Let me start this piece by acknowledging the phenomenal contributions of seafarers worldwide to global economy. I wish them belatedly though, fair winds and following seas as the World Maritime Day (WMD) which took place on 24 September 2017 was celebrated globally. The theme for this year’s WMD is “Connecting Ships, Ports and People.” Truly, ships, ports and people constitute the maritime industry and they have direct and indirect economic impact on the nation.
If the sea is vital to the survival of nations, and it represents the common heritage of mankind upon which human prosperity depends, then it is necessary for Nigeria and its citizens to use the sea to a great economic advantage. It is because throughout history, the development of littoral states has always been influenced by the extent to which they master the sea, exploit the sea unhindered and be able to ward off attacks from the sea. So, if “80 percent of Nigeria’s maritime resources remain untapped”, how do we join other maritime nations to use the sea to develop a blue economy?
The “blue economy” according to the World Bank is “sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs, and ecosystem health.” That is, the use of the sea and its resources for sustainable economic development in areas such as marine transport, waste management, fisheries, tourism, renewable energy, and climate change amongst others.
Nigeria’s maritime industry has enjoyed rapid growth in the last couple of years following the enactment of the Cabotage Act in 2003, Port Reform Act of 2006, and the Local Content Act of 2010 however, there is room for improvement. Nigeria’s maritime industry must create sustainable wealth both on land and at sea to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Developing young people is central to achieving Sustainable Development Goals. Most young people in Nigeria face considerable challenges in creating a bright future for themselves using the sea. Today, the situation is frustrating as many graduates are either unemployed or underemployed.
The nation’s ports cannot be assessed and the connectivity between them is poor. Ports play a significant role in boosting the economy of a nation. If ports are effective, they help to create conditions for increased employment, prosperity and promoting maritime trade. Regrettably, our ports particularly those in Lagos are threats to non-oil exports due to the terrible state of roads leading to these sea ports. Channels through which ships sail to other ports are not dredged. Agro commodities worth billions of Naira rot away in various warehouses in Lagos ports as port processes become clumsy and tortuous.
Those who operate in the maritime sector take high risks in their businesses. Due to high entry barrier, youths without capital, sufficient knowledge and experience about shipping find it extremely difficult to venture into this sector as an entrepreneur. Reports have it that about 150,000 people are in the maritime industry in Nigeria. The number of those in Nigeria’s maritime industry is relatively small when compared to other nations that use the sea to create wealth.
It is due to lack of prerequisite qualifications that affects negatively those who are looking for work in the maritime industry. So, the FG must focus more attention on the maritime industry to create conditions for increased employment, and prosperity by making sure that shipping and ports are wealth creators both on land and, at sea.
The SDGs were anchored on the ground that young people will drive development in most nations. And that their aspirations can be actualized when they are provided with skills and opportunities needed to reach their potential, support development agenda and contribute to peace and development. What happens when training ship is not available to students of maritime studies in our universities to enable them go to sea to develop sea legs?
Lack of a training ship will disable maritime students from having mandatory sea time training which is a requirement for obtaining the international certificate of competency as stipulated in the International Maritime Organization (IMO) regulations. Without this competency certificate, a maritime student cannot be regarded as a sailor.
It is doubtful if any government-owned university in Nigeria can maintain a seagoing vessel because of the miserable funds allocated by the FG to tertiary institutions annually. This is because it will on the average cost about one-tenth of the cost of procuring a vessel to operate it annually. The operating cost includes cost of crews, training, maintenance and repairs, and the provision of consumables such as petrol, oil and lubricants amongst others.
To be sustainable however, human activities have to be balanced with the capacity of the sea to remain healthy and support diversification agenda of the FG. The so-called ‘blue economy’ covers a large and growing industrial sector on land and at sea. And as it grows, it must remain safe and secure and not threaten the environment. The implication is that we need to have a more efficient shipping, working in partnership with a port sector supported by the FG. This will be a major driver towards sustainable development for the good of the people.