There is hardly a day that passes when I don’t peer through the window of my office on the 9th floor at NIMASA HQ overlooking the Apapa seaport and quay area, the very epitome, indeed flagship, of Nigeria’s maritime expanse.
As busy as the scenery may look, very often my gazing experience leaves me wondering at our wasted opportunities in the very depths of endless maritime possibilities for a nation with a population hovering around 200 million inhabitants. The indictment remains that we have yet to rise to the occasion of making the most of our maritime assets despite the fact that we are a Maritime Nation.
Nothing makes this peering exercise of mine feel more like a daily affliction than the narrative of the massive warehouse directly opposite our office which was once renowned as cocoa produce storage hub for export overseas, especially during the heydays of the Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL).
To think that I was now beholding a car park extension for NIMASA staff as they daily arrived and departed work boggled my mind repeatedly, and even more bothersome was the fact that many more of such once illustrious facilities littering the entire Apapa vicinage now suffer the same fate.
This is just one facet of the multitude of conundrums bedeviling our maritime domain. There are many more aspects and dimensions to our maritime challenges and potentialities that must now be addressed headlong to ensure a more economically viable path to our national wealth.
The numbers don’t lie as the maritime sector itself is rich with data evidencing both its challenges and potentialities. A 2017 estimation of Nigeria’s maritime assets from shipping activities to manpower engagement; from the environment to transportation and right up to the entire value chain of the blue economy, was put at N90 trillion.
To put this in context, this amount represents close to a tenfold of the size of the nation’s 2020 budget figure. Nigeria’s maritime sector is humongous. It is capable of generating over N7 trillion annually (which is over 75 percent of the 2018 budget) and creating about 40 million jobs.
According to NIMASA’s 2018 Outlook, with a yearly freight cost estimated to be between $5 billion and $6 billion, the maritime component of Nigeria’s oil and gas industry is worth an estimated $8 billion.
There can be no better time to reflect on the significance of the maritime sector to the country’s overall economic prospects than now.
In the face of the rampaging COVID-19, the maritime sector stood resilient and remained active on the frontlines of guaranteeing the global and local supply chains held fast to deliver the medical and other life-saving essentials from food to equipment to vital consumables to give the world a fighting chance against the pandemic while also keeping our economic life running even when over 90% of the population hunkered down in lockdowns.
With the expanse of our skies deserted and our terra firma abandoned, the sea-lanes across the globe held sway even as seafarers courageously braved the spread of the virus in their dauntless navigation to make port with our much-needed merchandise. Global trade has been spared the shutdown treatment of COVID-19 because of maritime power.
Like it or not, maritime is Nigeria’s next economic frontier that must be accepted by both default and compulsion, especially as COVID-19 pushes our hitherto dependable oil fortunes to the most unthinkable brinks of volatility and uncertainty.
But why must we allow ourselves to be coerced when we could be better served to choose, rather by design, to orient policy-wise towards our seas.
Experts have held that all that the maritime sector requires is but a fraction of the aggressive policy attention paid to the agriculture sector by the current administration under President Muhammadu Buhari that has really galvanized the nation across the board into food security awakening and diverse food production endeavours.
The Nigerian maritime industry is perhaps the singular non-oil sector of the economy that can, if well minded and harnessed, provide our country with the sturdy stability required for sustained economic growth, devoid of the financial shocks we have become too accustomed to from the vicissitudes of the oil business.
I hope the reader every week will find this column as my humble attempt to once again corral attention towards, and in the process add to, the conversation about how blessed we are to be a maritime nation and how burdened we must now feel to, by way of responsibility, arise to this blessedness by rigorously committing to harnessing our maritime resources across all fronts – from platforms to policy; from legislation to landscape; from marine to manpower; from capacity to content; from education to environment and from sectors to stakeholders.
All hands must be on deck. Bon voyage.