Nigeria’s maritime sector has the potential to facilitate economic renaissance. That was the view of the director-general, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Dakuku Peterside.
“It is the case all over the world,” Peterside averred at a recent meeting with journalists in Lagos. “In all coastal states, the maritime industry is a major facilitator of their economic renaissance. In England, after the First World War, the facilitator of the economic recovery was the shipping business. Singapore survived on shipping when the country split from mainland Malaysia. Malta, right from Bible times, has survived on shipping. It was the same situation in Cyprus and many other countries. But shipping itself is international in nature. What happens in your little corner reverberates in other places far and wide.”
Peterside regretted, however, that Nigeria does not reap its deserved benefits from the industry due to a number of reasons, some of which, he said, were evidently self-inflicted.
“One, we are often misrepresented by the international media. And they pick up information from our local media here. So, whatever information they pick up from our local news sites here, they publish. And since most of such stories are negative, they affect the image of the country badly,” said the DG.
He recalled the piracy attack that occurred in Lome, Togo, earlier in the year, which he said was erroneously reported as having occurred in Nigerian waters.
“Some of our media houses reported that there was a piracy attack off the coast of Lagos. But the attack never occurred anywhere near Nigeria. It was off the coast of Lome. Between Nigeria and Togo, there is Benin Republic. But some foreign media took it up from the local media and feasted on it. And because the local media had reported it, the International Maritime Bureau recorded it as having taken place in Nigeria.
“Again, there was a vessel that was towing another to Equatorial Guinea. A Spanish naval vessel intercepted it and it was taken to Equatorial Guinea. And it was reported that Nigerian pirates attacked a vessel off the coast of Bonny. It never occurred anywhere near Nigeria. It was outside Nigeria. But it was reported as having taken place in Nigeria.
“Shortly after, there were a number of decisions that were to be taken somewhere about funding of a transaction about the acquisition of a vessel. Immediately that happened, the banks declined and said they would not fund the transaction. It was a private investment. A European bank that was supposed to back a Nigerian bank to consolidate that transaction declined. They said you want to acquire a vessel that you would take to Nigeria, but Nigeria is not safe, so we are not sure we will recover our money. These are some of the ways Nigeria loses through erroneous reports by the media.”
He noted, however, that those fond of making such unsubstantiated reports are not the mainstream media. He cautioned the major newspapers against relying on reports published in unreliable online platforms, saying such false reports had dealt some lethal blows on the nation’s image.
He said attempts by Nigeria to return to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) Council had always been unsuccessful, recalling that some of the decisions against Nigeria by European nations were made based on information coming from Nigeria.
“These people are not here in Nigeria. Most of the specialised maritime newspapers are not here in Nigeria. People pick information online and report it. I have interacted with some foreign journalists and they tell me that their reports are based on what they pick up from our media,” said.
peterside stated that there was a difference between maritime crime and piracy, explaining that the latter usually occurs on the high seas, far from the inland waters. He explained that a case of kidnapping in inland waters, for instance, is different from a case of piracy.
He said decisions affecting a nation’s maritime sector are made by some international bodies who most times rely on the information at their disposal. In his view, if everything the world reads about Nigeria is negative news, it is going to keep affecting the nation’s image and have great impact on its economy.
He also averred that the issue of maritime crime was being seriously addressed. The NIMASA DG said the anti-piracy bill sponsored by NIMASA had been passed by the National Assembly. He expressed optimism that the bill would soon get the required presidential assent so that sea crimes would reduce and more opportunities would open up in the sector.
Said he: “The issue of maritime crime has been challenging, not only to us as a nation, but also the entire Gulf of Guinea. To achieve the objective of a safe and secure maritime environment that will guarantee the realisation of the President’s pronouncement, commitment is critical, and we at NIMASA have decided to take the challenge head-on with the various strategies formulated at the agency’s level to drive the process.”
Peterside also noted that his agency had already keyed into President Muhammadu Buhari’s vision, saying it had created over 7,000 jobs in the last six months through the New Cabotage Compliance Strategy. He also asserted that NIMASA had devised strategies that had ensured a steady rise in the number of jobs created through manning, crewing, stevedoring, and dockworkers’ engagement. He said the maritime industry was one of the key sectors that would support the realisation of President Buhari’s commitment to bringing 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years.
The policies being implemented by NIMASA, as well as the implementation of a five-year plan for the cessation of waiver, have encouraged the employment of more Nigerians by vessel owners. While observing that the new cabotage regime was still yielding positive results, Peterside said more Nigerians were getting engaged in various sub-sectors of the maritime industry due to the discouragement of foreigners’ dominance of the sector.
“We have always known that the political will to deal with the issue of waivers in the cabotage regime had been the challenge in the past. Our pronouncement and implementation of the New Cabotage Compliance Strategy has led to the engagement of over 7000 Nigerians in various sub-sectors within the industry. This has also resulted in 32 per cent increase in vessels operating under the cabotage regime in the first two quarters of 2019,” he said.
According to Peterside, NIMASA had inspected over 600 vessels calling at Nigerian ports, and the increased inspection and survey had ensured that sub-standard vessels no longer call at Nigerian ports. That has improved safety in Nigerian waters.
He said it now takes less than 24 hours to issue sailing clearance to vessels that call at Nigerian ports: “That used to be seven days at the time the current management of NIMASA came on board. And this has greatly improved vessel turnaround time and made Nigerian ports more attractive,” he said.