Nine years after it enactment, the Coastal and Inland Shipping Act of 2003, otherwise called the Cabotage Act, is currently undergoing some amendments by the National Assembly.
The amendment of this act is long overdue, going by the several criticisms trailing the implementation of this act.
Just like the Jones Act of the United States (US), the Cabotage Act was enacted to reserve the trade within the country’s territorial waters exclusively for indigenous operators. And to participate in the coastal trade, the Cabotage Act stipulated that the vessels to be used by indigenous operators must be built and registered in Nigeria and also be wholly owned and manned by Nigerians, which are referred to as the four pillars upon which the law is standing.
However, where the above criteria are not meant by the operator, the act made a provision for a waiver, which is granted by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) through the Minister of Transport.
But soon after the act was signed, many saw the act as being built on a faulty foundation with the provision of the waiver clause and the four pillars.
Till date, many stakeholders are of the view that the law has in no way bettered the lots of Nigeria and Nigerians, as a result of weak implementation by those saddled with this task.
According to stakeholders, the country’s coastal trade is still dominated by foreign operators, who allegedly carry out over 90 percent of trade in Nigeria’s territorial waters.
Amending the act now is, therefore a laudable effort by the National Assembly (NASS), which all stakeholders must take proper advantage of and address the various lapses that they have identified.
Stakeholders should make their positions known, because a number of them have cried of exclusion from the act.
Those crying of exclusion have said that the act just mentioned their activities in passing and not in nomenclature.
Others have said that the major impediment to the full implementation of the act is the waiver clause, which they said is granted with impunity.
Last month, the House of Representatives, Joint Committee on Marine Transport and Justices, held a public hearing on the amendments to the act, which we think is the kind of opportunity which stakeholders should seize to address the alleged lapses in the law.
Stakeholders must, therefore, make their positions known regarding the act, so that they do not cry of marginalisation. It is left for them to realise this to end their continuous complaints about weak implementation of the law.
The lawmakers on their part should also listen to every idea provided by stakeholders since they are the operators. They should not be in a haste to pass the amendments to the act without listening to the diverse opinions that will be expressed by stakeholders.
NASS must also ensure that it collates all the opinions of all the groupings within the maritime sector so as to have a holistic review of the act. The lawmakers should not just only listen to the so-called big names in the industry, but must also listen to whoever that has an opinion to express concerning the act.
NIMASA on its part should come forward and present to NASS factors which have been hindering effective implementation of the law.
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