Of all the sectors in the nation‘s economy, one sector in need of sweeping, critical surgical reforms for growth is the maritime sector. The sector with all the inherent benefits is being underutilised and that affects its contribution to the nation‘s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
According to maritime experts, the maritime sector can takeover from the oil and gas sector and be the highest revenue earner for the country. They argued that the sector can generate over N7 trillion annually into the nation‘s coffers and as well finance the country‘s budget without any external borrowing.
But, lack of coordination, automation, managerial deficiency, dilapidated infrastructure, extortions, illegal checkpoints, congestion, high cost of doing business has stunted the sector‘s growth.
Others challenges drawing back the sector are under-development of its shipping industry, low ranking on ease of doing business index, absence of synergy between government agencies, untapped resources, poor investment, among other. That have deprived the country of the potentials of the sector to contribute meaningfully to the GDP.
Notable to mention is the unabated accident on the nation‘s inland waterways that has defiled all known solutions proffered by the current management of the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA).
The accidents that occured on inland waterways from Lagos, Rivers, Kebbi, Kwara among others, have claimed over 500 lives in the last four years that stakeholders called for a complete overhaul of the management of the agency saddled with the responsibility of regulating the nation‘s inland waterways for lack of proper regulation.
Also worthy of mention is the ,yearly $5billion loss as freight payment for shipping services without any concrete plans to domesticate such funds.
However, stakeholders have set agenda for President Bola Tinubu administration on how to revitalise and harness the benefits inherent in the sector for the nation‘s economic growth.
The agenda include the creation of Ministry of Maritime Affairs, shipping development, port reforms, stable exchange rate, intermodal transportation, constant stakeholders engagement, policy consistency among others as a matter of priority.
The stakeholders also urged President Tinubu to appoint Special Advisers on Maritime and Customs Affairs, as this will help his government have professional and technical advice that will grow the industry and generate more revenue for the country.
Speaking, the immediate past President of the Shippers Association of Lagos State (SALS), Rev Jonathan Nicole said that the new government should ensure that necessary infrastructure is provided and those on ground effectively utilised for the development of the shipping industry.
He, therefore, decried the unnecessary bureaucracies associated with cargo clearance and importation and clearance and urged the government to ensure a smooth cargo clearing process, by doing it will bring down the cost of goods and services in the country.
“The government has a lot of work to do. We hope that they will consolidate and remove Nigeria from the debt burden. They should also maintain the entire infrastructure on ground and make sure they are adequately utilised. If they seek the opinion of stakeholders, we should be able to support them. The government should be closer to the people than ever before. Without the people there is no government,” he added.
However, a shipper, Mr. Jude Okoro, said government must consider creation of maritime ministry, just like the aviation sector, saying that the ministry must be headed by someone who understands the sector inside out and not a politician with no knowledge of the sector.
He said the creation of the maritime ministry would help to correct the anomalies in the sector, saying the ministry will take care of both shipping companies, agents, terminals and others as the sector would no longer be under the Ministry of Transport.
Acting president of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Dr. Kayode Farinto, said that the expectations of stakeholders is very high from the new government now that the fuel subsidy has been removed.
He said the issue of barges should be reviewed if possible, saying that infrastructure in the port should be top priority.
He said there is need to look at the nation’s intermodal transport system vis avis the rail, the road and the barges they should be effective now and going forward, there should be a port developmental plan on the infrastructure of the nation’s ports.
According to him, government should unbundle the Ministry of Transportation by creating a Ministry of Maritime Affairs, which will cushion the effects and ameliorating the suffering of stakeholders on the removal of fuel subsidy.
He added that the creation of Ministry of Maritime Affairs will create more employment for the youths, government itself will generate more revenue and untapped areas under the sea will be harnessed and these are many others things stakeholders are looking at.
“Then, the freight forwarders must be considered because we need palliatives in terms of incentives for any agent that are generated more revenue in the last one year. Or put it across board, anybody that have generate more revenue for Federal Government this year, whatever you generate; you should be giving back at least one per cent of it to serve as moral boosting to also encourage us to generate more revenue to the Federal Government and stop any situation that can lead to surcharging the government.
“We will be happy if this government can work on one exchange rate because this is an international business unlike the previous government changing exchange rate here and there. Let us have an exchange rate for the next two or three quarters that nobody can change.
The role of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) should be stipulated going forward. CBN should not be allowed to encroach on fiscal policy.
“And on the issue of our fiscal policy, government should ensure that being the fact that we must carry along the masses, the issue of age limit on used vehicles should now be put forward for 15 years. This will accommodate our younger ones or particularly the graduate who are likely want to buy vehicles in the classes of 2008, 2009 maybe they want to go into transportation or commercial venture.
So there are many things that is expected from this government. We have it that it will be rolling out gradually,” he said.
He hinted that If this is done in the next quarter, it will cushion the effects of removal of fuel subsidy, adding that removal of fuel subsidy will definitely increase freight because bunker will increase, it will reduce purchasing power so that it will not fall the nation’s import volume and government should bring out how to cushion the effects of it.
The Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) on it‘s part, called on the Tinubu led government to pay proper attention to the maritime sector and ensure that competent professionals with deep knowledge of the industry are appointed to head the agencies in the sector.
The president General of the union, Prince Adewale Adeyanju, called for efficiency in NPA and others agencies in the sector.
Adeyanju said appointment should be based on those who have deep knowledge of the industry, saying it will bring about great value and improvement in the entire maritime industry.
Adeyanju noted that creation of Maritime Ministry is not the most important issue but efficient management.
“What is important is efficiency. If there is no efficiency among the management team, creation of new ministry will still amount to the same problem,”the MWUN president said.
Adeyanju lamented that the past government did not give the needed attention to the maritime sector, and worst still, neglected Warri and Calabar ports. He therefore charge the Tinubu led government to develop all ports in the country so as to enhance greater productivity in the sector.
“The government should give attention to Warri, Calabar and other ports, instead of focusing only on Lagos ports, when other ports can be deployed to boost growth in the industry. Also, the government should put the ports access roads in good shape like what is obtainable in other countries.
“For instance, the access road to Tin-Can Island Port in Lagos has been taken over by artisans, food vendors cooking on the roads and other commercial activities taking place there. If you go to Tin-Can port in the evening, you will even see pupils in their uniforms playing on the major road. This is not the only place; the road leading to Onne Port is nothing to reckon with. The new administration should address these issues,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Administration Secretary of the Association of Maritime Truck Owners of Nigeria (AMATO), Mohammed Sani, called for urgent action on the artificial extortion barrier that has taken a serious toll on the ability of the maritime haulage and logistics sector to deliver efficiently and profitably.
He said there are over 60 checkpoints of extortion from Ijora Olopa, Costain, Mile 2 down to Tin Can and Apapa ports, where uniformed and ununiformed men collect unofficial and unreceipted monies from truckers.
He said before a truck can access the ports to pick up imports or drop off export containers, the owner must pay between N5,000 and N10,000 to officials assigned to ensure sanity on the port access roads, who are in collaboration with hoodlums.
He the new administration must address the challenges by putting an end to the extortion instituted by maritime bandits along the port corridors.
A mariner, Adedire Joseph said adequate attention should be given to coastal states by the new administration, saying that the country needs to utilise its resources such as the 900 nautical miles of coastline, 572 inland waterways and 10,000km of navigable waterways among others, to generate more revenue to revitalise the economy.
He said statistics show a total freight cost estimate of between $5 billion and $6 billion yearly, while the maritime component of Nigeria’s oil and gas industry is worth an estimated $8 billion alongside seaborne transportation, oceanic extractive resource exploitation and export processing zones.
“There is no other time than now for the incoming administration to protect the country’s over $14 billion maritime trade. I must say that a safe, secure and efficient shipping industry would assist in revitalising and diversifying the economy away from crude oil exploration to a vibrant maritime trade,” he said.