Nigeria is naturally endowed with huge maritime potentials.
It has about 900 nautical miles of coastline, 200 miles of exclusive economic zone with an average of about 5,000 vessels coming to the Nigerian Ports annually.
The latest statistics by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) states that 55,532 vessels with Gross Registered Tonnage (GRT) of 1,306,153,433 entered the Nigerian Ports from 2007 to June 2018.
But sadly, nigeriamaritime360.com notes that Nigeria does not partake in these huge economic benefits accruable from these shipping activities because of lack of national carrier.
Yes, since the avoidable demise of the Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL) in 1995, the vast shipping business in Nigeria was and still being dominated by foreigners.
This has cost the nation gargantuan amount of money in freight.
Hassan Bello, the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Shippers Council put the economic loss of this inexplicable oversight to a whooping sum of $1.9 billion each year.
Our economic loss to the absence of a national carrier is more accentuated by the fact that Nigeria controls 70 percent of cargo traffic in the West and Central Africa sub region while about 85 per cent of all the goods and services that enter the country come through the seaports with the aggregate value in far excess of $15 billion through normal imports.
We are at a loss why successive governments, given these huge economic benefits accruable from abundant shipping activities, failed to leverage on these potentials through floating viable shipping line that would appropriate the huge economic benefits.
Apart from the feeble attempt to resuscitate the dead NNSL through rebranding a new carrier called Nigeria Unity Line (NUL) which was short-lived, no serious effort was made since 13 years ago to revive the dead national monument.
This has placed the country at the mercy of foreign shipping companies which arrogantly decide the conditions and terms they carry our cargo.
For many years till this moment, our cargoes, both dry and wet, are being lifted on an unfair and exploitative term of Free On Board(FOB) instead of Cost, Freight and Insurance(CFI) term of affreightment.
We are however glad and commend the initiative of the present government to revive the dead national carrier.
The Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, had, three years ago, set in motion the machinery to re-float the national shipping fleet that would take advantage of the economic value of the huge shipping potentials which the country is endowed with.
However, we are not comfortable with the slow pace of work of the committee saddled with the responsibility to midwife the berth of the national carrier.
This committee, headed by the Nigerian Shippers’ Council’s Hassan Bello, has been grappling with the herculean task of attracting investors to buy into the project.
The only foreign investor, Pacific International Line (PIL), a Singaporean shipping giant, which earlier declared intention to partner the Federal government in the project, hastily pulled out of the deal due to the unfavourable business climate.
This has not only resulted to a major setback in the efforts to rein back the national shipping fleet but also slowed down the process.
According to the Chairman of the committee who is also the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, Hassan Bello, the Nigerian shipping landscape is so rotten that it has to be first of all cleansed to attract foreign investors.
It was this accumulated rot that scared away PIL.
We acknowledge the need to cleanse the industry to create the necessary enabling environment that will attract investors who will make the project work.
But we are a bit uneasy at the length of time this cleansing exercise is going to take.
According to Bello, due to the enormity of work to be done and the wide range of stakeholders involved whose inputs are necessary for the holistic reforms being envisaged, the process of putting the right atmosphere that is germane for the floating of the national carrier may take as long as three years or more.
In as much as we recognise the need to create the enabling environment, we shudder at the time this process might take.
From all indication, the reform process is inelastic as Bello said he could not put a time limit to the cleansing process as the three years period was just tentative.
We dare say the process needs not take an eternity as we believe where there is will, there is a way.
Though the reform process is deep and extensive but this could be achieved in a record time.
It is our belief that if government is committed and sincere in this task which we have no reason to doubt, it can make the work of the committee easier by giving all those whose inputs are necessary for this task of reformation, especially all its agencies and parastatals involved, matching order on quick compliance.
According to the committee, the cooperation and inputs of Nigeria Customs Service, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Ministry of Finance, Federal Inland Revenue Service, Nigerian Investment Promotion Council, Ministry of Budget and Planning are crucial to achieving desired results.
We believe that all these agencies, including the Economic team and the Attorney-General, could all be made to give their cooperation in a record time with necessary push.
We equally believe that the National Assembly, whose inputs in the area of amendments of old relevant laws to attract investments into the sector as well as passing relevant new ones will take a cue from the seriousness and sincerity of the Executive and its agencies not to delay the reformation process.
The private sector players, who we think are the greater beneficiaries, will rush at the carrot when they see the sincerity and commitment of government to make the project viable and profitable.
We must however express our deep concerns over the continued failure of NIMASA to reform its archaic Ship Registry, one of the reasons we learnt scared away investors from buying into the National carrier project.
It is worrisome that several months the management of the agency promised to reform the Registry and set up a committee in this regards, nothing is heard of the exercise.
It is such negligence and dereliction of essential core mandates of some of these government agencies that need to be curtailed if we are not to spend an eternity in our efforts to float this all important national asset.
It grieves our heart that continued delay in re-floating national carrier is a continued loss of revenue and suppression of our national pride which such venture represents in international shipping community.
More grievous is the fact that the longer the process of having national shipping line takes, the longer the country will be saddled with the burden of having half-baked seafarers who do not have requisite sea time training due to the absence of vessels and the unwillingness and lack of capacity of few struggling indigenous ship owners to absorb them.
This of course will result in those being churned out under the National Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP) unemployable with the attendant social problems.
The few experienced seafarers we have now are those who trained on board the vessels of defunct NNSL and they are fast ageing.
We shudder to think of the grave implications of failure to quickly replace the ageing seafarers with capable and experienced ones.
A stitch in time, they say, saves nine.
The quicker we expedite and complete this slow process of berthing the national shipping fleet, the better for our economy and image which we believe will bolster our national pride in the comity of international shipping nations.
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