A maritime lawyer and Senior Partner at Akabogu & Associates, Dr Emeka Akabogu has labelled the implementation of Nigeria’s cabotage regime a huge failure.
Speaking as a panelist at the fifth edition of the Taiwo Afolabi Annual Maritime Conference held in Lagos recently, Dr Akabogu lamented over a situation where foreign ship-owners have dominated Nigeria’s cabotage regime despite huge investment from indigenous shipowners over the years.
According to Dr Akabogu, “Cabotage came with lots of hopes and lots of promises, but it has been a huge failure.
“Nigeria’s cabotage regime has been a huge failure because what should have been an advantage to Nigerians have clearly not been implemented. We have a situation where Nigerian ship-owners invested in ships because they believed in cabotage, but faced the disappointment of the Federal Government not implementing cabotage measures, resulting in foreign ship-owners continuing to dominate that segment of the economy.
“We have a situation where there is a Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF) which has been accumulating via contributions of indigenous ship-owners since 2004 till date but has not been disbursed for once. This is disgraceful and there is no explanation that can justify.
“As regards questions on what should be done to the NIMASA Act and the Merchant Shipping Act, I will say that the NIMASA Act is a highly useful instrument. What it needs is implementation.
“The NIMASA Act makes provision for a Maritime Fund which should have 25 percent of the income which the agency generates from the industry. That Maritime Fund should go to the development of the Nigerian maritime industry. This is different from the CVFF fund which should go exclusively to capacity development of ship-owners. What has happened to the Maritime Fund all these years? I think we should be interrogating issues like this.
“Another important component of the NIMASA Act talks about national carrier status. If we confer national carrier status on deserving ship-owing organizations, it has a lot of multiplier effect across the value chain.
“Till date, no company, to my knowledge, has been granted national carrier status under the NIMASA Act.
“Is there even a plan or a process to ensure that national carrier status is granted? Is the industry incentivised to attain a status that will bring about conferment of national carrier status on deserving companies?
“With regard to the Merchant Shipping Act, this is a technical guide to ensuring that standards of safety, of security and of operations are maintained. What also needs to be done is implementation so that ships that are coming to Nigeria don’t face unreasonable delays.
“As an industry, it is important that we start becoming more accountable and also holding those in government to account. I don’t find it very positive when a large numbers of private sector stakeholders shy away from holding government agencies accountable. A situation where private sector stakeholders celebrate mediocrity and at the very best, play the ostrich should be discouraged.
“For ship-owners, there needs to be more peer review. Nigerian ship-owners need to start looking at themselves. Inasmuch as we advocate the development of Nigerian tonnage, Nigerian shipowners also need to work with a certain level of minimum standards to ensure that there is confidence in the system.”