For quite some time now, efforts have been geared towards diversifying the nation’s economy to reduce, if not eliminate, total dependence on oil as a source of revenue and foreign exchange for the country. In fact, there appears to be a national consensus that if such efforts being made today to diversify the national economy had started long before now, the exercise would have begun to bear fruits, and the country would not be feeling so much of the negative effects of the volatility of crude oil prices in the international oil market. But it is better late than never, as it is commonly said.
Agriculture has been the major focus of the drive for diversification, both at the federal and state levels. But while the focus on agriculture is beginning to yield positive results considering the bumper harvests that are being recorded in areas like rice production, poultry farming, fishing, etc., there remains a very high possibility of a positive yield from searches of other good sources of economic growth – some in areas that have never been given much consideration.
At the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), while attention is still focused on the primary responsibility of regulating the maritime industry, as well as promotion of maritime safety and security; prevention of marine pollution; search and rescue operation, as well as intelligence gathering, the agency is also paying attention to harnessing the potentials and resources in the country’s waters for the economic prosperity of Nigeria and its people. The responsibility of detecting and managing spillages is meant to keep the country’s brown and blue rivers clean for fishing and other maritime economic activities to flourish.
The reasonable degree of security and safety that has been achieved so far, which is evident in the reduction of the rate of piracy and other criminal activities in recent times, has brought about the need to turn attention to the search and exploration of the maritime environment to determine what it holds for the nation’s economic growth and development. The agency is therefore working to shift attention from crude to blue economy, considering the huge and untapped potential that the maritime environment holds. The aim is to enable the country to benefit optimally from its waterways up to the Exclusive Economic Zone, including the Gulf of Guinea.
In this regard, NIMASA is poised to kick-start the process of exploring the country’s maritime environment for the purpose of tapping its vast potential, in the hope that a viable alternative to oil as a national revenue source could become a reality. In order to realize this objective, five working groups, each focused on a critical cum major aspect of the overall Blue Economy, have been designed to work on the modalities for translating this dream to reality. One of them is the Blue Economy Security Working Group (SWG).
The SWG is saddled with the responsibility of seeking to understand and address the critical issues that border on the overall and sustained protection of the country’s blue assets from the activities of pirates and other maritime criminals, as well as any development that may pose a security threat to the country’s maritime ecosystem.
It shall also be the responsibility of the SWG to explore all related matters that may contribute to achieving security of the country’s maritime environment, such as regional collaborations; collaborations and partnerships with industry stakeholders, including security and intelligence services that are working with NIMASA on the Deep Blue Project, and also working out modalities for containing restiveness in coastal communities. This will require the active participation of littoral states since the issue of youth restiveness in the maritime environment is essentially limited to states that lie on the country’s maritime borders.
The work of the SWG would also include intelligence gathering and sharing with relevant stakeholders, the building of maritime awareness capability, development of legal frameworks, among others, that have security bearing on the Blue Economy. An example of the legal framework the SWG could be working on is the extensive deployment of the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences (SPOMO) Act of 2019, which has come in handy is strengthening the fight against piracy and all forms of banditry in the Nigerian maritime environment. The strategic importance of the law can be seen in the fact that at the last count within one year, it has made it possible for NIMASA to obtain 20 convictions on maritime offences in the courts of law.
The SWG would also come up with strategies for the deployment of the latest and appropriate technology to aid the fight against piracy and other forms of maritime offences in the country’s waterways.
The proposed kick start is expected to signal the full commitment of NIMASA to the development of the Blue Economy, as a significant contribution to concerted efforts at diversifying the Nigerian economy.
Dr. Bashir Jamoh, Director-General and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA)