By Foster Obi
Although Adegboyega Isiaka Oyetola, the Minister of Marine and Blue Economy may have the grace of initial endowment as the cousin to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, he also has the burden to prove to critics that his appointment was not purely on cronyism but competence.
Some people from Osun State still insist that he did not win the election in Osun State in 2018 but that the election was influenced by President Tinubu who was APC national leader with a lot of clout in the South West. They also maintain that he lost the election in 2022 to his PDP counterpart for nonperformance. Whether this opinion expressed by his detractors is true is debatable.
Oyetola’s star however shone again, when he was appointed minister of transportation by President Bola Tinubu on 16 August 2023. Four days later, he was redeployed to the lucrative but newly created Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy, giving him a good pedestal to prove himself.
The creation of the Ministry elicited great excitement from Maritime stakeholders who called for the injection of more experts in its management to meet its targets.
Whether stakeholders were excited about the appointment of Oyetola is another matter for conjecture.
Chairman, of Benin River Port, Greg Ogbeifun, called on the managers of the new ministry to be willing to listen to advice and make the right decisions.
He however said, “They have not started well. We wish industry practitioners were brought into the top leadership to head the place, but again we are grateful that the administration of President Bola Tinubu has set up that ministry. They have appointed the people they want to appoint, but I hope they are ready to understand the sector and make decisions on that. We all have to try and help them but after that first appointment, in the immediate layers, the people there should be professionals.”
Launching into the terrain, the ministry organized stakeholder engagement and roundtable to chart the roadmap going forward. Although the discussions held in Abuja and Lagos were well attended, some stakeholders believed that certain promises made at the event by the Minister were more of kite-flying to buy the people over than believable policy statements.
For instance, the Minister said, that the government was projecting to earn over $10 billion annually from the National Shipping Line which he promised to re-float
He also said that the ministry is pursuing its goal of generating 20 billion dollars annually.
Oyetola also said that his ministry was working toward creating two million jobs every year through strategic development within the sector.
The shipping line had gone moribund over the years. While his predecessors tried to reestablish it, they ended up making frivolous trips, frittering the country’s scarce resources in the name of seeking partners that never were. In the end, it was all a story to the enthusiastic but bamboozled stakeholders.
Looking at the indices on the ground, most stakeholders believe that the Minister is playing to the gallery by taking that route and would finish his term like his predecessors without the shipping line.
Oyetola also said that during his term the shipping line will also engender growth and further unleash the potential of the country’s marine sector.
He said the shipping line would operate on a public-private partnership (PPP) model to fashion out strategies and policies that will drive development in the maritime sector.
Other areas in which the Minister made policy statements are that the Marine and Blue Economy will develop infrastructure in lake, and coastal facing cities to attract tourists to waters, and generate revenue.
The Minister said that the Nigerian Ports Authority will soon commence the implementation of full automation and cargo tracking to promote ease of doing business across various ports in the country.
As regards port efficiency and achieving 24-hour cargo clearance, he said, “We must move quickly towards improving the navigability of our waters, increase the draughts of our ports, achieve 24-48 hours cargo clearance, and ensure adequate connectivity of our ports to the hinterlands, with efficient road and rail networks.”
To get his team together, Oyetola has held several retreats. In December he held a ministerial strategy retreat on the road map, strategic plan, and structure for the new ministry.
In attendance were policy experts, stakeholders, Heads of Agencies, Ministerial Aides, and essential Ministry staff. He has also secured performance bonds from heads of agencies under his Ministry as well as moved for changes in the headship of the Nigerian Shippers Council and NIWA.
Following the recent stakeholders’ meeting to address the Apapa Port gridlock and e-call-up system, the Minister set up a committee to review and fortify the E-call-up system. The move aims to curb current abuses and enhance overall efficiency in the Lagos port corridor.
He further expressed his commitment to strengthening the system, seeking input from stakeholders during the committee’s interactions with service providers and industry representatives.
Kayode Farinto, former acting National President, Association believes that the ministry can create employment for Nigeria’s teaming youths and also ensure the industry generates revenue for the Federal Government if the Minister is up and doing, adding that “the untapped resources underwater will be harnessed.”
He regretted that the Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy had not been harnessed, noting that their intention when they called for the creation of the ministry, was not known again.
He noted that with a proper blueprint, the government would address some of the challenges facing the sector.
According to Farinto, stakeholders have a lot of issues and challenges facing the maritime sector and the first is the issue of provision of forex for port operations.
“Others have to do with the call-up system at the port, which is failing now. “It is causing corruption and is leading to a hike in the cost of cargo clearance. We hope that the government will be decisive on it.
“The port access road in the western region is even better but the eastern region is deteriorating, very bad. And the government generates nothing less than N50 billion from it daily, and the government seems to be looking the other way,” he said.
He said that for Nigeria to strengthen the naira, it needed to address the issue of exportation, adding, “There is the need to encourage exporters to bring their cargo by rail.
“It will discourage a lot of things like extortion on the road, and various illegal taxes paid. It will improve the turnaround time for cargo. It takes time to bring cargo from the North to the port to be exported.
“If we have a cargo train, things can be done under two/three days and this can strengthen the naira and before we know it naira will be competing with dollars,” he said.
A Maritime expert, Isa Olalekan Elegbede of Brandenburg University of Technology, also believes that the Minister could write his name in gold if he rises to the occasion.
According to him, the blue economy is the sustainable use of ocean and coastal resources for economic growth. It integrates environmental, social, economic, and institutional objectives into the use of marine resources. It includes a wide range of sectors and resources related to oceans, seas, coasts, and waterways.
“The ocean economy supports 90% of global trade and provides millions of jobs. It includes shipping, tourism, and offshore energy valued at US$24 trillion.
“Marine fisheries and reefs, sea grass and mangroves are worth US$6.9 trillion; trade and transport US$5.2 trillion; and coastline productivity and carbon absorption US$12.1 trillion.
“Nigeria’s establishment of a Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy is a strategic move. I believe the ministry will tap the country’s rich marine resources as an element of the national economic framework.
“Nigeria’s coastline stretches for 420 nautical miles and covers an exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles. Its maritime interests span the Gulf of Guinea, covering roughly 574,800 square nautical miles with a 2,874 nautical mile coastline.
“Marine resources can be exploited to create jobs and transform Nigeria into a leader in sustainable marine activities. It will help diversify the country’s oil-based economy as well. Norway is an example of how this has been done successfully.
On the areas the Ministry should focus on, he said, “Nigeria hopes to generate over US$1.5 trillion annually from exploiting its marine resources. To achieve this, the ministry should do the following:
“Create an inclusive committee for effective collaboration among stakeholders and partners. The committee should include scientists, NGOs, youth, and traditional communities. Indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, and the relevant federal government agencies should not be left out. The committee should advance beyond the scope of the Expanded Committee on Sustainable Blue Economy in Nigeria inaugurated by former president Muhammadu Buhari.
“Integrate sustainability into policies and strategies. Policies should prioritize sustainable marine resource use. Strategies should focus on sustainable and ethical harvesting, trading, extraction, and tourism. Blue economy personnel, unemployed youths, and women should be trained. Improved programs would foster sustainable practices and raise the sector’s contribution to the country’s gross domestic product.
“Sustain investment in ports, transport systems, and storage facilities. The same should apply to research and technology. Aquaculture, offshore energy, and marine biotechnology should be advanced to increase efficiency and sustainability. Additionally, remote coastal communities should have access to resilient and blue renewable energy sources and systems to enhance the protection of coastal and ocean resources.
“Check mismanagement. To ensure a sustainable future for all, the government should protect coastal and marine ecosystems. Mismanagement could destabilize the delicate balance of these ecosystems. This is crucial, considering the intricate relationship between the blue economy and marine habitats. Neglect puts fish resources at risk and endangers vital sectors like maritime transport, energy and fishery.”