2017: What a year!

If anyone was asked about the maritime industry in 2017, it is most probable that he/she will devote ample time to the traffic challenges which characterised the year.

Outside of traffic, 2107 may not be significantly different from the previous years, not because there was no traffic problem in the previous years, but because it got to a head in 2017.

We had written about this time last year, that if there was any year that the Nigerian maritime sector stakeholders wouldn’t forget in a hurry, it was 2016. How wrong we were. The outgoing year 2017 is tough for maritime industry stakeholders. May be the previous years were even better!

While not much changed between 2014, 2015 and 2016, a lot happened in 2017. In 2017, did the traffic situation into and out of the port city of Apapa change, the answer is No, it actually got worse. Did indigenous ship owners stop worrying about the failure of Cabotage, the answer is still No. Did licensed customs agents stop their complaints against the Nigeria Customs Service and terminal operators, it is No. The industry issues remained the same. 

As a maritime media organisation, we knew right from the beginning of the year that certain things wouldn’t change and we weren’t disappointed. For instance, the plight of the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) did not change. It entered into 2016 without a governing council, and there is nothing to indicate that this status would change before December 31, 2017. Notwithstanding the various attempts to revive it by reintroducing the controversial Practitioners Operations Fees, there is nothing that changed in the life of the cash-strapped institution. Not even the intervention of the Minister of Transport changed anything!

We have the advantage of seeing the Nigerian maritime sector from all fronts; from ‘the good, the bad and the ugly sides’, sufficiently enough to say that 2017 is not in any way better than the ones before it. Many surprises; many upsets! 

Whether 2017 is better than the previous years or not is not a matter of debate.  It does not matter where you stand, the indices are sufficient enough to convince all that it is indeed a tougher year for the maritime industry. In 2017, fiscal policies of the Federal Government killed shipping and port activities. Ship traffic and cargo throughput dropped by as much as 50 per cent.  The drop is traceable to the policies on importation of some items and the removal of about 41 items from the list of items for which importers can access forex from the official forex market. The situation is worsened by the forex policy of the government which shrank the purchasing power of Nigerian importer, be they manufacturers, or big or small-time importers. 

We have lost count of how many times we have written about the state of the two approaches to Lagos ports, we have lost count of how many feeble efforts have been made to direct attention to the failed access into Lagos ports.

Yes, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo flew over Apapa in a chopper, thereafter called a meeting of some strategic stakeholders, promises were made. But after the meeting and the promises, there is nothing to indicate that the Vice President succeeded in getting the buy-in of the critical stakeholders, some of who promised to take up repair of some of the failed portions of these roads.

And so, 2017 ends without a solution to the Apapa roads and traffic; a problem that has been with us for more than six years.

Apart from issues like CRFFN and the approaches to Apapa that have proven too hard a nut to crack, we had hoped that the mistakes of previous years would be corrected, we had many positive hopes. 

Sadly, some of the issues that ushered us into 2017 are still with us and are going to herald us into 2018. One of them is the non-passage of the all-important Port and Harbour Bill. Just like we said last year, we blame industry stakeholders for their loss of attention on the Port and Harbour Bill, even as we condemn both the National Assembly and the Federal Ministry of Transportation for the delay. If industry players had risen up to the challenge of forming a formidable lobby group, may be the Bill would have been passed even before now.

Going by records of previous years, we had hoped that piracy and sea robbery would reduce in 2017, but they didn’t.  Nigeria still rank tops in the Gulf of Guinea and enjoys an unenviable position on the global piracy rating scale. As we look into year 2018, it is our hope that, the Federal Government will right the wrongs of 2017.

How can one reminiscence about 2017 without a thought of our failure at the elections in the Council of the IMO. Yes, we lost, not because we didn’t have the right to aspire, but because we weren’t qualified enough to win. 

For us at First Mediacon Network Limited (owners of Shipping Position Daily newspaper) and Shipping Position Live on Star FM, we have had a very exciting year, even in the face of all the challenges. It is the year that Shipping Position Daily turned 10, having started as a weekly.

Finally, we thank our advertisers and all those who diligently read and also patronize us all through the year. We pray that you all have a merry Christmas celebrations and a 2018 that will be better than the years before it. Amen 

We pray that you all have a merry Christmas as we look forward to a very prosperous 2018