BY EGUONO ODJEGBA
A week today, November 21, 2023, the Minister of Marine and Blue Economy, Adegboyega Oyetola CON, met with industry players in Lagos, instructively under the Ministry’s first Stakeholders’ Roundtable Engagement on Advancing Sustainable Development in Nigeria’s Marine and Blue Economy.
Expectations were high that the meeting called by him would afford him the opportunity to have a frank, robust, pragmatic and purposeful review and overview through brainstorming with stakeholders; including listening to stakeholders concerns and getting their input on ways to develop capacity, achieve sustainable implementation policies and grow the industry.
Surprisingly, the meeting started on a wrong premise, turned out an absurd straight jacket affair as an arena of entertainment, undeniably a charade underscored by the glitterati of official parade, plus of course, the epiphany of official announcements regarding the important issue of the blue economy; thus producing mere blues, through clearly identified sound and waves of a receding, hitherto hefty splash.
While not denying the fact that the marine and blue economy minister made sensible and desirable observations regarding the collective effort to prosecute the optimal exploration of the sector as well as pledges to make the engagements an open ended one; he nonetheless put the wrong foot out first when he unavoidably engaged in the indulgence of self reversal of his otherwise positive pledges and good intentions by immediately announcing a regime of programme without first engaging the stakeholders in order to determine should constitute the priority.
Thus the meeting ended before it began, since the minister in his opening address has more or less taken far reaching decisions which in their compositions are not reversible. The media was therefore given the benefit of reporting the outcome of so-called stakeholders’ engagement, courtesy of the minister’s gregarious, straight jacket posturing and especial graces; to say the least.
He reeled out his programme and got the heads of the agencies of government to sign a performance bond ahead of getting necessary input through the roundtable parley the engagement was supposed to produce; talking about placing the cart before the horse.
For instance, he announced his decision to consider the re-establishment of the Nigerian National Shipping Line through a strategic PPP arrangement, which he boasted will capture a substantial share of the estimated $10 billion annual ship charter market.
He said, “Our Ministry though new, is not resting on its oars and has continued to foster Inter-Agency collaborations and implement initiatives to promote Port efficiency, cargo shipment, maritime security and tap into the resources of the Seabed.
“The ministry’s decision to consider the re-establishment of a National Shipping Line, through a strategic PPP arrangement, is borne out of our desire to capture a substantial share of the estimated $10 billion annual ship charter market within the country.
“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.”
Like a secondary school boy anxious to show off his prowess in faultless spoken Queens English in his new school, Oyetola was so impatient he already appropriated the outcome of the parley and hence, also set the stage.
And one cannot but already be afraid of yet another patch-patch regime, producing mere motion and no substance as far as it concerns the development of our maritime domain and especially the blue economy in the next four years; irrespective of the assurances of the minister to the contrary.
One is at a loss what to expect in real term when the minister says, “Other anticipated outcomes include the creation of substantial job opportunities and the facilitation of increased trade and investment in the nation, reinforcing our collaborative and forward-looking approach.”
While political sagacity and selfless leadership presumes to set the stage and strive only to advance the collective wellbeing of a people and nation through the application of well considered, severe but viable and sustainable economic projections, the danger of pseudo knowledge which is often a recipe for failure is propelled by the self adulations of executive rascality that is often our lot in this part of the world.
Those who propounded that half knowledge is dangerous couldn’t be more apt, as our minister of marine and blue economy while setting the stage for reinventing local capacity in our seaborne trade left out the most significant venture in the Cabotage Trade which is shipping capacity, and rather emphasized ship construction, maintenance and repairs.
Yet, our utmost challenge as far as the blue economy projection is concerned is our gaping deficit in the area of ownership of ships as the major nexus in achieving a focus in the blue economy.
And in reality, our minister who was a former state governor knows that he was merely playing amala politics and far from being sincere with his proposition to refloat the NNSL.
The most earnest approach would have been to first have a rational and genuine discussion with stakeholders in the shipping subsector and hence be in a position of authority to outline priorities that aligns with the national urgent needs.
On the other hand, it would have been more purposeful to suggest that the ministry is considering acquiring two or three ocean going vessels to kick start a new national carrier or even to refloat the NNSL as the case may be; which will be managed by our ship owners. This would have been a more doable, more meaningful and certainly a more sure footed developmental option.
The Minister who said he is acquainted with the sector’s challenges and assured of his commitment to “bequeathing to Nigerians a better sector than we have met today”, it is doubtful if he is more committed than the organized private sector players who have invested their lives in the industry and have nowhere else to go.
Perhaps, next to having a more exclusive discussion with the ship owners, he might as well ask the permanent secretary of the ministry to exhume and make available to him, prior documented recommendations and suggested roadmaps to developing the blue economy; rather than opting for last week’s ministerial stakeholders’ engagement that ended in fiasco; if truth must be told.
Aside the sub sector participants direct and structured proposed implementation framework, there is also the report of the presidential committee roadmap that encapsulates the whole gamut of critical enterprise.
Any sincere and serious government would defray already lost time by dusting the existing reports and recommendations, which cannot by any stretch of the imagination, be different from new summation; except perhaps on account of the extacodes and other pecuniary gains.
The true and real efforts will amount to mere repetition, and as act of mere jamboree as has already been pointed out by observers. The point has been made that the minister has thrown doubt on his sincerity to enhance the implementation of the Cabotage trade, since his proposed agenda to refloat the defunct NNSL does not give ship owners the confidence of what to look forward to.
Oyetola must be willing to set a definitive tone that matches his pledge, and to guard against official snares which end results, ultimately, may question his reliability and also diminish his personality; since President Ahmed Bola Tinubu looks up to him to firm up the recalibration of the industry for optimal productivity.
Nor will his apparent fall for the cravings of the otherwise cheap pecks of office contained in stealthy or even overt official proposals by some politically exposed subordinates serve his purpose; if he desires to make an impact that qualifies for a legacy.
Already, today is a week after the colourful gathering in Lagos, there has been no report of the stakeholders meeting, at least, on the critical submissions and perhaps agreements reached.
While that is hanging, the minister is already in London where he is expected to speak on Nigeria’s maritime performance curve at the ongoing International Maritime Organization (IMO) meeting.
And guess what…the minister is already painting the IMO session red with talks about Nigeria contesting the IMO Security Council seat come 2025, just to whet the appetite of certain interests within and outside the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).