By Kenneth Jukpor
· Experts divided on Nigeria’s readiness for IMO Council
· Foreign navies responsible for calm Nigerian waters
Over N200million will be spent by Nigeria in a few weeks as the nation vies for a place on the Category C of the Governing Council of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) during the elections from December 4th, 2021.
The colossal sum to be expended by the Ministry of Transportation and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) going by budgetary provisions and the estacode approvals at the maritime agency, is said to be the driving factor for the nation’s participation in the polls.
While the Ministry of Transportation has a budgetary provision of N95million for IMO meetings in 2021 budget, adding NIMASA’s expenses would see Nigeria spend over N200million beside expenses for lobbying IMO member states ahead of the elections.
Although there have been efforts to address some of the major setbacks in the nation’s maritime sector, several maritime experts have advised that Nigeria jettisons IMO polls and focus on deepening efforts to address piracy, enhance the nation’s flag and boost indigenous shipping.
While the Director General of NIMASA, Dr. Bashir Jamoh, has called on the international maritime community to support Nigeria’s bid for reinstatement into Category C, some industry experts have argued that the country still lacks the major indices to complement its lobbying for the position.
Speaking at the recent third Seminar of the Atlantic Center in Lisbon Portugal, Jamoh sought support from Nigeria’s friends to vote for the country into the council of IMO in the election that comes up in a few weeks time.
He said: “We ask for your vote and count on your continued confidence in the efforts of Nigeria to work in partnership with other nation states in the Gulf of Guinea to continue keeping our corridor of the Atlantic Ocean a safe passage for seafarers, their vessels and the vital supplies they transport for our common sustenance”.
Despite this move, some of the industry experts who have expressed reservations on the nation’s bid for a spot on the IMO Category C include; a former Nigerian Alternate Permanent Representative to IMO, Engr. Olu Akinsoji; former Director General of NIMASA, Dr. Dakuku Peterside; Chairman, OTL Africa Downstream Conference and Exhibitions, Dr. Emeka Akabogu; former Director, Shipping Development at NIMASA, Capt. Enisuoh Warredi.
Others are; former Executive Secretary of Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Mr. Hassan Bello; former President of African Shipowners Association, Barr. Temisan Omatseye; Assistant Director, Special Duties Unit at Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Ms. Adaora Nwonu; among others.
A key member of IMO during an exclusive chat with MMS Plus has also advised that Nigeria should not bother to contest, but work towards putting its maritime sector in order.
While Nigeria’s biggest challenge has been the maritime security concerns with piracy, experts have observed that the Deep Blue Project is yet to fully deployed even as some analysts have pointed out the high presence of foreign navies protecting their cargoes along the Gulf of Guinea (GoG).
MMS Plus also recalls that the leadership of NIMASA recently met with the management of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to expedite the evacuation of Deep Blue Project assets, a move which confirmed earlier reports that the maritime security architecture is yet to be fully deployed.
While some of the assets are being utilized to safeguard the Lagos anchorage areas, some shipping veterans have observed that other viable assets are still sitting idle on Lagos waters when there is a more pressing need at the Eastern region.
Last month, it took the intervention of the Russian Navy to rescue the containership belonging to Mediterranean Shipping Company(MSC) which was attacked in the Gulf of Guinea, precisely, off Bayelsa, in Nigeria.
Reports stated that the 1985-built 1,893 teu MSC Lucia was boarded by an unknown number of armed men earlier that day, but a Russian Navy tanker, Akademik Pashin approached the hijacked vessel and rescued it.
Speaking on this issue, a former NIMASA Director, Capt. Warredi said; “The plan now is simple: Countries have sent in their Navies to the Gulf of Guinea and have created a corridor for their flagged vessels placing their Navies strategically to respond. No one has time for Nigeria’s mediocrity anymore.”
Corroborating Warredi’s views, Engr. Olu Akinsoji said: “There is nothing that is hidden in shipping. All the nations with veto powers at IMO trade with Nigeria and the nation is a very important link in shipping as a result of the volume of cargoes. Nigeria is Africa’s highest cargo generating nation, but the world knows the numerous issues. There are huge expectations on Nigeria from the international maritime bodies and maritime nations and until these expectations are met, IMO member states wouldn’t vote for Nigeria.”
He noted that the Ministry of Transportation had set up a committee to determine whether Nigeria is ready for the IMO Council elections or not, adding that he wouldn’t want to preempt the report or recommendations of that committee.
“While I believe that Nigeria deserves to be on the IMO Council, I’m not certain we can win the sympathy of the member states that would vote for the country to be elected into the Council. A lot of things have to be done to convince member states of Nigeria’s readiness. The administrative procedures for conformity with the requirements of IMO has to be dealt with sufficiently to get the confidence and votes of the member states during the elections,” Akinsoji said.
According to him, Nigeria already has the political goodwill and the nation would be welcomed into the IMO Council if it addresses the technical issues and other problems in its maritime sector and play leadership role in the region.
Meanwhile, the CEO, Oceanic Energy Limited, Capt. Taiwo Akinpelumi maintained that Nigeria should contest but also weigh the costs, arguing that the nation needs the visibility and opportunity to be at the table where global maritime decisions are reached.
His words: “Nigeria needs to maintain visibility on the international scene and membership of IMO Governing Council is the ideal place to be. As we make efforts to develop indigenous shipping, address security concerns and develop the right policies; visibility is key and most of the core functions of the IMO is deliberated on the Governing Council level. This Council is responsible for the affairs of IMO and it is important that Nigeria is there.”
“What does it cost Nigeria to contest? It’s true that we may contest and lose but it shouldn’t deter us from contesting. I agree that Nigeria has to get its acts right with regards the maritime sector. However, nothing stops us from contesting now, especially with the commendations from the international bodies on some successes with regards to maritime security with the Deep Blue Project and SPOMO Act. The gains in maritime security is already recognized by the IMO and Nigeria has to contest now that it has the momentum.”
Recounting some comments on the upcoming IMO Council elections, MMS Plus recalls that a Senior Partner, Akabogu & Associates, Dr. Emeka Akabogu said the reason Nigeria is losing out is based on the perception of member states who are voting.
“When a vessel comes into the country, the master and crew of the vessel have to spend 14 days in the country trying to get berthing space. After getting a berth space, they also spend a lot of money. They have to pass through several unusual bottlenecks with regards to securing passage to berth.”
“There’s a need for a coordinated trade, secure and merchant marine strategy towards ensuring that the nation can provide experiences for international operators which will translate into good perception to be voted in, at the IMO Council,” he said.
A former Director General of NIMASA, Dr. Dakuku Peterside earlier noted that getting into the IMO Council isn’t entirely about tonnage.
“Nigeria has more tonnage than some nations in Category C of IMO Council. Nigeria’s biggest challenge has been the issue of piracy and maritime crimes. Most nations didn’t want to see Nigeria in that IMO Council because of their perception of the country. However, Nigeria is beginning to make efforts to change that narrative.”
“The impact of Deep Blue Project is something that the world is looking at and nations are attesting to the peace in the area. The truth is that it may not really be the Project that has caused the tranquility but the criminals’ perception is that they need to slow down because they don’t know what it is. If they watch and observe that the Deep Blue Project isn’t doing any magic, they would come back. So, the Project has to be strategic and really geared towards policing the area. Nigeria has also put laws in place to prosecute pirates. The international community can see that Nigeria is addressing this problem of insecurity in the maritime sector.”
“On maritime security, Nigeria is being treated as the Afghanistan of shipping. The nation was seen as a place where pirates are bred. The menace of world piracy moved from Somalia to Nigeria.”
“In the last few years, I must confess that Nigeria didn’t have quality representatives at the IMO. This was a serious challenge for Nigeria at the IMO, but the new representative is by far a better representative than his predecessors. I think that Nigeria is beginning to get things right at the IMO but it is too short to get the best at this election. If we don’t get into the Council this year, we should be able to get in by 2023 barring any unforeseen political circumstances.”