Last week, Nigeria clocked 49 years as a sovereign nation, having been granted independence by imperial Britain on October 1, 1960.
Coincidentally, last week, we also appraised Nigeria as a member of the global International Maritime Organisation (IMO). Our verdict was that whereas the global body has discharged its duties commendably, the same can not be said of Nigeria’s apex maritime regulatory agency, that is, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).
We had hinged our conviction on the myriads of challenges that are facing the industry, especially in the areas of capacity building, indigenous fleet expansion and several others.
It is not surprising that a week after that we are again doing an appraisal of the maritime sector albeit on a larger scale and incorporating all sub sectors of the industry.
Naturally, Nigeria, being a 49 years old sovereign nation must also have a maritime sector that is of equal age. Apart from the Nigeria Customs Service and the Nigerian Ports Authourity (NPA) which existence predate 1960, virtually all the present-day maritime and allied sector agencies were created post- independence.
At independent, the-then leaders of Nigeria probably dreamt of a vibrant maritime sector, no wonder concerted efforts were made to put the first generation agencies on a sound footing.
The efficiency with which the ‘first generation’ agencies functioned is a confirmation of the fact that their creation was not a mere formality but drawn from a genuine desire to engender a sustainable state owned enterprise.
But, that is how far the sweet story can go. What has become of these institutions? While some have been ‘killed’ by subsequent governments, others have been caught in the web of unstable government policies.
While it is true that Nigeria (at independence in 1960) only had about two maritime- and related agencies, namely: the Nigerian Ports Authourity (NPA) and the Nigeria Customs Service. Agencies like the Nigerian National Shipping Line, National Clearing and Forwarding Agency, Nigerdock and of course the Nigerian Unity Line are all gone. A few others, like the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, the then- National Maritime Authourity which has now transmuted into the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (courtesy of the merger with the Joint Maritime Labour Industrial Council) and the National Inland Waterways Authourity) are lucky to still remain afloat.
Given the potentials of Nigeria and its natural coast line, and backed with a good national shipping policy and adequate implementation of relevant legislations, Nigeria should be rubbing shoulders with nations like Malaysia and even Philippines, among other nations with which the journey to becoming a strong maritime nation started about the same time.
No doubt, Nigeria has grown from what it was on October 1, 1960 to what she is today. So also have the challenges grown. In 1960, our ‘maritime worry’ (just like in other spheres of the nation) was not the mass of unemployed but trained youths dotting the maritime landscape. We did not have to worry about how the nation’s imports were being freighted into the country, neither were our leaders disturbed about other inequalities. Nigeria was simply too happy to be counted among independent nations with its own Customs Service and Port Authourity
With development came the challenges of running these institutions to meet the growing needs of the nation and her people.
Some people have argued that the 1995 decision to liquidate the NNSL was the best; given the failure of its managers and the abuse that the national carrier was subjected to by government officials and of course officialdom.
A lot of maritime industry stakeholders are reluctant to agree that the failure of NNSL should be blamed for the mass of unemployment plaguing the nation’s maritime sector today. But we ask: where are the national lines of sister nations like Ghana, Gambia, Cote d’ Ivoire and a host of African nations which at independence in the 1960s floated same for national pride.
If government had not liquidated NNSL in 1995, it would have been privatised the same way that Nigerdock which was doing extremely well was sold under questionable circumstances.
As much as we join others to lament the decay, failure of the maritime sector to meet the yearnings of Nigerians, (especially since the late 1980s) we dare say that it is also an extension of the failure of the Nigerian nation to meet the aspirations of her teeming youths.
The greatest opportunity for a better maritime sector is provided in the policy of private sector participation; a policy which has so far seen the nation’s seaports being transformed and being more efficiently operated.
We are however perturbed that the federal government is still tinkering with the idea of floating another national carrier. This is curiously against the policy of privatisation which government as jealously forced down the throat f Nigerians. We are I support of bringing in the private sector into provision of support for enhancement of indigenous fleet.
After appraising the concept of government- private sector collaboration, we want to submit that the solution to Nigeria attaining her rightful position in the comity of maritime nations rests in government intensifying its current efforts at load-shedding its involvement in the running of the maritime sector.
The involvement should be limited to the level of what NIMASA is currently engaged in, while we await the birth of the National Transport Commission.