PAINTING THE PORTS BLUE: THE ROAD TO BLUE ECONOMY IN NIGERIA
There have been calls for the diversification of the Nigerian economy from heavy reliance on the oil industry to other sources of revenue. The oil industry has, in recent years, faced a steady decline in economic returns for a number of reasons: the global search for more eco-friendly alternatives to crude oil like biofuels, and the instability of oil prices due to the price feud between the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) led by Saudi Arabia and non-OPEC producers led by Russia, among other reasons. In addition to these, the year 2020 has precipitated a lack of demand for oil as a result of commercial inactivity during the lockdown stage of the Covid-19 pandemic. These issues have created a sense of urgency around the exploration of alternative sectors to boost the Nigerian economy, like agriculture, telecommunications, and the sector that constitutes the focus of this article: the maritime industry. It has been reported that 95 per cent of Nigerian trade, by volume, and more than 70 per cent of its value moves around aboard ships and is handled by seaports nationwide. This amounts to a yearly sum of six billion dollars in revenue, a figure that is bound to rise as the demand for international trade increases, with shipping as the most cost-effective and safest method for the transportation of goods.
This drive towards economic exploration via maritima has become influenced by the need for the economic processes of the maritime industry to be conducted with sustainability in mind. With the call for alarm as regards global warming, environmental degradation and the future implications these would have on the planet, countries and organizations have begun to look at ways in which they can ensure long term use and protection of their natural resources. This desire has given rise to the need for the implementation of a concept known as Blue Economy, and this article would serve as a grafting board upon which the aforementioned buzzword would be dissected; especially in relation to its viability in Nigeria, the challenges that would arise in the process, suggestions to guarantee its implementation amidst the turbulence of Nigerian legislative and executive processes, and the potential that could be harnessed if explored.
2.0 BLUE ECONOMY IN THE HELM OF CURRENT AFFAIRS
The concept of Blue Economy, according to The Commonwealth, views the oceans as a means of economic growth whilst placing strong emphasis on the dutiful management of its resources, to guarantee sustainability. An offshoot from the concept of Green Economy, (which focuses on the sustainable and equitable use of environmental resources), Blue Economy focuses primarily on water with the aim of ensuring that marine resources are properly managed and the health of the marine environment is adequately protected. The concept of Blue Economy is in line with Sustainable Development Goal 14 “Life Below Water” of the United Nations Agenda 2030. The goal is for Member States to implement policies and actions that protect the bodies of water on the earth through coordinated efforts and eco-centrism.
While plastic pollution and oil spills from drilling are the more popular causes of pollution within the marine environment, the contribution of the shipping industry to marine degradation should not be undermined. Shipping accounts for 3.5% to 4% of all climate change emissions and ejects almost 300,000 gallons of waste-water into the sea daily, which consumes oxygen in the water and kills the life therein. This is without mentioning the solid waste from fleet debris that might pose a threat to sea animals. In addition to all of these, marine pollution also affects the lives of human beings, as cancer, lung inflammations and heart diseases have been linked to emissions from ships. “Ship pollution affects the health of communities in coastal and inland regions around the world, yet pollution from ships remains one of the least regulated parts of our global transportation system,” said Professor James Corbett from Delaware University.
According to the International Chamber of Shipping, while environmental degradation by the maritime industry has decreased substantially over the years thanks to sustainable shipping practices, many developing countries still have a long way to go due to challenges that boil down to the lack of adequate administration of the shipping industry, and proper waste reception management on vessels. Statistics show that Nigeria, Libya, Egypt, Morocco contributed a total of 46 per cent of greenhouse gasses in Africa. These emissions are highly dangerous as they reduce the quality of air, affect the climate negatively and destroy life under the sea. Yet have remained highly unregulated and unresolved due to the lack of adequate resources pushed into the management of the industry. Nigeria may be a signatory to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Vessels (commonly known as ‘MARPOL’) and a member of the Commonwealth Blue Charter, but it would take more than acquiescing to ceremonial actions of this nature for true change to hold effect.
The Federal Government has recognized the importance of protecting the marine environment and has expressed its willingness to adopt Blue Economy mindedness as a National ideology. Rotimi Amaechi, the current Minister of Transportation, in a speech at the Sustainable Blue Economy Conference at Kenya in 2018, expressed that the Federal Government had taken steps to include Blue Economy into its economic plans. According to the Minister, the steps to be taken would be presented as part of the draft of the National Transport policy to provide a platform for the protection of sustainable exploitation of the country’s maritime resources. As of present, the plans for this bill have been kept on hold for reasons that have remained undisclosed.
3.0 ROADBLOCKS TO THE ACHIEVEMENT OF BLUE ECONOMY AND PROPOSED SOLUTIONS
A common trend in the Nigerian system is the lack of adequate implementation of environmental laws and policies enacted by the State. Section 20 of the 1999 Constitution empowers the State to protect and improve the environment and safeguard the water, air and land, forest and wildlife of Nigeria. However, reality shows that most policies and bodies designed to implement these obligations are ineffective owing to a myriad of problems that have eaten deep into the fabric of the political system as a whole.
For instance, the Constitution renders Section 20 non-justiciable by virtue of Section 6(6)(c). Where such inconsistencies on legislative grounds exist, it would be unnatural to expect effective implementation of the same. It, therefore, follows that organized action by the government is necessary before the implementation of Blue Economy can be put into effect. More than just creating and passing bills, said bills must mirror the current reality of the country. They must also be practicable. After the legislative process has been carried out effectively, the executive process should be effective as well. The inclusion of the Blue Economy model into the country’s maritime industry would remain a pipe dream without adequate implementation by the executive arm of government, and all other stakeholders of the maritime industry.
In furtherance of Operation Blue Economy in Nigeria, the institutions in place should be empowered with the necessary tools for carrying out their mandate with sustainability in mind. Existing policies should be reviewed and amended to ensure that they display consciousness of the importance of Blue Economy. The government should provide funds and ensure accountability of the use of said funds in improving the quality of ship vessels. Air pollutants would reduce if new technologies and operating systems are introduced. Some of these include: replacing old engines that may encourage spills and noxious emissions, switching to low-sulfur fuels, reducing fees for ships that emit lower gases, and setting a cap limit on the level of environmental degradation a ship can generate before it is banned from trading activities.
In the same vein, premium attention should be given to the issue of water pollution. It is known that merchant ships throwing cargo waste into the ocean contributes significantly to marine pollution. This is occasioned by the illegal activities of shipowners who, in a bid to avoid paying fees to private waste pollution control companies (because the Nigerian Ports Authority does not own or operate any) dispose of waste in the ocean. Unethical behaviour of this kind would be discouraged if the government provides the NPA with adequate machinery for waste control at the ports and makes the price of waste disposal affordable for ship owners. Measures of this sort serve no guarantee that unethical behaviour would stop entirely, but will provide a step in the right direction. The general enforcement of the International Maritime Organization’s regulations would make a positive difference. The MARPOL 73/78 convention specifically covers the prevention of marine pollution by activities of the maritime industry and its directives should be implemented by the State.
In terms of research, the government should create institutions for the purpose of researching the health of border waters, mapping and accessing coastal damage, tracking oil spills and ensuring marine health. This would solve the problem of inadequate data surrounding the industry’s activities, and help better the tracking progress on the Blue Economy initiative. The government should fund these research institutions properly and compel them to submit quarterly reviews of findings. By so doing, accountability would be ensured.
Anti-piracy laws already in place should receive adequate paramilitary backing to aid in the prevention of the hijacking of ships that could lead to wreckage and heighten the sense of insecurity in coastline communities. Finally, if one were to be ambitious, a proposal for the Maritime Industry to stand as a Ministry of its own, based on its importance to the Nigerian economy should be championed. This is implemented in countries like Indonesia and would allow for better management of the industry. Considering the Aviation industry stands alone as a Ministry despite the lack of returns it makes to the State, a Ministry of Maritime affairs could do the Nigerian economy significant good.
In all, Nigeria should emulate countries like Singapore and China that have advanced the Maritime industry, recognize patterns that would be actionable at home and implement them. Through the intentional application of the measures stated above, the country’s economy would boom. During the 2019/2020 maritime forecast unveiled by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) in Lagos, the Director-General, Mr Dakuku Peterside, discussed how
the maritime sector has the potential of contributing at least 10% of Nigeria’s GDP in no distant future, as Nigeria has the biggest market in Africa; and generates about 65-67% of cargo throughput in West Africa, and 65% of all cargo heading for these regions will most likely end up in the Nigerian market.
 With such tremendous prospects in place, it would be for the benefit of all if such potential is reached and even surpassed, always with the future in mind.
This article has given a brief introduction to the need for Blue Economy in the Nigerian scene. To this end, therefore, and in addition to all that has been proposed above, it is the prerogative of all stakeholders and interested persons, including students, to keep driving the initiative and awareness of Blue Economy through conferences, discourses and referendums. By so doing, a brighter, bluer future for the maritime industry and the country at large would become a reality.
Treasure Okure is a 400-level student of the faculty of Law, University of Lagos. She is the Deputy Editor in Chief of the UNILAG Law Review. She is passionate about sustainability and self development and has worked with youth-led organizations like AIESEC, Youth Sustainability Development Network (YSDN) and Lagos Model United Nations (LMUN). In her personal time, she enjoys reading, writing, creating art and spending time with friends.
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