President Buhari’s second term and the maritime sector

Muhammadu Buhari. PHOTO CREDIT: Vanguard

The 2019 presidential election has come and gone. Hopes have been dashed. Jubilations are in the air – even jubilations that have led to loss of lives. While some are jubilating, some are licking their wounds. Many are stunned, not knowing what hit them. But there is no need crying over spilt milk. None of these human emotions will change the stark reality that President Mohammadu Buhari has been re-elected the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces. Life must go on; the nation must move on. It is on this score that we congratulate President Buhari on his re-election, and hope that his second term will usher in the much-desired positive change, especially in the maritime sector.

As the euphoria of the election victory begins to die down, we make haste to remind the President of the prostrate condition of the maritime sector. We want to remind him of his responsibilities, the expectations of stakeholders, as well as his unfulfilled promises in the sector. A myriad of problems are plaguing the maritime sector of which insecurity of the nation’s waters and the decay of maritime infrastructure are paramount. Frequent attacks on ships, piracy, kidnapping and all manner of criminal activities have continued unabated on Nigeria’s maritime milieu. In 2015, there were high expectations that under the leadership of President Buhari, all these vicious activities on the nation’s waters will be swiftly and decisively dealt with. But four years down the line, the situation has remained the same – and growing worse. No day passes without reports of piracy, hijacking of ships or kidnapping of crew members on Nigeria’s territorial waters. Sometimes, even ships at port anchorages are attacked. We expect President Buhari, in the second term of his administration, to focus on addressing these challenges and putting a stop to the insecurity on the nation’s waters – a situation that creates negative image and robs the country of foreign investments.

All along, the President and his officials at the various maritime agencies and the Ministry of Transportation have been voicing their awareness of the serious challenges in the maritime sector. Unfortunately, nothing serious has been done to address these challenges. As the nation is fighting crime, insurgency and terrorism on land, so should piracy and other forms of insecurity on the nation’s waters be fought with vehemence. There are many agencies engaged in fighting maritime insecurity, while maritime crimes continue to thrive. Government should streamline these agencies and their activities. Above all, the constitutional responsibility of the Nigerian Navy to protect Nigeria’s waters should be enforced. The navy should be strengthened and equipped to discharge its responsibility instead of the occasional attempts to contract out its functions to foreign private security firms.

Another area that President Buhari should tackle in his second term is the infrastructure deficit in the industry. The state of the ports should attract government’s sincere attention. The national embarrassment and shameful phenomenon called the ‘Apapa gridlock’ should be tackled with seriousness and tenacity. The condition of the Lagos ports access roads should engage the president’s attention this time around. Repairing the Oshodi-Apapa express road and other access roads to the ports and the already mouthed plan to link the Apapa port with rail should become a matter of priority to Buhari’s next cabinet. The economy has suffered enough under the weight of poor port access road. The toll it has taken on human lives and individual businesses also cannot be quantified.

The menace of trucks and tankers that destroy these roads, and convert them to their packing lots should be permanently checked this time. What Lagosians witnessed in the past few weeks has convinced them that the federal and Lagos State governments have what it takes to keep these errant trucks and tankers off the road in order to ameliorate the sufferings of motorists and commuters. On the eve of the president’s campaign in Lagos State, the roads were free of these articulated vehicles to the amazement of Nigerians. The same thing happened on the eve of the presidential election. These indicate that the problem of the port access roads is man-made and can be dealt with decisively if there is the political will to do so.

When the current administration came to power on May 29, 2015, Nigerian shipowners jubilated. They believed the messiah had come to end their woes and empower them to take control of the nation’s coastal trade and break into the business of crude oil lifting in order to recover the shipping component of crude oil sales, which the nation has been losing. But the administration is about coming to end without the realization of these expectations. It is expected that having been re-elected, the Buhari administration in its second term will address this issue squarely. All incentives must be provided and all obstacles dismantled to enable indigenous shipping operators partake fully in both coastal and international movement of cargo.

The maritime sector also expects that all the maritime bills that have been pending at the National Assembly will be passed and signed into law in the second term of President Buhari’s administration. Though it is not within the purview of the executive, it still has a role to play in lobbying the lawmakers and highlighting the importance of these bills to the sector and the economy. Most of these bills are executive bills and should not be dumped and forgotten at the National Assembly. Of course, one expects that the bills should be speedily signed into law when eventually passed.

The president should note that in his second term in office, Nigerians may not de disposed to tolerating blame games from his government.

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