By Foster Obi
While stakeholders applauded the step taken by the Minister of Marine and Blue Economy, Adegboyega Oyetola to meet with industry players today in Lagos to brainstorm on how to move the sector forward, some of them expressed skepticism on the repeated plans by the government to refloat the National Shipping Line (NNSL), which is making the government sound like a broken record.
However, while there are some skeptics, most of the stakeholders believe that it is too early in the day to write off the Minister’s plan to re-re-establish the national carrier as even the former Transport Minister, Chibuike Amaechi who set up the Fleet Implementation Committee for this purpose had reasons while the proposed shipping line did not see the light of the day after wasting money on planning and logistics.
Those who spoke in anonymity to avoid being seen as enemies of the government preferred to adopt a wait-and-see attitude to see how far the new Minister would go.
While addressing stakeholders, Oyetola among other things alerted on the plan by the federal government to consider the re-establishment of a National Shipping Line, through a strategic PPP arrangement, “borne out of our desire to capture a substantial share of the estimated $10 billion annual ship charter market within the country.
“Let me hasten to say that this initiative will not seek to impede the growth of local players but rather to provide an avenue for them to create and extract more value from the sector, especially through ship construction, maintenance, and repairs.
“ This would enable our local businesses to better leverage the Carbotage Act, which gives Nigerians the exclusive right to control locally generated seaborne trade,” he noted.
The Minister explained that the “Stakeholder Roundtable Engagement on Advancing Sustainable Development in Nigeria’s Marine and Blue Economy Sector”, was convened to bring together players in the sector to discuss and chart a roadmap/direction that will advance the industry’s potential, promote sustainable Blue Economy investments and ensure global competitiveness within the sector.”
He noted that “the engagement forum is crucial to the development of the sector as it offers an opportunity for us all to collectively contribute our perspectives, and ideas and offer relevant inputs that can propel the sector to the trajectory of success necessary to support the development of the economy as well as meet the expectations of Mr. President who took the courage to open up Nigeria to focus on the Blue Economy Value Chain.
“The zeal for a better life for Nigerians propelled President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to recently unveil 8 Presidential Priorities to address critical national challenges. These priorities are to be delivered through 8 focus areas, namely: economic growth, food security, energy and natural resources, infrastructure development, security, healthcare, education, improved governance, and job creation”, the Minister declared.
Nigeria’s national carrier called the ”NNSL” established in the late 1970s was run aground.
In its place was a successor called the “National Unity Line which also did not survive.
Recall that former Minister of Transportation, Hon Chibuike Amaechi had blamed stakeholders in the maritime sector for the country’s inability to own a national shipping line.
Amaechi said unless Nigerians provide 60 percent of the investment as required by law, establishing a national shipping line would not be realizable.
He said that the law requires that 60 percent of the funding be provided by Nigerians while the remaining 40 percent be contributed by foreigners, adding that the plan has become practically impossible due to the unwillingness of major players in the maritime industry to raise such amount.
Amaechi said though a foreign firm had assured of providing 100 percent of the money required for setting up the shipping line, he would not grant such approval, as doing so would amount to flouting the law.
According to him, “For not having a national shipping line, some stakeholders in the maritime sector think that I may not have done well. The law setting up a national shipping line says that Nigerians would provide 60 percent of the investment and foreigners would provide 40 percent.
“So, I went to Singapore, and got a company that accepted to bring the 40 percent but unfortunately, till today, no Nigerian has been able to provide the remaining 60 percent. The company had said to me that they would bring all the 100% and hire some Nigerians as stakeholders, but I disagreed because that would amount to breaking the law.
“There is also a company in Dubai that said they would set up the national shipping line by providing the 100 percent but I have told them that the law only allows them (foreigners) to provide 40 percent.
“Unless we amend the law to enable us to allow foreigners to own 60 percent of the investment and employ Nigerians, but as the law is today, there is no way a foreigner can have 100 percent. As a minister, my job is not to bring the money but to create an enabling environment for business to thrive”, Amaechi explained.
It is believed, that the Minister of Marine and Blue Economy will go a step further to see to the rebirth of the national carrier.
Picture: Collapsed NNSL training ship