By PEARL NGWAMA
Stakeholders at a recent shipping summit have stressed the need for Nigeria to postpone its desire to contest election into the Category C seat of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) which is holding in December 2021.
The stakeholders and experts who spoke at the Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association, Nigeria (WISTA Nigeria) summit have condemned Nigeria’s shoddy preparations to contest election into the Category C seat of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) which is holding in December 2021
According to the stakeholders, being on the IMO Council seat goes beyond meeting criteria and requirements on paper, rather the country should focus on improving its ports system and cargo clearance procedures.
In the summit themed “Objective Appraisal of Nigerians’ Eligibility for International Maritime Organisations (IMO) Council Membership,” the stakeholders queried how funds expended on IMO Council re-elections over the years had translated into achieving a well-positioned maritime sector in Nigeria.
Speaking at the forum, maritime lawyer, Emeka Akabogu, argued that Nigeria must first work on its domestic port system, adding that many countries do not have good experiences about Nigeria.
Looking at some of the criteria and eligibility compared to countries currently in the IMO Council, he said it is obvious that while the eligibility criteria is important, but for the purpose of getting into the Council itself, there are other considerations.
He said: “The indices by which countries are being judged is not clear, and this leaves room for discretion and national interest.
“The problem is more of the perception of countries who are voting and whom we are lobbying. Most of these countries do not have good experiences to share about Nigerian ports in terms of vessel turnaround time.
“They spend 13 days in getting berthing space and contend with a whole lot of challenges. They spend millions of dollars for their ships to berth in Nigeria.
“The issue of access into Nigerian waterways is an issue of concern which we must deal with, how do we treat countries whose vessels have come to trade?
“Recently a vessel called San Padre was released to Switzerland after being in detention for three years under circumstances which internationally we consider unnecessary. There is a litany of other vessels detained for reasons not transparent.”
Quoting a chart from clarksons website, Akabogu said the 2019/2020 data shows that Nigeria has 773 ships, with 45 million metric tonnes.
Comparing this to other members of the IMO Council like Liberia, shows that Nigeria is not doing well, but at the same time, Nigeria is doing well more than some, including Kenya who has remained in the IMO Council.
“In regards to the size of our fleet, a country like Kenya has just 25, and yet they have been on the IMO Council for the last two sets.
“In terms of seafaring potentials within the country, Nigeria has 5,760 compared to 216,000 of the Philippines, but then compared to Kenya at 185, this is a contradiction,” he said
Also speaking, Assistant Director, Special Duties, Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Ms. Adaora Nwonu, advised that Nigeria should take time and consolidate on its areas of strength before putting up for the elections.
According to her, some of the initiatives put in place by the federal government including the NIMASA deep blue assets, should be given time to run in a sustainable manner and for the international community to see them yielding benefits.
“By doing so, we would have some statistics to share on what we have done to support our candidature,” she pointed out.
According to Nwonu, poor preparation is one of the reasons why Nigeria has lost consistently, adding that IMO elections preparation should not be done months before the elections, it should be about building consistently over the years.
“Nigeria’s representations at these IMO meetings are not really topnotch, they don’t really represent what we really want, they are those that form the global perception of Nigeria. The values they bring to meetings go a long way.
“A lot of things have to change domestically, especially at our port which is a place of interface, the experiences people have while visiting our ports go a long way. Our ranking in the global corruption index keeps going down, all these things form how we are perceived as a nation.
“I must tell you that even with the ease of doing business, government agencies have been accused of being the one defaulting when it comes to executing orders, they do not work together on cargo coordination and examination, sharing manifest in an automated manner.
“Shipping companies complain to us that they still share hard copies of documents to government agencies, some of them said they had to invest in giant photocopy machines in order to meet up.
“These vessels on calling at Nigerian ports also part with a lot of money that are not receipted. We cannot separate all these from what happens at IMO,” she explained.
Also speaking, Senior Manager Pollution Control Department of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Mrs. Sharon Amy, argued that ordinarily Nigeria should be admitted into IMO Council seat due to its big brother role in West and Central Africa, but that the country has an image problem.
She stressed the need for intra-African politics, and image laundering to increase Nigeria’s chances.
She said that the recent border closure by the Federal Government has left a bad taste in the mouth of smaller African countries that are looking for avenue to retaliate on Nigeria.
“Nigeria is seeking eligibility into IMO Council seat because she sees herself as the super power in the region, especially in the area of port reception facilities and Marine Pollution Management in the West and Central African Region, Nigeria by default should have that ticket into Cartegory C.
“However, Nigeria already has a problem in the region, we are not seen in a good light,” she said.
Ship Registrar and Deputy Director at the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Mrs. Nneka Obianyor, noted that Nigeria’s biggest challenge was piracy.
She however said that the deep blue assets and the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences (SPOMO) Act launched by NIMASA are addressing the challenge.
“Getting into the IMO council required lots of effort, commitment and strategic planning. With the right support and collective efforts by all stakeholders and full backing of the government, Nigeria will surely get into the council for the 2022 to 2023 biennium,” she said.
Earlier, WISTA Nigeria, President, Mrs Eunice Ezeoke, noted that the way forward was for Nigeria to look inward and further develop capacity and infrastructure to change the perception of the country.
According to her, regulatory agencies need to enhance the sector reforms to conform with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“Nigeria as a nation must consider the acquisition of a national career with her flag and this will provide sea-time experience for her teeming cadets and seafarers,” she said.
Mrs. Eunice Ezeoke, WISTA Nigeria President.