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New face of maritime regulation in Nigeria

NIMASA DG, Dr Dakuku Peterside.
NIMASA DG, Dr Dakuku Peterside.

In the last four years, the maritime sector of the nation’s economy has witnessed some monumental changes in the way and manner business is conducted in the sector. The regulatory framework governing the sector, which hitherto begged for proper implementation to the benefit of industry operators and the entire economy, has received fresh impetus and the deserved attention.

Thanks to the administration that had been in place in the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), the apex maritime regulatory agency. The administration, led by the immediate past DG/CEO Dr. Dakuku Peterside, has been able to address most of the challenges and removed the hurdles that had hampered growth and development in the sector. It has also changed public perception of NIMASA as just a contract-awarding government agency, a profligate institution where corruption walks the corridors.

Maritime and shipping experts agree that the regulatory regime adopted by a nation determines the attractiveness of its flag for ship-owners, the effectiveness of its control mechanisms, the ease of maritime trade at its ports and its overall effectiveness as a maritime state.

By paying greater attention to its regulatory roles and core mandates, Dakuku has succeeded in transforming NIMASA from the public perception of a contract-awarding agency to a true industry regulator. Some recent policies and control mechanisms put together by the agency have increased the appreciation of Nigerians of the role of maritime in boosting the nation’s economy, as well as spurred an increase in local participation in the sector.

Some of the policy measures that have proved to be game-changers include the halting of waivers for foreign ship owners under the five-year Cabotage cessation plan, beginning from 2021. With the plan, NIMASA seeks to achieve the key objectives of the Cabotage Act in terms of in-country construction, ownership, manning and flagging of ships engaged in Cobotage trade by 2024 without major disruptions to the Cabotage trade. The overall aim is to ensure that Nigerians enjoy the captive market created for them by the Cabotage law, and to end the foreign domination of shipping activities in the country.

One of the bold moves of the Dakuku-led administration of NIMASA is the reforms and repositioning of Nigerian Ship Registry. The goal is to create a world class ship registry which will be attractive to ship owners, with the aim of maintaining the influence of Nigeria in evolving international commercial and regulatory environment for shipping.

According to Peterside, Nigeria currently operates a Closed Registry with about 2,725 active vessels of various capacity, disclosing that in 2019, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) ranked the Nigerian Ship Registry number 2 in Africa, after Liberia (which operates an Open Registry), and 46 in the world.

Peterside noted that NIMASA’s ultimate desire was to have Nigerian flagged vessels involved in international commercial trade, and this explains the reason efforts were being made to build capacity and ensure that Nigerians acquire high capacity vessels. As part of the determination to create a Nigerian Ship Registry that will meet international standards, attract tonnage and boost the nation’s economy, Peterside said the agency was considering establishing a second or international registry “to help grow our fleet and input our footprints in international commercial trade.”

The reforms going on in the ship registry have already started attracting the registration of high net-worth ships into the Nigerian Ship Registry.

The training of more young Nigerians under the Nigeria Seafarers Development Programme, empowering cadets under the sea time training programme, and certification for Nigerian seafarers under the Survey, Inspection and Certification Transformation Programme are some of the bold actions taken by NIMASA, which have been commended by industry operators.

According to Peterside, NIMASA has trained more than 2,000 Nigerians under the Seafarers Development Programme, and sea-time training for graduates through full sponsorship of their placement on ships, in partnership with some international institutions that have access to training vessels.

Also, about 200 cadets have done their on-board sea time training under the first phase of the NIMASA fully-sponsored sea time training programme, facilitated alongside the Arab Academy of Science, Technology and Marine Transportation in Alexandria, Egypt.

He further revealed that onboard training for another 89 cadets was facilitated by the South Tyneside College, UK, making a total of 239 cadets in the first phase of the programme, adding that about 2,337 Nigerian seafarers were placed onboard vessels last year, representing a 58.9 per cent increase in the number of seafarers employed compared to the previous year.

Similarly, NIMASA is pursuing the certification of Nigerian seafarers under its Survey, Inspection and Certification Transformation Programme, while most vessels trading within the country’s coastal waters now have at least 70 per cent Nigerian content in terms of manning.

Nigeria’s maritime sector is known to be the second highest revenue earner for government, with a huge potential to contribute about N7 trillion yearly to the economy. Overtime, a larger share of this huge revenue had been left in the hands of foreigners, with attendant capital flight at the expense of the country.

The stringent calls by indigenous operators for the government to end the foreign domination of shipping activities in the country had fallen on deaf ears over the years, and this explains their support for NIMASA’s recruitment of more youths into the sector. The stakeholders agree that if the industry regulator pursued the vision vigorously, the sector’s contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will soar, and more employment opportunities will be created, while local capacity and competency will be boosted, and all these will translate to wealth creation.

NIMASA under Peterside as director-general has often harped on its resolve to develop the blue economy and encourage more indigenous participation. In achieving this, the agency sought and obtained Federal Government’s commitment for a tax relief regime for ship owners through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). With this incentive, indigenous ship owners are empowered to acquire new vessels at low cost and gradually build up their fleet.

NIMASA also initiated a more robust working relationship with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to ensure that Nigerian ship owners are given all the encouragement they need to participate in the affreightment of the nation’s crude oil. Participation in the lifting of Nigeria’s crude has been one of the battles indigenous ship owners have been fighting for years. NIMASA believes that once local players can participate in the transportation of the nation’s crude, they will rally round to consolidate their strength.

In a similar move, the agency is also collaborating with the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB) on the provisions of the Content Act, which prescribes at least 40 per cent indigenous participation in all relevant economic activities in the oil and gas industry. The cooperation between NIMASA and the NCDMB has led to both agencies achieving the categorisation of vessels for uniformity and harmonised enforcement.

According to Peterside, NIMASA’s vision is to integrate the entire ocean economic development through social inclusion, environmental sustainability, and thereafter linking other industry activities as a business model. He believes strongly that every activity in the nation’s blue economy is a potential job and wealth creation if resources are properly harnessed around the oceans, seas, harbours, ports and coastal zones.

Truly, the role NIMASA has been playing since the appointment of Peterside as the director-general is not lost on industry stakeholders, and indeed, Nigerians. His initiatives, drive and approach to doing things, which he has brought to bear on the operations of NIMASA as maritime sector regulator, have impacted positively on the public perception of the organisation.

Peterside has initiated strategies aimed at making the NIMASA more effective and efficient in the discharge of its mandate.  And with the agency beginning to play its statutory role, the Nigerian public has come to realise the potentials of the maritime sector, and to appreciate the role the sector can play in creating wealth and boosting the nation’s economy.

Peterside had said his focus would be to make the agency a maritime administration that works, client-friendly and a beacon of hope for Nigerians. He had stated that his management would champion a massive repositioning, reforms and restructuring programme, with the aim of making NIMASA a respectable voice on global issues and to be acknowledged as the most effective, efficient and competitive maritime administration in Africa.

Curiously, Peterside has achieved all these as NIMASA has since been adjudged the best maritime administration in Africa. His participation and presentation at Nor Shipping 2019, a gathering of global maritime community in Norway, boosted Nigeria’s image in no small measure and made Nigerians and Africans at the event proud.

With Peterside at the leadership of the NIMASA, Nigeria has also been adjudged the most outstanding in port and flag state control in the West and Central Africa sub-region by the Abuja Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in its report. The report noted that Nigeria had the highest port state inspection, increased Certificate of Competency examinations, inauguration of search and rescue volunteers in 10 coastal states, development and implementation of biometric data for non-conventional vessels etc.

Dr. Peterside strongly believes that for Nigeria to effectively move away from an oil-dependent economy, it must develop the blue economy. He has led the NIMASA to take various steps to ensure the growth of the sector.

Ibeke is the publisher/editor-in-chief, Business and Maritime, West Africa.

Dakuku Peterside was succeeded as NIMAMA DG by Dr. Bashir Jamoh after his tenure ended on March 10, 2020.

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