The Nigerian Cabotage Act was passed by the National Assembly in April 2003 and was assented to by the then-President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo shortly after.
By this assent, Nigeria became one of the 50 nations (or there about) which are already practicing Cabotage; a protectionist cum nationalistic intervention in aid of indigenous players in the domestic maritime affairs of such nations. Top among such nations are the United States of America (with her popular Jones Act which Nigeria took copied), Canada, Brazil and Malaysia, among others.
Undoubtedly, the essence of the Nigerian Cabotage Act is to take advantage of the fact that the nation’s oil and gas sector constitutes more than 90 per cent of commercial coastal and inland shipping and ensure that Nigerian players participate more appreciably in the afreightment of petroleum products within the nation’s almost 1,000 kilometre coastline and almost 10,000 kilometre inland waterways.
In essence, if its provisions had been well implemented, the Cabotage Act would have engendered job creation, increase in indigenous fleet, a boost in maritime infrastructure development (including ship building and repair capabilities), enhancement of national security, and a leap in national Gross Domestic Product GDP and ultimately boost government revenues.
In line with the provisions of the Act and in response to the yearnings of indigenous ship owners and other stakeholders, a review committee was inaugurated at the beginning of the second quarter of 2008.
By October 2, 2009, it will be exactly 18 months since the then-minister of transportation (water); Prince Okechukwu Emeka inaugurated an 18-member committee to review the Cabotage Act of 2003. The committee which drew its membership from stakeholders was headed by former chairman of the Senate committee on marine transport between 2003 and 2007, Senator Ugochukwu Uba.
The committee was given a wide scope to cover, including: identification of all the vessels operating in the Coastal and Inland Water Trade by ownership and the date of involvement in the trade, examining the modalities for grant of waivers and evaluating all waivers granted so far and raising justification for each waiver as well as usefulness or otherwise of continued retention of the provisions for waiver under the Cabotage regime, evaluating the institutional machinery for overall implementation of the various provisions of the Act and recommend as appropriate and evaluating the gains of the Cabotage regime to the Nigerian economy since inception and highlight any draw back in the implementation process.
It is on record that the committee undertook facility tour of at least five critical, Cabotage-sensitive organisations including dry docking and ship repair yards and also visited United States of America and Malaysia. This is in addition to hosting a stakeholders’ interactive session in Lagos.
There is no doubt that the committee did a very thorough job and even went ahead to suggest ways of reversing the obvious trend of failures that has been the lot of the law since its enactment, presidential assent and implementation.
The fantastic report was submitted to the former minister shortly before he was removed from office, but, sadly, the well thought – out report has been abandoned to gather dust probably in the office of the incumbent minister of transport, Alhaji Ibrahim Bio or in the office of one senior civil servant who, even though, works in the transport ministry, does not quite appreciate the harm he is causing by holding on to it. For whatever it is worth, the report should not be left unattended to. It behoves on the minister to justify the huge public funds which were expended on the review by, at least taking a look at the recommendations.
Good enough, the highly-respected committee categorised the recommendations into two: namely those that require simple administrative action and the ones that require legal action.
Good enough again, out of the 19 recommendations, only six requires legislative by the National Assembly while the remaining 13 require administrative (albeit, ministerial) action.
The minister does not require more than giving the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) the matching orders to commence immediate implementation of those recommendations that can be handled administratively.
Even, the recommendations that border on the intervention of the National Assembly also require substantial start-up inputs from the minister and the sooner he does something about the report the better for him and his tenure. The minister ought not to be reminded that the panacea for the near-comatose Nigerian shipping sector is a vibrant and well implemented Cabotage Act.
It is bad enough that the report roundly indicted NIMASA for its far below average implementation of the Act, it will be worse if the minister insists on filing the report away.