By Ignatius Chukwu
Nigeria’s maritime environment is said to be set to witness two monumental breakthroughs that may revolutionalise the sector on the part to global relevance and leadership. The first is that the much-awaited war against piracy in the Gulf of Guinea is about to begin. This would sanitise Nigeria’s territorial waters and encourage ships to sail in and out also boost international trade, the bedrock of Nigeria’s economy.
The second is that the long-abandoned ship ownership support fund required to boost Cabotage (by making Nigerians to acquire vessels) is about to begin disbursement. These were explained in Port Harcourt on Monday, April 26, 2021, by Ubong Essien, Special Assistant on Communications and Strategy to the Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Bashir Jimoh. Essien spoke in company of top management of the Eastern zone atthe headquarters in Port Harcourt.
The first bombshell dropped by Essien is called the Deep Blue Project (DBP) which is to jeer its fangs of war at pirates troubling the Gulf of Guinea. The next is the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF) which has received the most important policy success, the presidential directive to disburse.
The SA who is a seasoned journalist, publisher and teacher said time has come to communicate what NIMASA is doing to boost the economy through growth of gross domestic product (GDP).
He went on: “Nigeria is a blessed maritime nation. Onne port is an amazing entity. We want to communicate these attributes, not just NIMASA. We want to sell NIMASA’s large footprint of coastal line from Lagos to Calabar. We want to be able to communicate NIMASA as an economic driver.”
Essien explained that the Deep Blue Project which is the new framework for tackling piracy in the Gulf of Guinea required good understanding by journalists covering the coastal areas especially from the Port Harcourt angle. He said NIMASA has packaged a surveillance/security architecture in maritime sector consisting of: three helicopters, two aircraft, four drones, two massive vessels (DB Lagos, DB Abuja) patrolling Nigeria’s waters and able to release 17 fast boats for intervention.
“There is the human asset with well trained special forces. C4i is intelligence gathering centre with a command & control mechanism capable of monitoring activities. Each of these faculties talks to the other so there can be integrated security control and management system. This architecture will take off in a matter of weeks.
“The International Coordination Centre (ICC) sees Nigeria as providing leadership and so co-chairs it in Gulf of Guinea. This is very important development; that the ICC sees Nigeria as very serious in solving one of the world’s biggest security problems. Current Director-General has used eight months of his starting time (13 months so far) to bring the international partners together to move the vision. This is no mean feat.
“Somalia Model is what is being adopted. It is clear that if there is no security, there will be no success in any sector.’
The SA outlined what he called the DG’s Triple S thus: Maritime Security: This is from the philosophy that without security, there is no maritime territory. It has yielded fruits. It is structured. The second is Maritime safety: This ensures that standards are applied strictly according to International Maritime Organisation compliance levels. For instance, NIMASA is carrying out clearing exercise of our waters. Marine environment must be good to foster maritime activities.
“The menace of plastics in the waters alone is a big threat. If fishes eat them, human eat the fishes, and health is threatened. Now, our waters are cleaner, freer from plastics. An example is the Port Harcourt to Bonny route. We have photos of before and now.
“The third is Shipping Development through CVFF: The agenda is to boost the nation’s gross development product (GDP). In this aspect, the agency is deploying the shipping fund called VCFF which seeks to help Nigerians own ships. The agency is working out modalities on how this will be disbursed and recovered with success.”
It was gathered that many entities are jumping to snap the loans but NIMASA is said to be more interested in how recovery would be made easily. The Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi had declared in 2020 that the fund was as high as $200m or N72Bn then. Loan must be repaid in not more than seven years. It is available only to those who contribute their two per cent from their contracts and jobs to the fund, and they must pass other criteria set out by the Cabotage Act of 2003 and rules set by NIMASA which seeks to create a responsibility taking mechanism before disbursing the fund. The fund has primary lending institutions (PLIs) including Fidelity Bank, Skye Bank (now Polaris Bank), Sterling Bank, and Diamond Bank (now Access Bank).
Capacity building is part of the task on boosting the GDP of the nation. He said 250 cadets are to go on training to boost human capital development in professional seafaring. “For those complaining of how soon to begin to disburse the shipping funds, they must realise that government work takes time. There is the expression of interest stage whereby financial institutions would be selected to handle the disbursement exercise. There are processes to be followed.
“Presidential directive to disburse has been granted. In the industry, this represents a major milestone. It’s now expression of interest. DG says no going back on this. This is important commitment. Short-listing will also be done, engagement stage will happen.”
It was gathered that there is caution due to the past over disbursement of the fund (Ship Building Acquisition Fund). Nobody took responsibility in handling that scheme such that recovery would be possible.
A source said NIMASA was not and still is not equipped to handle recovery. It does not have the capability to retrieve. It is financial institutions that have such capability. They are to determine if collateral is needed or not, if guarantees are required or not, all abiding by the law.
The bottom line is that with the Deep Blue Project tackling piracy and the CVFF helping ship acquisition by Nigerians that would play bigger in the Cabotage regime, the Maritime sector in Nigeria may jump to the fastest growing sector with huge leap in GDP. This may make Jimoh one of Nigeria impactful leaders and a brain box of note.