Sixty-one years after self-government, over 80 per cent of shipping, chandling and cargo clearing are still dominated by foreigners amid other web of challenges facing the Nigerian maritime industry, BAYO AKOMOLAFE reports
With its 853 nautical miles of coastline located on the coastline corridor of Gulf of Guinea and the Bright of Benin, 200 nautical miles of Exclusive Economic Zone, 30,000 kilometres of waterways, comprising over 50 rivers, Nigeria has the natural attributes of becoming a colossal among the international maritime countries.
But, presently, the country is still battling with the issue of security on its water ways, making Nigeria one of the most dangerous maritime zones whose waters are clustered with kidnappers and sea robbers, leading to surcharges and high insurance premiums in the Gulf of Guinea.
Stakeholders have said that despite some achievements, the country has not made any tangible progress in 61 years because of lack of focus and poor policies, which have, over the years, slowed development and growth among the comity of maritime countries.
They explained that there had been policy inconsistencies, maladministration, insecurity, government neglect, pillage, managerial incompetence and corruption in the industry.
According to the Managing Director of Oktopo Logistics, Mr Samuel Elem, the industry is blessed with economic prosperity more than any other country in the Gulf of Guinea.
He, however, explained that the country’s national fleet, Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL), was once the pride of the nation when the shipping company was competing with Malaysia and other international shipping lines.
Elem said that the liners and all the trained seamen adjudged one of the best seafarers in the world have disappeared, while the country’s cargoes were being freighted by foreign ships.
He noted: “The NNSL with about 20 vessels has been liquidated since 1995 with all the vessels gone. The entire country is facing the consequence in the hands of foreigners, who have taken over the coastal trade reserved for the locals through the Cabotage law.”
Also lamenting, the Managing Director of Sceptre Consult, Jayeola Ogamode, said that over 70 per cent of Nigerian cargoes clearing at the nation’s seaports had been snatched by European, Indian and Lebanese firms, because of bad government policies.
According to him, foreigners have taken over almost all the processing of cargo clearance at the ports, leaving their Nigerian counterparts idle, as they lack the capacity to team up and form a big logistics company to access clearing of multi-million naira project cargoes. Besides, he said that the neigbouring ports were living off Nigerian ports because of lack of focus.
Ogamode said that Nigeria was once a transit point for cargoes meant for landlocked African countries like Chad and Niger before it lost its status to Togo, Benin and Ghana 15 years ago.
He stressed that while some clearing agents were busy chasing peanuts, their foreign counterparts took over the juicy project cargo jobs. Ogamode explained: “Over six decade after Nigeria’s independence, this is not good for the country.
The maritime industry has economic potential to employ over five million youths in its sub-sectors such as shipping, logistics, wharfage, ship brokerage, marine engineering, stevedoring, ship chandling, fishing, maritime transportation, naval engineering and shipbuilding, under water engineering, dry docking, seafaring, diving, marine insurance among others. All these are in the hand of foreigners.
“Also, Nigerian ports have been ranked one of the highest in costs of operation in the world. The high port costs are attributed to multiple documentations in the absence of a single window platform, multiplicity of port agencies, cargo theft and fraud, poor infrastructure and poor implementation of enabling legislations. All these have not helped in maximising the potentials of the industry for over six decades.”
Also, a former National President of Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Olayiwola Shittu, lamented that some of the foreign companies doing clearing and freight forwarding in the country were licensed by Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) despite the public outcry.
He explained that Nigerians in the clearing profession had become jobless, having lost their jobs to foreigners.
According to him, a situation where foreigners had access to the nation’s seaports was not good for the country’s security. A former Executive Secretary of Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Hassan Bello, lamented that foreigners were still dictating to Nigeria in the industry.
According to him, “what we have now is a sector dominated by foreign ships and they dictate to us, yet we own the cargoes. “To correct this anomaly, we should have the ships. No matter how wide or long our coastline is, no matter how long our inland water is and how our ports are, if we do not have the ships, then we cannot pretend to be a maritime nation.”
Notwithstanding all the challenges, the Chairman, Port Consultative Council of Nigeria, Otunba Kunle Folarin, said that the country was potentially a great country in terms of industries and commercial demands, saying that the national shipping line was to take part in the freighting of cargo in and out of Nigeria, both import and export.
Unfortunately, he said that ever since the national shipping line collapsed, the country had not got indigenous shipping company, adding that in terms of shipping development, the industry had not gone far.
However, Folarin noted that in terms of port development, the industry had developed because Nigeria probably had only Apapa port at independence and a few activities in Port Harcourt. He noted: “Afterwards, Nigeria has developed several new seaports like in Warri, Calabar, Tin-Can and extended the Lagos, Apapa port.”
Also, a master mariner and a former President of Nigerian Association of Master Mariners (NAMM), Captain Adewale Isola, explained that the country had made a lot of progress in the last 61 years.
He said: “We are not where we were in 1960. Nigeria has been proud to have 24 ships in all. It was a thing of pride even though we don’t have them today. It is part of our history that we once owned 24 ships on international trade.
“Nigeria has been able to train mariners to the highest level and they are still useful to the maritime and oil and gas industry.
Also, we have established an academy which we didn’t have as at independence which is the Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN) and Nigerian Maritime University (NMU).”
No serious maritime country, which allows foreigners to dominate and determine its carriage and freight terms, can grow.
Therefore, it has become imperative for government to review its policies and pursue programmers that will make the maritime industry attractive to local and foreign investors.