There is a growing call from stakeholders in the maritime industry for the establishment of a dedicated ministry for the sector. They believe this move would allow the government to prioritise the blue economy and give it the attention it deserves, ANOZIE EGOLE writes

during the period from 2015 to 2023, the maritime sector made immense progress, in the opinion of the past President Muhammedu Buhari’s administration. Among its achievements, the establishment of Lekki Deep Seaport, the procurement of scanners for clearing cargoes, the approval of more deep seaports, and the construction of inland dry ports stand out.

Although maritime stakeholders have acknowledged the achievements of the Buhari administration, they believe that creating a separate ministry for the sector out of the current Ministry of Transportation could significantly expedite its development under the leadership of President Bola Tinubu. According to them, this measure would give the government the opportunity to focus its attention on the sector, resulting in an increased contribution to the country’s economy.

What experts expect

The Acting National President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents, Kayode Farinto, opined that the first thing the new administration should focus on is the splitting of the Ministry of Transportation and making the maritime industry stand alone.

Farinto added that more attention should be paid to the blue economy project introduced by the Dr Bahsir Jamoh-led administration of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency.

This project, according to Jamoh, would enable the country to tap into the huge potential of the sea.

“We need to split the Ministry of Transportation to get the Ministry of Maritime, which can serve as a source of revenue for the Federal Government. The government needs to create a ministry that would focus on maritime affairs, which will serve as a link between the agents, freight forwarders, and the presidency.

“The Presidency must speak more on the blue economy. If it is creating a Ministry of Maritime, it should be able to lay more emphasis on the blue economy, thereby reducing sulfur in most of the bunkers and vessels that are coming in. The Federal Government must also lay much emphasis on the issue of indigenous shipowners.

“That money we call Cabotage Vessels Financing Funds, which is laying somewhere, should be given to various indigenous shipowners, who are ready to procure ships and start commercial shipping. Going forward, the Cabotage Act should be implemented to its letter. When vessels are coming to our waterways it is not supposed to come with a foreign flag, but NIMASA is not hammering on that. There are lots of expectations. We also want Customs Excise Management Act to be implemented where a proper customs officer would be given the Controller General of the Nigeria Customs Service.”

Meanwhile, in his view, the Vice President of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, Nnadi Ugochukwu, reiterated the need for the Tinubu administration to tackle the issue of power.

Nnadi said it was disheartening that terminal operators had to depend on generators to run the terminal operations, adding that it would lead to an increase in the cost of doing business at the ports.

“The new government should concentrate on the economy. And going into the economy, you see all the basic driving machines of any economy. They should look into it. All the terminal operators depend on the generator to be able to work for 24 hours, which is negatively impacting on the cost of doing business. If there is regular power supply to the terminal operators that they do not have to depend on generators to be able to do their work, it will reduce the cost,” he argued.

The freight forwarder noted that the Nigeria Customs Service has to rethink the ways it implements some of its laws because they have been detrimental to the economy.

“The Customs have been on the aggressive side since Ali took over. Many Customs laws were made for the benefit of the economy but unfortunately, the implementation is always affecting the economy. For instance, let us look at the policy on overtime cargoes.

“The law says that if your goods are not taken away from the ports within 28 days from the date of arrival, it becomes overtime. The law did not say that it does not belong to you again, but unfortunately, after 28 days if you want to take delivery of these consignments, the Customs will refuse. It will frustrate you, tossing you from one place to another, and you have to pay through your nose,” he argued.

He said that Customs deliberately frustrates agents when they want to clear overtime cargoes.

“Sometimes they will ask you to go to Abuja before you can clear it. I believe that this may be because the man at the helm of affairs knows little or nothing about Customs formalities. The abandoned goods law is to give Customs the power so that if they want to auction confiscated goods, they will auction it without liabilities. It did not say the owner is no longer the owner. But unfortunately, the way it is being implemented is wrong.

“Sometimes, manifests are received even weeks before the arrival of the vessel. It means that before the arrival of the vessels even after 14 days, it has become over time; you cannot clear it again,” he noted.

According to Nnadi, even the Vehicle Identification Number for clearing of imported vehicles which everyone lauded, the implementation is wrong.

“The way Customs are implementing it seemed they are not happy with the Vehicle Identification Number for valuation of imported vehicles. So, the new administration needs to look at these entire things one after the other to make sure that the maritime industry moves forward. I believe by the time they look at them, they will impact positively on our operations,” he declared.

Also speaking, a freight forwarder, Chidi Opara, said, “I would expect the new President to adopt the technical committee approach in the maritime sector and its sub-sectors.

“This entails inaugurating a committee of experts and charging them with finding and advising on the best ways to implement formulated policies. The technical committee would be under the supervision and direction of the Minister of Transportation. The technical committee, whose functions would be advisory, would also serve as a pool of consultants for the administration in the maritime sector and in its sub-sectors.”

The former Minister of Transportation, Mu’azu Sambo, also stressed the need for the creation of the Ministry of Maritime Affairs to enable the country realise the huge potential in the sector.

Sambo while speaking at a program in Lagos recently said the nation’s maritime industry is big enough to guarantee economic prosperity for the nation.

“Indeed, I agree that there should be and there must be a separate ministry of maritime affairs. This is because Nigeria has no business depending on oil.”

Also speaking, the National President of the Nigerian Association of Master Mariners, Captain Tajudeen Alao, said the new President had already requested for maritime agenda from practitioners.

He advised President Tinubu to ensure that a technocrat heads the Ministry of Maritime.

“Some of us would like him to pay attention to the maritime. We would like him to create a special ministry for the maritime sector. We would like him to have a special adviser on maritime and the minister also to have a special adviser on maritime. We would like the maritime industry to be headed by technocrats, not politicians because their attention is towards a political goal, where they will carry their activities from the water to the desert,” he asserted.

 Alao advised the new government to pay attention to water, which according to him, is where the country’s strength lies.

He added that a state of emergency should be declared on the ports access roads.

“We want his attention to be where our strength is, which is water and the positive things that go with it. For instance, access roads to the ports are where we believe should be a declaration of emergency and it should last for one year. We have been having trouble with the access road for years. For years, Tincan and Apapa roads have been inaccessible. If they can repair the Apapa road from the marine bridge towards GRA for small cars and SUVs, it will save man-hours for the people to come in and out of Apapa at least to get into Ajegunle,” he explained.

According to him, having separate roads for small cars, SUVs and trailers will help tackle the gridlock that has characterised the port roads.

“Having trailers, tankers and small vehicles use the same road is bad. The load is too much for the road, which is why you see the Ijora part always sinking. See what is happening towards Ijora Olopa, the traffic coming towards Barracks. They should construct access roads not only in Apapa but other parts of the country like Port-Harcourt, Onne, and others. It is an area that if we have a minister of maritime it could be concluded within six months,” he submitted.

Maritime stakeholders have unanimously agreed that it is essential to establish an exclusive ministry for the maritime sector, detached from the Ministry of Transport.

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