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‘Security, Synergy Needed To Drive Blue Economy’ Okorofe

Charles Okorefe is a university don and maritime resource person, currently teaching at the Maritime University of Nigeria (MUN)Okerenkoko, Delta State. In a no holds bar sort of impromptu presentation, he demonstrated his avid expertise when he delivered the lead lecture titled “Harnessing Nigeria’s Potentials In Marine & Blue Economy” and “The Customs Act 2023: Implications on Trade” last Thursday, December 7, 2023 organised by the League of Maritime Editors (LOME) to mark its Annual Retreat/25th Anniversary; held at the Lagos Travels Inn, Ikeja.

The author of the ‘ABC of The Nigerian Maritime’ in his lecture provided all the questions that should agitate the ministry of marine and blue economy, in same measure he offered invaluable suggestions on how best to explore the sub sector, offering a wide range of market dynamics for consideration that should challenge any sincere and purposeful government desirous of true change and development.

Come onboard and have a feel of his strong, analytical and positive economic vibrations on how best to translate the sector’s potentials into concrete, beneficial and inclusive economic reality.


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Let me start by saying that last year during League’s Annual Retreat at ASCON Badagry where l gave a lecture, l advocated the unbundling and remodeling of the Ministry of Transport. And today we have a representative of our brand ministry, the minister of our brand new Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy, seated with us in representative capacity. That exactly was what I advocated and it has come to pass by the grace of God. Having said that, I want to first of all say that I was not prepared to give a lecture here today, I came as a guest, but somehow I was conscripted to be here and I decided to take the challenge because it is my constituency and I don’t need to read books to stand here to talk about it.

We are talking about harnessing Nigeria’s potential in the marine and blue economy. You know, in Nigeria we like to talk about potential, potential, when will these potentials be realized? Everywhere, every sector…potential, potential, energy potential, transport potential, aviation potential. I think the time has come for us to actualize those potentials, especially in this very particular industry of ours.

And I’m so glad that we have somebody who we can look up to as a minister of marine and blue economy, because the ministers of transport as was previously constituted was a misnomer and because the marine aspect of that ministry was on that plate. Even though they had the highest number of parastatals in that ministry, if you recall, there was nothing like ministry of land transport, even up to now what you only have is railway. So the question we want to ask is who supervises land and road transport in Nigeria? Nobody! Even up to today what you have are non state actors, agberos across the states, collecting tickets and buying and selling tickets.

But coming down to our own side, what is the blue economy? The United Nations defines the blue economy as a sustainable use of ocean for economic growth, improved livelihood while preserving the health of the ocean ecosystem…that is the blue economy. And this concept was popularized by a man called Gunter Pauli. I think he was here sometime last month or something like that, a professor from Belgium. It was his thesis in 2010 where he talked about the blue economy transforming the ocean resources for sustainable development of the world. And he projected that in another 30 years over 100 million jobs could be created through the blue economy system. I don’t know whether that is a mirage or that is possible, but in Nigeria I can tell you that a lot can be harnessed through our marine and the blue economy. Already Nigeria has been a maritime nation for a very long time. We have been running our port systems beginning from where the Port Harcourt port was established in 1912, then the Apapa Port 1924, up to now we have had several ports dotting the landscape of Nigeria where trades are taking place. But the blue economy is deeper than that. We are talking of things like biodiversity, ocean exploration, deep sea mining, cable land activities, maritime tourism. These are things that are absent in Nigeria, if you go to some other parts of the world in small countries like Gambia, for instance, marine tourism is a major source of the national income.

But in Nigeria we are still very far behind in marine tourism. If you go to the Caribbean, for instance, they don’t have anything. What is their major source of income, marine tourism. People flock the Bahamas, they flock Kurusu and all of those small island nations who have nothing else but the marine environment, raking in billions of dollars. How about Egypt? So do we have the ocean resources, do we have the rivers, do we have the lakes to explore in Nigeria to give us a type of leverage? Yes, we do.

So the question is, how prepared are we to go the extra mile to get all these things in place so that Nigeria can also put her name on the map of nations that have developed ecotourism? How about renewable energy? We have been talking about problems of power and all of that. We have more than enough gas, how has that helped our power situation over the years? Since we were little children, you’ll be hearing of ‘Up NEPA’ when they restore or bring the light, up till tomorrow, our grand children will still be shouting ‘Up NEPA’.

But now we have the means to develop renewable energy from our water resources, from our oceans and rivers. So I believe the Ministry of Marine and the Blue Economy has to tie and connect with others, even in agriculture, fisheries. And you also talk about exotic sea food for export purpose. We cannot be dependent on imports alone, what are those things that we have in excess that you can process through the river for export? They are fishes, prawns, other ornamental sea foods. We had the Sapele Port where that was happening, I say was, the port is still there. It was the center for the export of wood products. There’s a company called ATP, African Tiber and Plywood that was a fulcrum of export of wood from Edo forest, Delta forest and so on.

The same thing for rubbers, the same thing for palm oil and its derivatives, but all of those have gone down the drain. Today I learned we import palm oil from Asia. The same people who came to Nigeria to learn how to plant seedlings. Today Nigeria cannot pay salaries, but Nigeria is importing palm oil from Malaysia. These are exportable items. So I believe the Ministry of Marine and Economy has to do a lot of synergy with the Ministry of Agriculture, for instance with the Ministry of Power and the Ministry of Tourism. They cannot do it alone because these are resources that we need in order for us to develop and come out of potential to reality in driving our ocean and marine resources.

We’ve been talking endlessly. The League President talked about the disbursement CVFFs, for how many years are we going to continue to talk about the disburdenment of CVFF? What is the purpose of CVFF? It is meant to assist indigenous operators, ship owners to acquire new bottoms and also other players like those that are into foundries. How are we helping them? How can we grow when these things are not put in place? So the Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy has a lot of work to do if our setup under that ministry are to be realized. They have to be put on their toes because a lot is on the ground for offer. And the more we put our act together by bringing together those that can drive the vision of that ministry, the better it will be for them. Now we also look at issues like deep sea mining and biodiversity. These are offerings that we have under the blue economy. So we are talking about this mining, the Ministry of Petroleum Resources for instance will also be an ally of our brand new ministry because there are a lot of synergy that is required for those things that we need to extract and have meaningful returns for the ministry to run properly.

And all of this is talking about job creation because if you are just talking about these issues without looking at the prospect for job creation for Nigerians is also a waste of time. So what is on offer in terms of job creation? All of these areas I’ve mentioned, marine tourism for instance…Egypt made about $14 billion just from tourism alone in 2022. So if you want to bring that to Nigeria, how much did we make even in the past ten years from marine tourism? You cannot even aggregate it because the records are not there. So talking about job creation all of these elements l mentioned are potential areas for job creation, because it is a major issue in Nigeria today. A lot of young people are jobless. Meanwhile, we have an area that is green wherein a lot of jobs can be created. So I think we have to look at that, the potential areas of driving our marine and blue economy in Nigeria, then also shipping and port operation.

We still have a lot of challenges, especially in the way our ports are being operated. I was watching the video…I think last week of my brother here, the Controller of Tin Can, Comptroller Nnadi mni on why we need to run 24 hours at the ports. He asked a question, how do you come to work at the ports and close…you come by 8am and you close by 5p.m as civil servants. Is that how ports are run around the world? It’s not sustainable, so what are those things that we need to put in place to make sure that our ports run 24 hours as in other places? Of course, security has to be number one, and I want to believe that that area has been taken care of. So the Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy has a lot of synergy, a lot of work to do in terms of ties with the various segments that will make that ministry to run efficiently and to bring out the potential that we have been talking about. Then we look at other areas where we can also have great returns from these so called potentials we’ll be talking about. Another issue you have to look at is when you look at the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)… Article 14 talks about life under water and that is what the blue economy falls under. A lot of offerings, a lot of other nations have started maximizing their possibilities from this system, so relationships have to be created. It’s not something we can do alone. We must learn from others who have gone far into it. How do they make it? What are their areas, their niche areas, because every nation has a niche, Philippines, for instance, their niche area is in seafaring, their seafarers return nothing less than $7 billion annually. Talking about the people that work onboard vessels, how much are we developing in that area? What are our niche areas? So this ministry has to cover its niche areas as far as developing our ocean and river resources are concerned. I’ve talked about underwater mining, talked about marine tourism and also renewable energy, also fisheries. We have to maximize our potentials in these areas so that at the end of the day, we will not continue to talk about potentials alone, but actualizing those potentials to reality. They are talking also about the creation of jobs that will drive these processes that we are talking about, then of course, training and manpower development. A lot of attention also has to be paid to the training of manpower in the maritime sector because that is an area that is lacking. Yes, we have MAN Oron (Maritime Academy of Nigeria), now we have the maritime investing where I teach at the Maritime University of Nigeria (MUN) Okerenkoko, we have other such institutions, the ones that were established by private ownership operators and so on. But how much are they doing? What are the things they have that will maximize the training, not only of our seafarers but also managers who will come into the industry and make a difference. These are areas that the new ministry will have to look at so that at the end of the day we will have a solid Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy and come out of potential into reality.

Ladies and gentlemen, men, I want to believe that I’ve given an insight into some of the things that have brought us here and I want to thank you very much for your time.

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