BY UCHE USIM
As the Federal Government struggles to stabilise the economy after the crash of crude oil price at the international market, economic experts are insisting the maritime sector can buoy the economy if its potentials are adequately harnessed.
The submission comes from the fact that the sector is vast and boasts of myriads of stakeholders including shippers, terminal operators, chandlers, government agencies, freight forwarders and other private sector players.
This they argued stems from the fact that Nigeria has unlimited business opportunities in the maritime sector consisting of as a vast coastline of over 800 kilometres, an exclusive economic zone of well over 200 nautical miles, navigable inland waterways of 3,000 kilometres, six major seaports, 11 oil terminals, over 170 private jetties and six major inland container depots.
It is rather worrisome that nations like The Philippines, South Korea, China and others with less natural endowments have gone far ahead of Nigeria in maritime industry having invested fully in it after realising its importance.
Today, 80 per cent of the economic prosperity of these Asian nations comes from shipping as they have gone ahead to develop and export seafarers and other maritime assets to Africa.
Industry records show that The Philippines alone generates $7 billion annually exporting seafarers, out of the $16 billion Overseas Filipino Worker (OFN) programme.
Unfortunately, the Nigerian maritime sector has not been the toast of successive administrations because it requires huge capital outlay and a long gestation period before any investment is recouped.
Experts have repeatedly said government’s poor knowledge of the sector; corruption and the penchant for quick returns have blighted the growth of the Nigerian maritime sector, although many believe that all hope is not lost if the government can pay full attention to the sector as it is capable of generating millions of direct and indirect jobs, while generating about N10 trillion annually.
A seasoned Maritime Lawyer, Mr. Olisa Agbakoba, in an advisory letter dated December 19, 2014, written to the Minister for Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo- Iweala, said the maritime sector can generate N7 trillion revenue annually.
He said the untapped revenue can only be accessed if the Federal Government can pay closer attention to the vital sector and overhaul some of the frameworks guiding its operations.
In his letter titled, “Generation of Revenue from Non-Oil Sector of the Nigerian Economy,” Agbakoba told Okonjo- Iweala that, “your welcome statement that Nigerians should henceforth view the country as a non-oil producing nation and explore other sources of revenue as a result of the decline in the price of oil, calls for reflection. You have suggested broadening the tax base to raise revenue. While this is a good step, we suggest that it only scratches the surface.
“As I have always said to you, there is massive untapped revenue in our maritime sector estimated at N7 trillion per annum. I will suggest that you pay close attention to this sector, which at this time has all but collapsed. In order to tap revenue from this sector, there will need to be an overhaul of policy, institutional, regulatory and legal framework.
“There is a raft of legislation pending in the National Assembly, which have deterred growth in the sector, including the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), the Ports & Harbour Bill, the Bill establishing the economic regulator (shipping sector), and the Maritime Zones Bill. In fact, there is very good reason to review Nigeria’s Ocean Policy to tap abundant national resources,” Agbakoba urged.
The soothing news from the sector is Federal Government’s seeming determination to float a private sector driven national shipping line, which maritime experts believe, when realised, will be the first step towards raising non-oil revenue base of government.
The national carrier being midwifed by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) is expected to create thousands of jobs for Nigerians, help replenish the depleted manpower stock in various fields, build capacity for local shippers, wrest juicy shipping contracts from foreigners under the Cabotage Act and substantially grow the nation’s economy.
Since the demise of the former national carrier, the Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL) in September 1995, manpower development in the nation’s maritime domain suffered a setback because training and retraining of seafarers was a major function of the carrier.
Nigeria is the only country among the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) without a national carrier and whose crude oil is sold Free On Board (FOB).
This embarrassing development, coupled with other factors, compelled the Presidency to give NIMASA the needed approval to set up of a new national shipping line.
The Director General of NIMASA, Dr. Ziakede Patrick Akpobolokemi, revealed that the upcoming shipping line would be a Private-Public-Partnership (PPP) deal with the private sector at the driver’s seat.
Source : SunOnline