Sixty two years after Nigeria gained independence, its maritime sector is still being held back by corruption, policy inconsistencies, lack of national shipping lines and functional scanners as well as decaying infrastructure.
According to stakeholders, Nigeria is advantageously placed to benefit from maritime trade along the coast of West Africa and within the Gulf of Guinea region due to its enormous potential in the sector
For instance, maritime experts believe Nigeria has the potential to own and operate the biggest and most efficient ports in Africa because of its special geographic location and population of more than 200 million people.
But, despite its enormous potential, the nation’s maritime sector is precariously still lagging behind manymaritime nations, even as stakeholders described the port system as the worst in terms of infrastructural development.
According to them, at 62, the lack of a national carrier to date after the collapse of the Nigerian National Shipping line (NNSL) in 1995, foreign vessels have continued to dominate its coastal waters.
The NNSL, which boasted of about 20 vessels had packed up and liquidated with all its vessels gone. All effort to revive the shipping line failed when leading investors, Pacific International Lines, (PIL), pulled out of the deal.
Today, more than 80 per cent of indigenous shipping companies have equally gone under, swept away by the harsh tide of the inclement economic climate.
Speaking recently on what Nigeria is losing to absence of a national shipping line, the Executive Secretary, Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Emmanuel Jime, said approximately 80 per cent of the shipping business done in the coast of West Africa is done in Nigeria.
He said over the years, ship calls to Nigeria has improved with increased tonnage of about 140 million with estimated payment of above $7.5 billion.
“According to available data, a total of 3, 972 vessels with Gross Registered Tonnage of 125,133,912 metric tons were received in Nigerian Ports, though this is low when compared with the 2019 records of 4, 251 vessels with Gross Registered Tonnage of 138, 577, 463 metric tons,” he lamented.
He stated that sadly, Nigeria’s participation was zero, as most vessels are foreign owned.
Similarly, available data shows that Nigeria’s crude exportation in the year 2020 was about 1 million barrel per day with cumulative worth of $30 billion.
So far, only foreign owned vessels benefited from the freight cost of about $2.25 billion for lifting the nation’s crude. Experts have also argued that one of the reasons Nigeria earns zero freight cost from crude oil was the refusal of government to disburse the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF), an interventionist programme meant to empower indigenous ship owners.
Lack of functional scanners for cargo examination
In a 21st century economy, experts lament that it remains a sad commentary that Nigeria cannot boast of functional scanners in any of its ports and land borders across the country.
The previous 22 scanners acquired for $120 million collapsed, every cargoes imported into the country are subjected to 100 per cent physical examination, a development that breeds corruption among Customs officers and other agencies involved in the clearance of cargo at the port.
However, speaking with Daily Sun, a frontline freight forwarder, Dr Segun Musa, said nobody would be satisfied with the present situation of the nation’s maritime sector because the standards are seriously nosediving.
He lamented that it is so sad that in the 21st century, Nigeria is operating the worst port system in West African countries, adding that Nigeria maritime sector started at 90 per cent but today it is about eight per cent in the maritime world as at today.
Musa, who is also the Managing Director, Widescope International Logistics Limited said: “If you look at where we are before now, we are far ahead of so many countries and they see us, envy us and learn from us, now we are learning from them.”
He hinted that Nigeria started well because of what it inherited from the colonial masters who developed the sector. He said the leadership that came after decided to concentrate on making revenue without developing the sector.
He said the CVFF meant for private sector to acquire ships in order to participate effectively in the global shipping business has not been disbursed to them, saying the fund is not meant for government to finance budget but it is for indigenous ship owners.
“As we speak, Nigeria does not have any vessels and indigenous ship owners that can access this loan to finance their ship to have flag of convenience vessels that would be carrying our cargoes, unfortunately, the fund is not released to them. I won’t be surprised if the government has spent the fund or share it,” he said.
The National President, National Council of Managing Director of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Lucky Amiwero said the maritime sector came through reforms between 1999 and 2006, but the reforms have been destroyed completely.
He lamented that Nigerian maritime sector is sick, not driven by law and not efficient in terms of operations.
He hinted that Nigerian Port system cannot attract foreign investment because it is not consistent, transparent and predictable, which is the reason Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Benin Republic have taken over Nigerian bound cargoes.
According to him, investors are leaving the country and companies are closing down, saying Nigeria has the highest cost port systems in the world.
He said when Obasanjo came in, there were a lot of reforms, which brought about NPA Act and CEMA law. He said other regimes came to destroy the foundation of the country.
“The maritime sector is bleeding. In 2006, scanners were commissioned under Web Fontaine and Global Scan SGS. All the scanners were gone and those scanners were just a waste,” he said.
He urged government to probe the collapsed of those 22 scanners acquired with $120 million, saying if the scanners were properly managed, it would last for 20 years.
The Advisory Head/CEO, Kamany Marine Services Limited, Charles Okorefe said there are parameters that can used to see if Nigeria has done well in the maritime sector.
“We can give some kudos to the sector in the area of port concessioning to make the ports functional and users’ friendly. But talking about our port now, what about maritime administration? How far are we set?
“To a large extent, in the number of ways, we can say we have tried in the area of maritime security on our waterways. You can recall that International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has given kudos to NIMASA under Dr Bashir Jamoh in recent times about the efforts to curb piracy especially in the Gulf of Guinea region but that does not mean piracy has been removed completely from our waterways,” he stated.