Key stakeholders in a focus group meeting convened by the Nigerian Chamber of Shipping on Wednesday in Lagos, have agreed that the shipping sub-sector needs an expanded policy framework to guide the sector on a defined path of growth.
Themed ‘Nigeria Shipping Sector: A Catalyst for Maritime Economic Growth,’ a panel of discussants chaired by Dr. Olisa Agbakoba, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, and an expert in maritime matters, in various contributions, noted the need for the government to first accord the maritime industry its due recognition for providing economic sustainability.
The panel comprised of Dr. Chris Asoluka, a former Chairman of the Oil and Gas Free Zone, Mrs Mfon Usoro, a former Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, and Mr. Taofeek Adegbite, the CEO of Marine Platform, a top maritime industry player in Nigeria.
In her contribution, Mrs. Usoro said it was sad that the government did not recognise the shipping sub-sector as one of the key economic sectors for Vision 2020 as there was no working group set or agency identified to direct and effect a shipping policy.
She said: “We are not doing sufficient work to boost the shipping sector. Policy-wise, shipping does not have a mention as a key economic sector. Working groups focused on areas identified, leaving out shipping. But, all other areas mentioned as key sectors, depends on shipping. So, we have to ensure that error is corrected.”
Part of Mrs. Usoro’s contribution, as identified in the summary, was called for an efficient sector-specific approach in policy development and implementation in the maritime sector, and need for integration of sectors in transport, road infrastructure, rail for shipping policy development.
She also spoke on the importance of Nigeria deciding on an area and developing such area to become a global leader, be it in manpower development for seafaring, shipping, ship finance and law, insurance, shipyard, research and development amongst others.
On his part, Mr. Adegbite spoke on the importance of the private sector and having good corporate governance.
He upheld the importance of regulatory compliance and international best practices. because shipping is a global business, and need to deal with negative perception.
According to him, the private sector should drive development in shipping, so that the government can work in that direction.
Adegbite also called attention to the challenge of huge taxes by the Nigeria Customs Service on ship acquired by Nigerians, while foreign ship owners work at an advantage bringing in ships on a temporary basis and paying next to nothing compared to the indigenous operators.
Contributions by Dr. Asoluka acknowledged that the shipping target of the colonial administration of Nigeria promoted British shipping interest, and called attention for Nigeria to begin to make the cabotage work for the promotion of indigenous shipping as was aimed to.
His contributions also highlighted the fact that Nigeria’s coastal trade still suffers foreign dominance even after years attempt to have the cabotage create a market for indigenous shipping.
However, he pointed to the importance of differentiating between policy as a roadmap and laws for implementing and enforcing that policy direction.
At the end of the discussions, the gathering resolved among other points action for comprehensive shipping policy implementation for Nigeria, and for a focus on an area of comparative advantage, than politicising steps for workable action.
They called for a focus on efficient and sustainable training for seafarers to cover manpower development for industry needs for a short term, medium and long terms.
Other resolutions were that there should be timeline strategy, like every five years, that recognises ship development life-cycle, operations, building, maintenance, financing.
President of the Chamber of Shipping, Mr. Andy Isichei, said that as an advocacy group, the chamber had started on a notable path of engaging the stakeholders that matter for decisive discussions.
He said the strategy would ensure that issues pertaining to the growth and development of the sector are addressed and actions are taken.