The African Union recently launched the years 2015-2025 as decade for African seas and oceans, with July 25th every year specially dedicated to “African Day of the Seas and Oceans”, a day set aside to draw attention to the raising importance of world trade conducted through the waterways.
Nigeria with its massive and critical maritime economy has joined the rest of Africa to highlight the potentials of this sector. The managing director, National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), Boss Mustapha, was at event held in Lagos and shared his thoughts on Nigeria’s ocean economy and the high-end profile of the nation’s inland waterways.
On African Day of the Sea and Oceans
The first African Day of the Seas and Oceans was marked at the African Union Commission headquarters in Addis Ababa exactly one year today. Amongst other objectives, it was aimed at raising awareness, at national and continental levels, on the launch of the 2015-2025 Decade of African Seas and Oceans. Against the backdrop of the fact that 90% of Africa’s imports and exports, and more than 80% of world trade are conducted by sea, constituting by far the most important means of goods transportation, it has become imperative for the continent, nay Nigeria, to optimise the opportunities offered by the maritime sector, otherwise referred to as the Blue economy.
Whereas highways and railways are the result of man’s labour and inventive genius, the Creator of the universe made waterways for the use and benefit of man. Water transport is the safest, most environmentally friendly and the cheapest means of carrying large cargo, of all the modes of transport known to man today. A single 15-barge tow of cargo on water would require about 225 railroad cars or 870 road trucks to transport same. And on top of this is its incomparably high levels of fuel efficiency – an increasingly expensive commodity today.
Importance of Maritime Sector
The significance of the maritime sector in the economy cannot be overemphasized. Maritime or water-borne carriage of economic goods and persons has played a key role in Nigeria’s development over the years, although it is still work-in-progress, in terms of investments in critical infrastructure, human capacity development, safety and security, to mention but a few.
Maritime transport, whether on the high seas or inland waterways, plays a key role in the movement of goods and services such as for the oil and gas industry, agro-industrial, solid minerals, etc. Nigeria is naturally endowed with the second longest length of waterways in Africa – an extensive coastline of about 852km, stretching from Badagry in the south west to Calabar in the south east, and about 8,600 km of inland waterways with the international waters of the rivers Niger and Benue alone providing hundreds of kilometres of navigability all-year-round.
NIWA Flags off New Economy
The National Inland Waterways Authority has between 2009 and 2013, overseen the capital and maintenance dredging of the river Niger from Warri in Delta State to Baro in Niger State. With the sea ports in Warri and Portharcourt, river ports in Onitsha, Oguta, Lokoja and Baro, the environment is ripe for the private sector to key into this subsector of the economy, providing the critical link to domestic and international trade. This would generate huge revenues for government and investors alike, in addition to the promotion of trade and commerce, job opportunities and employment creation, institutional development and the promotion of the tourism and leisure industry.
How US and Others Drive Trade/Revenue
In the US for instance, coal for the electricity industry, petroleum products, construction industry aggregates and cement, chemicals, including fertilizers, metal ores and minerals, heavy products such as steel and many other manufactured products are moved through its inland waterways. Shippers and consumers in the economies of 38 states in the USA depend on inland waterways to move about 630 million tonnes of cargo, valued at over 73 billion dollars annually! Moreover, 60%of the country’s farm exports travel by inland waterways.
In Germany, Luxembourg and Belgium, more than 10%of total inland freight was transported on inland waterways in 2013, with this share increasing to more than 25% in Bulgaria and Romania. It peaked to over 47.1% in the Netherlands, the same share as recorded for the freight on its roads.
It is Hard Work under My Call
I share the sentiments of those who hold the view that earnings from the maritime sector, of which inland waterways is a key component, can compete favorably with revenues derived by Nigeria from oil exports. However, these potential earnings will not fall like manna from the skies – we have to work for it – and there is so much to be done by all of us. As our dear country battles recession as a fall-out of dwindling fortunes from oil, we must be innovative, pull up our sleeves and go to work day and night, to diversify the income base of our fledgling economy.
One key answer lies with the maritime sector. The National Inland Waterways Authority under my stewardship, intends to quickly bring together all critical stakeholders -Public and Private – to discuss, analyse and hopefully put together a sustainable road map for the speedy synthesis of the inland waterways subsector and its big sister, sea and ocean transportation, with a view to unleashing the trajectory of the huge potentials of this sector to the economy of our country, now and in the years ahead.