L-R: Sifax Group, Strategy Director, Mr. Oliver Omajuwa; Group Managing Director, Sky Capital and Financial Allied Limited, Mr. Bode Ojeniyi; Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Director, Internal Audit, Mrs. Olamide Odusanya; and the Principal Partner, Jean Chiazor and Company, Mrs. Jean-Chiazor Anishere (SAN) at the 5th edition of the Taiwo Afolabi Annual Maritime Conference held at the University of Lagos…recently.

…As Stakeholders Proffer Solutions to Challenges Plaguing the Sector

The Chairman of Sifax Group, Dr. Taiwo Afolabi has called for a better investment in the maritime industry.

He hinged his call on the fact that Nigeria is transitioning to a non-oil dependent economy, pointing out that it was the way to go in other critical sectors of the economy

Afolabi noted that better investment in other key sectors of the economy, especially the maritime industry could contribute substantially to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

He stated this at the 5th edition of the Taiwo Afolabi Annual Maritime (TAAM) Conference which took place recently at the University of Lagos (UNILAG).

The theme of this year’s conference is “The Maritime Roadmap Project: Making Nigeria a Leading Maritime Nation in the World.”

Afolabi’s assertion is coming on the heels of various solutions proffered by stakeholders to address the myriads of challenges plaguing the maritime industry over the years.

He argued that the dwindling oil revenue in recent years and the huge potentials locked in the maritime sector make it imperative for the Federal Government to show better commitment to the maritime sector of the economy.

His words: “The country’s national budget, in the last few years, has been majorly funded without revenue from oil but from other sectors. The days of over reliance on oil is behind us now and it’s time we focused on transitioning from an oil-dependent economy to non-oil reliance. The maritime sector, I can say without any fear of contradiction, will play a crucial role in this economic transitioning if more attention is committed to the industry.”

He noted the growth that the industry has witnessed in the recent years including development and approval of various deep-sea ports, springing up of inland container depots across the country, linking seaports with rail lines, among others.

He however expressed dismay that the sector is still facing with major problems which are slowing down its growth and impact.

“It is without doubt that the maritime industry in Nigeria is grappling with various issues including infrastructural deficit, foreign exchange bottleneck, insecurity on our waterways, low level of technology adoption and deployment as well as inconsistent policies, among others. These issues have largely limited the ability of the sector to contribute significantly to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). If well harnessed, the maritime industry has the potential to become a major revenue earner for the country, particularly with the declining oil revenue”, he said.

Maritime Bits had reported that TAAM Conference is a maritime summit organised by the Maritime Forum of UNILAG’s Law Faculty in partnership with the Sifax Group and serves as a platform where key maritime issues that border on the sector’s sustainable growth are discussed, while also stimulating the interests of university students in the industry.

Also speaking at the occasion that attracted several dignitaries in the maritime industry and beyond, some stakeholders did not only point out the ills plaguing the sector but also proffered solutions.

Erstwhile Director General of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Barrister Temisan Omatseye who delivered the lead paper presentation stressed the need for Federal Government to encourage ship building and repair yards in Nigeria.

He expressed dismay that out of 100 percent of the cargoes coming into Nigeria, 98 percent of them are carried by foreigners and this has killed the Nigerian shipping sector.

His words: “The reliance on foreign vessels to carry Nigeria import and export which in most cases are higher than market rates has made Nigerian goods uncompetitive in international market, while the high freight rates on import has brought negative effect on Nigerian economy. I believe that Nigeria should develop more deep ports which is already ongoing at the moment, we need to ensure the set up of a national shipping line which would set as the bedrock for the return of the old glory days. Nigerian ship owners should be given the criteria to register as a national carrier in line with section 35 of the NIMASA Act, so as to allow them take advantage of the law which allows them to carry State, Local Government cargoes both liquid and bulk”.

The former NIMASA helmsman who was also the pioneer President of African Ship owners Association called for the setting up of ship repair and building infrastructure, even as he stressed that for efficiency such places should be declared as Free Trade Zones (FTZ) while at the same time create incentives of Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) to set up shop within these ship building free trade zones.

Omatseye stated that the nation should work assiduously towards the completion of the Ajaokuta steel complex while at the same time provide support for the rolling mills and machine tools industry to fabricate needed spare parts for the shipping industry.

His words: “Nigeria should be making policies for the training of manpower for the shipping industries such as officers, able seamen, and so on by also making the remittances of seamen tax free. We should have policies in place for welders with international certification to be trained in Nigeria.”

The Secretary General of African Ship owners Association, Ms. Funmi Folorunso in her contribution, noted that although Nigeria has ships, the available vessels in the nation aren’t the required specification needed for the available trade.

“We have ships but the ships we have aren’t the ships we need in 2023. There is a report on the number of vessels required in Africa with emphasis on the kinds of vessels. We should be working with this vital information as we go about ship acquisition,” she said.

She expressed regret that ship owners in Nigeria have placed so much anticipation on the Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund (CVFF), stressing that there is more funding outside the country.

According to her, the CVFF isn’t required for ship acquisition. There is more funding out there. We must set an agenda for the next government. We must set an agenda for the government to work at it. Nigeria doesn’t have a fleet development agenda; but we can begin to work on this agenda. We should have veterans from the past like the esteemed former NIMASA Director General, Omatseye; the present (current NIMASA leadership and present stakeholders) and the future (young operators and students).

Also speaking, the Principal Counsel, Akabogu and Associates and Convener of Nigerian International Maritime Summit (NIMS), Dr. Emeka Akabogu lamented that the nation’s maritime sector suffers from gross neglect of salient issues by regulators.

He argued that there is no valid reason for the prolonged non-disbursement of the CVFF by the government, even as he wondered why the Maritime Fund captured in the NIMASA Act for the development of the sector hasn’t been utilized with the agency more focused on humanitarian activities as corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects.

He also slammed freight forwarders for their constant bickering, pointing out that their incessant fight has retarded that sustainable development of the freight forwarding in the country.

His words: “The freight forwarding associations have done a lot of dis-service to the Nigerian maritime industry as a result of continued bad blood amongst themselves.”

The Director General of NIMASA, Dr. Bashir Jamoh who was represented by the Director, Internal Audit, Mrs. Olamide Odusanya said that Nigeria remains largely a work in progress when compared to some of the global maritime powers who have mastered seaborne trade for several centuries.

“We make bold to say however that we have earned the right to be taken seriously and respected at the international level. Our position as a regional leader remains unassailable whether it is in terms of volume of trade, our accession to key maritime convention and the development of in country capacity of unparalleled significance in Africa. We also hold the record of the most significant fight back from record level piracy in our waters to zero incidence in the past two years. The future is indeed bright for Nigerian shipping,” he said.

Also speaking, the President of Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association (WISTA) Nigeria, Mrs. Eunice Ezeoke described human capital development is the singular most important factor to be prioritized in Nigeria’s craving for a sustainable shipping sector.

According to her, deep seaports can’t be developed in isolation. You can’t develop a deep seaport without the infrastructure for cargo evacuation and consolidation. Otherwise, we are setting up for problems and challenges. It is akin to putting the cart before the horse. How did we get it wrong? The Ajakuta Steel Complex is a vital facility to enable us builds vessels in Nigeria. We have the raw materials and human capital but we lack the political will.


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