Nigeria has been a member of the global maritime body; the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) for decades.
In 2007, she made her first successful move to sit on in Category ‘C’ of the IMO Council. While seeking election in 2007, Nigeria had tough challenges from virtually all countries in West Africa. It was at the peak of the lobby that Nigeria struck a deal with Ghana.
In 2011, that is exactly four years after securing the seat and after serving two terms, Nigeria failed to secure re-election into the council. Since then, Nigeria has no sought t be reelected into the Council, until this year.
Nigeria’s highest level of recognition in the IMO is her retention on the White List, a certification that she is in compliance with the Standard of Training, Certification and Watch-keeping (STCW) ’95.
By implication certificates issued to mariners by Nigeria are acceptable globally.
However, countries are not obligated to accept certificates and endorsements from White List countries and may choose to look beyond merchant mariner’s certificates and directly assess mariners’ competence.
The fact that a country is not on the White List does not invalidate its certificates or endorsements as STCW certificates and endorsements from such countries remain valid.
However, Port State Control is not likely to accept these documents at face value as they may detain vessels until ship owners can establish by other means that each crewmember is in compliance with STCW 95.
What this means invariably is that the fact that Nigeria is on the White List does not guarantee global acceptance for her seafarers.It is exactly six years since Nigeria lost the bid to get back on the Council, and last week, she lost her bid again.
Unknown to many, Nigeria lost her bid for a third consecutive term in 2011, because we reneged on an earlier agreement that was reached with Ghana which not only supported her in 2007, but also rallied other nations to support.
A little recall may be appropriate at this point. While seeking election in 2007, Nigeria had tough challenges from virtually all countries in West Africa. It was at the peak of the lobby that Nigeria struck a deal with Ghana.
The then-Director General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA);Dr Ade Dosumu gave an insight into why we lost in 2011. “We have an agreement with Ghana. I was the chairman of the technical committee on Nigeria’s re-election and I led the delegation to Ghana. Our agreement with Ghana is that Nigeria would go to category C and spend four years and move to B, because Ghana says they will only step down for Nigeria for two terms after which they want to come to C and expect Nigeria to move to ‘B’ and support Ghana. These are major issues in international politics. Four years is enough for us to bring our safety administration to a higher level that will be acceptable internationally”.
This newspaper was also on the delegation that visited a few countries at that time when it appeared like the Category ‘C” seat was all that Nigeria needed to join the big league of maritime nations.
In our desperation to clinch the IMO seat, our delegation promised exactly what Dr Dosumu stated above, and just two years after, Nigeria reneged on the agreement she had with Ghana, which many West African countries were aware of.
Unknown to many, we didn’t lose because we were not qualified to be in the Council, our loss was not because we didn’t campaign well. We were qualified and we campaigned well, we even hosted Ambassadors to a dinner, we did all that we should.
Nigeria lost to politics; we lost because we became ‘greedy’ and assumed that we must grab all; we also lost because of unfulfilled promises, we lost because we did not qualify to be called a maritime nation going by simple parameters such as capacity building, maritime trade, maritime safety and security, among others.
Nigeria is seen by other nations as wanting to grab all and be the leader of all groups. This sounds true, because currently Nigeria (NIMASA) is the Chair of Association of African Maritime Administrations (AAMA), this is apart from the headship of a few other groups in Africa, including that of ship owners.
The fact that Nigeria lost to Liberia, Kenya, South Africa, Egypt and Morocco is instructive. These are nations that are also as prominent (if not more prominent) in maritime trade as Nigeria. Among these nations, Liberia, Kenya, South Africa and Egypt have always contended with Nigeria. We recall that, Nigeria lost the bid in 2011 because Liberia outrightly worked against her.
Truth be told; perhaps, with the exception of Morocco all the African countries that defeated Nigeria are better maritime nations than Nigeria. After all, it is to these countries that our youths run to for training and certification as seafarers under the National Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP).
While not too concerned about how much Nigeria committed to the latest failed adventure, what should be of concern to Nigeria as a nation that is blessed with abundant maritime and struggling maritime nation with potentials is what we would have gained if we won.
The question to ask is: Did we effectively use the two terms we served in the Council to advance the cause of Nigerian maritime industry stakeholders; especially, seafarers and ship owners.
Sadly, the answer is No. As it was prior to 2007, indigenous ownership of ships still remains a tall dream, while provision of shipping services is nothing to write home about. Added to this is the reality of sea robbery and piracy.
Nigeria has really not done much with its previous membership of the IMO council, so much so that we can say that in all parameters, Nigerian stakeholders have not fared better that they were in 2007.
In 2007, Jamaica struggled to get elected into the Council; in 2017 she retained her membership.
May be we should take a cue from Jamaica; a member of Category ‘C’, which shortly after her re-election in 2007, said she would use the opportunity to “enhance her capacity and that of the Region to which she belong to contribute to major policy decisions, rule-making and the development of standards including representing the maritime interests of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) in order to implement port, coastal and flag State obligations.
In 2007, Jamaica said, “Re-election to the IMO Council is critical for Jamaica at this time. Our country has evolved as a credible maritime State with port, flag and coastal State standards at the international level and is currently establishing itself as a global Shipping and Logistics Hub.”
Can Nigeria say that her previous four years were well-utilised, can she say that her membership of the IMO has drawn benefits to the country.
As elitist and status-boosting as the membership of the IMO Council is, are there no better things that ought to pre-occupy NIMASA and Nigeria?
We don’t think that Nigeria needs to be in the Council of the IMO to make her waters safe for navigation; certainly she doesn’t need it to also ensure that indigenous ship owners enjoy a better deal. What about thousands of jobless cadets that have been produced through the NSDP and from the two maritime academies in Akwa Ibom and Lagos. The list of what NIMASA should prioritize is not that long, but only requires a lot more determination and political will to make the difference.
If in another two years or four, Nigeria has been able to get over some of her identified problems, then we will can boldly campaign the way Jamaica did in 2007 and in 2017.