would be recalled that the cabotage law came about over a decade ago because the federal government through the National Assembly wanted indigenous shipping operators, ship builders and seafarers to benefit from the nation’s maritme potentials and equally generate huge revenue like Phillipines , Greece and so on. But since the implementation of the cabotage regime stakeholders say, Nigerians are yet to see the gains. This may be why Nwabunike said ” Over the years , I have followed the Nigeria Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB) and posit that it is doing very well in expanding opportunities for Nigerians in the oil industry but has not synchronized with other agencies like NIMASA to promote our cabotage regime in maritime” Furthermore, he noted “Maritime transport is the key to unlock most of the untapped opportunities in the oil industry and will go a long way in supporting government’s effort at addressing insecurity in our coastal areas.
It would be recalled that the 853km long Nigeria coastline runs through seven of the Southern States of the Federation, Lagos, Ondo, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Cross Rivers bordering the Atlantic Ocean. These are aside other states that are linked by inland waters for socio cultural and commercial activities. These navigable inland water comprises of rivers, lakes, lagoons, creeks and those directly linking to the sea .
Thus Nwabunike averred that the World Bank supports the blue economy intiative of NIMASA because it is a “sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and create jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem.”
He however caution that as a nation rich in maritime resources and crude oil, which is transported by ships, NIgeria needs not be tagged as the poverty capital of the world. Besides he stated that holding on to oil as our only lifeline for the nation’s sustainability will only lead the country into piling debts upon debts and going cap in hand for debt forgiveness where we are unable to pay.
He therefore called on the government to develop the nation’s maritime potentials as a step towards economic diversification for job creation, addressing insecurity and positioning our ports for hub status in the West and Central African regions.
Meanwhile, to address the insecurity challenges he noted that safety of vessels, cargoes and crews on our waters have direct impacts on our overall economy since the maritime sector is critical in the areas of trade, investment, employment and recreation. Consequently he called on the federal government to procure platforms and training personnel for maritime security, insisting on a community supported security approach as very productive in this respect. Hence he called on the federal government to as a matter of policy involve youths of coastal communities in a kind of Civilian Task Force to support the Navy and other security agencies in nipping our maritime insecurity in the bud. Besides Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency plan to deploy advanced security assets to energise our blue economy. A move Nwabunike noted will go a long way in fighting piracy and other maritime crimes in the Gulf of Guinea and our country’s entire territorial waters aside other gains. For instance Nwabunike stressed that the untapped nation’s Maritime opportunities is holding back not less than 30,000 immediate jobs if the nation’s maritime and inland waters are safe for legitimate business activities.
Meanwhile, how the federal government will react to this patriotic initiative remains to be seen.