As the 2019 fiscal year winds down, certain major events and activities shaped the maritime industry, Francis Ezem, who undertook a review of these events, reports.

Like most other segments of Nigeria’s economy, activities in the maritime industry started rather on a very slow note with an air of uncertainties occasioned by preparations and permutations towards the outcome of the 2019 general elections. The decision of the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC, to postpone the presidential election originally slated for February 16 to February 23 few hours before its commencement further heightened the tension and anxiety across the entire socio-political and economic spheres of the country. But this tension reduced drastically following the re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari on February 23, 2019 and subsequently, life gradually started returning to all sectors of the economy including maritime, though not as fast as expected, given the delay in constituting the federal cabinet.

Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi

However, with the release of the 2019 edition of Nigeria’s annual Maritime Forecast by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency NIMASA sometime in March, business activities kick-started in earnest. The forecast projected a 10 per cent real growth in the Nigeria’s maritime industry as against the projected five per cent growth in 2018, which it achieved 4.5 per cent.

This projection, which was part of the 2019/2020 maritime forecast tagged “Harnessing the Maritime and Shipping industry for Sustainable Growth”, was predicated on expectations that there would be increased shipping activities in the country within the projected period, especially in the areas of acquisition of more shipping assets including vessels, which would also need to be backed with human capital development.

While speaking at the official unveiling of the forecast, Director General of NIMASA, Dr. Dakuku Peterside said: “The forecast is meant to give direction to investors and stakeholders in the industry in their planning and investment decisions as part of efforts to attract more foreign direct investments to the economy. Major plans covered by the forecast are the economic environment, the maritime industry (local and global), regulatory framework, and emerging opportunities and challenges.

DG NIMASA, Dr. Dakuku Peterside

“This year’s forecast will focus on how emerging trends in the global maritime industry would affect Nigeria’s maritime industry as well as how other domestic factors will influence the industry, since the maritime industry holds a lot for Nigeria’s future economic growth”.

Also in the course of the year, the Federal Government took concrete steps to rid the nation’s waters of all forms of criminal activities. This was sequel to an earlier approval by the Federal Executive Council FEC, the country’s highest policy decision making body of a new maritime security architecture, which comprised a $195 million maritime security contract with an Israeli firm, HLS International Limited. The contract was in line with efforts to curb increasing criminal activities such as piracy, sea robbery, kidnapping, oil theft, illegal bunkering, smuggling and illegal trafficking in drugs and persons within the Gulf of Guinea, especially Nigeria.

Minister of Transport, Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi while addressing stakeholders at forum in Lagos in May shortly before the expiration of his first tenure, gave a detailed explanation of the contract under the theme: ‘Establishment of an Integrated National Security and Waterway Protection Infrastructure in Nigeria – Deep Blue Project’ , during which a representative of the company also reviewed level of progress recorded in both the areas of procurement of maritime security assets as well as the human capacity aspect involving training courses.

As at May, the C4I Systems Operator, Intelligence Systems Operator and Basic Infantry training courses had been successfully conducted with well-trained graduates emerging from those programmes while a timetable for the delivery of maritime security assets was also laid out. An overview of the Deep Blue Project revealed that the system is to provide a 360 degree, eagle eye view of Nigeria’s maritime domain thereby equipping NIMASA (as the Designated Authority) with comprehensive and real time information on every activity conducted by Vessels within Nigerian waters. It was projected that some of the maritime assets under the contract will arrive the country before the end of December.  Only penultimate week, chairman of the Project Monitoring Team for the Deep Blue Project, also known as Integrated National Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure, Mrs. Olu Mustapha announced that the team has taken delivery of the first special mission vessel under the Deep Blue Project. The minister was re-appointed as expected by many. For the first time, the Federal Government also appoint a substantive Managing Director of the National Inland Waterways Authority NIWA from the Igbo extraction in the person of Chief George Muoghalu to replace Boss Mustafa, who is the current Secretary to the Government of the Federation SGF.

Executive Secretary/CEO, NSC, Hassan Bello

As part of efforts to enhance maritime security in the country, President Buhari assented to the Maritime Piracy Suppression Bill earlier passed by the National Assembly. The President also assented to the Charted Institute of Transport Administration Nigeria CIoTA Bill. The new President of CIoTA, Dr. Bashir Jamoh, who was inaugurated in February with a promise to ensure that the institute was given a legal backing, while speaking on the new development, said it was a demonstration of President Buhari’s commitment to reform the transport sector in Nigeria.

 The year also witnessed the completion and commissioning of an ultra-modern Marine and harbour simulation centre by the current management of the Nigerian Ports Authority NPA, which had been abandoned more than11 years ago. The facility, situated at the Dockyard Apapa, has the capacity to provide the platform for the training of pilots, marine officers, tug masters and radio signal officers, has an operational procedure that can maneuver and handle ships under any condition.

Minister of Transport, Rotimi Ameachi, while officially commissioning the project in Lagos, commended the NPA management, noting that in addition to enhancing operational efficiency by training the authority’s members of staff also said it would reduce foreign exchange spent on training the relevant officers overseas and also help to curtail capital flight.

Managing Director of NPA, Hadiza Bala Usman, had told stakeholders that the Marine and Harbours Ultra-Modern Simulation Centre was expected to engender greater operational efficiency in the activities of the organisation in addition to increasing its revenue since it will operate on a commercial basis. She also stated that the commissioning of the centre signals Federal Government’s preparedness and firm resolve at competing most favourably in the global maritime space.

MD NPA, Hadiza Bala Usman

In the course of the year, President Buhari also commissioned the Inland Dry Port located in Kaduna and owned by Inland Container Nigeria Limited ICNL under the auspices of the Nigerian Shippers Council. Executive Secretary/CEO of the council, Hassan Bello had at the event, restated the council’s commitment to bringing shipping services to shippers in the hinterlands of the country in addition to helping decongest the conventional seaports, especially those in Lagos.

In 2019, the Apapa gridlock took a turn for the worse, thus prompting President Buhari to issue a three-day deadline to truckers to evacuate their trucks off the highways or have them impounded. This ultimatum was partially ignored, as a few of them complied. This culminated in the setting up of the Presidential Task Team, headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo with former Lagos State Commissioner for Transport, Kayode Opeifa as deputy.

Nigerians woke up on August 19, 2019 to the decision of the Federal Government to close its land borders to neighbouring African countries under what it called Joint Military Border Surveillance and Patrol. The target was to curb massive influx of foreign parboiled rice to boost local production and consumption, which to a large extent has achieved this goal.

Another milestone event in the course of 2019 was the convening of the Global Maritime Security Conference GMSC in Abuja from October 7-9. The conference which was in line with Federal Government’s efforts at ensuring security in the Gulf of Guinea was hosted under the auspices of the Federal Ministry of Transport and NIMASA in conjunction with the Nigerian Navy with the theme: “Managing and Securing Our Waters”.

This event, which gathered delegates from over 80 countries across the world in addition to experts from international, continental and regional maritime institutions and stakeholders, had 11 thematic sessions that addressed specific security issues not only in the region but also across the African continent. Experts in these sessions led discussions and proffered solution options on a wide range of maritime security and development issues in the region.

The conference came up with a total of 17 recommendations, which was christened the Abuja Declaration 2019, which has turned out to be a major historical milestone in the quest to enhance safety shipping assets and personnel across the globe.

On a very sad note, Nigeria narrowly lost by only vote its bid to return to the Category C of the Council of the International Maritime Organisation IMO, which many believed she deserves at this point given her efforts at curbing insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea as well as her leadership roles in Africa.

Another major event was the three-day National Transport Summit organised by CIOTA at the Yar’ Adua Centre in Abuja with the theme “Unlocking the Potential of Transportation for Sustainable Development”.

Speaking at the opening session of the event, President of CIoTA Dr. Bashir Jamoh, said that the institute was set to professionalise all aspects of transportation industry in Nigeria to enhance sustainable growth and development of the economy. This, according to him has become expedient and necessary to save the transport sector from quacks and non-professionals, who currently dominate it.

 “With the recent assent to the CIoTA Bill by President Muhammadu Buhari, which recognised the institute as the sole professional body in the transport industry, CIoTA will engage all stakeholders to ensure that all those involved in transport administration in Nigeria are certified to enhance professionalism.

“We will continue to ensure that Nigeria has only professionals in the transport sector to handle issues affecting it. Nobody who does not have the right qualiication and certification would be allowed to practice in the transport sector, members need to have up to date experience”, Jamoh, who doubles as Executive Director, Finance and Administration of NIMASA said.

For the first time in the life of this administration, the Minister of Transport also hinted that the government would disburse the over $150million Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund CVFF. Stakeholders still expect details as to how this will be done.

Overall, the year remains a mixed grill, pleasant in some aspects and sad in other aspects but depending on one’s standpoint.