My attention has been drawn to speculation purported to have emanated from the Presidential Policy Advisory group, erroneously classifying the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) as a revenue generating agency, thereby proposing a merger of NIMASA, CUSTOMS and FIRS. It is a very serious misconception and dangerous for the future of shipping/maritime industry in Nigeria.
The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) was created in 2007 following the merger of National Maritime Authority (NMA) and Joint Maritime Labour Industrial Council (JOMALIC) deriving its powers from Merchant Shipping Act, 2007, NIMASA Act, 2007 and Coastal and Inland shipping (cabotage) Act, 2003. The agency is a maritime safety administration responsible for regulating shipping activities in Nigeria with a view to achieving safer shipping and cleaner oceans as mandated by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) through its various Conventions and Protocols.
The enabling acts give NIMASA statutory powers as specified by international conventions and protocols for the enthronement of global best practices in ensuring safety of navigation and prevention/control of marine pollution in the shipping industry as regulated by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in which Nigeria is a contracting member state. The agency also has responsibility for development of indigenous shipping capacity.
International Maritime Organisation (IMO) is an organ of the United Nations charged with the responsibility of regulating global shipping trade with special focus on safety of navigation and prevention of marine pollution as contained in the United Nations Convention on the Law of The Sea (UNCLOS). Article 194, 211, 212, of UNCLOS specifically mandates states to adopt laws and regulations for the prevention, reduction and control of pollution of the marine environment from vessels flying their flags or of their registry.
The IMO has 167 maritime nations as members, including Nigeria due to our vast maritime coastline. It issues conventions and protocols which all member state assent to, regulating global shipping trade. Such conventions as Marine Pollution Prevention (MARPOL) and its various annexures i.e. discharging of oily waste, noxious substances and dangerous goods, discharging of sewage, garbage including plastics, air emission, etc. Other conventions like London Protocol on Prohibition of Dumping of Waste in the Marine Environment, International Convention on Wreck Removal (Nairobi Convention), Training and Certification of Seafarer (STCW ’95), Safety of Life At Sea (SOLAS), Convention on Ship Recycling to Ensure Environmental Sound Practices (Hong Kong) Convention, to mention just a few. All these convention have been domesticated in Nigeria and NIMASA is the focal agency for implementation of the conventions through the discharge of its technical mandate which cannot be performed by any other agency in Nigeria.
NIMASA being the safety administration of Nigeria has counterparts in 167 maritime nations responsible for ensuring safer shipping and cleaner oceans through the instrumentality of the technical mandate it performs viz port states inspection, flag states inspection, search and rescue, maritime capacity building, maritime security by ensuring our waters are safe from piracy and sea robbers, prevention/control of marine pollution, administers the training and certification of seafarers (STCW ’95), shipping development, coastal and inland shipping (Cabotage) and maritime labour administration. All these functions by NIMASA require technical expertise and can only be performed by a safety administration. The same technical functions are performed by Maritime Safety Administration of UK, MCA, US Coast Guard, Safety Administration of Greece, Finland, Cyprus and all other member countries of IMO.
It is, therefore, my humble position that emphasis of government should be on how to strengthen NIMASA to deliver more on its technical mandates and not merging it with agencies that are not compatible with its philosophy and objectives. However, I am happy Ms Hadiza Bala Usman, the former MD of the Nigerian Ports Authority, has been appointed by President Tinubu as the special adviser policy coordination. Hadiza, whom I know is very abreast of the Nigerian Maritime sector, would be able to advise the president accordingly due to her expertise and experience in the industry.
I can say the proposal in my view is like suggesting a merger of Nigerian Navy with Nigeria Civil Defence because the later has responsibility for protecting critical national assets. For instance, technically speaking, all ships that call on Nigeria waters carry minimum of five certificates which include certificate on safety equipment, certificate on radio equipment, and certificate on crewing etc. These certificates are carried by all ship calling on ports globally. NIMASA surveyors, under its port states responsibility must board these ships to ensure compliance with global requirements. NIMASA also carries out flag state inspection on all ships before they are registered to determine their fitness for purpose. In this regard, the ships are subjected to preregistration survey and condition survey. All these are in line with the Safety of Life At Sea (SOLAS) Convention and STCW ‘95 Convention.
Again the activities of over forty (40) floating production storage offloading (FPSO) and Floating Storage Offloading (FSO) like, Agbami, Bonga, Egina, Akpo engaging in crude oil exploration and production offshore Nigerian waters are potential polluters. It is the responsibility of NIMASA to monitor and ensure that there is no pollution of the marine environment to protect aquatic life and our ecosystem. To do this, NIMASA must invest heavily in the procument of offshore reception facilities to collect and process the wastes from these platforms. All these are in line with MARPOL Convention, and the mandate requires technical know-how which NIMASA over the years has developed capacity to handle.
Let me quickly point out that there is no doubt that in the course of discharging her technical mandate, NIMASA generates revenue and uses part of it to prosecute its technical regulatory functions. The surplus at the end of the year is paid into the federation account in line with the target set by Ministry of Finance.
However, the critical and urgent nature of some of these technical activities and the fact that they require instant response is part of the reason NIMASA is allowed to retain its funds and sometime not allowed to go through the bureaucracy of tendering e.g a vessel that is sinking or an unexpected oil spill and pollution of the waters, or wreck that needs to be removed to ensure safety of channels for Navigation, flag state inspection, survey, regular patrol of our coastal waters and enforcement of necessary regulations.
It is my strong view, therefore, that the proposed merger will be counterproductive with huge negative implications for Nigeria in the global shipping community. Our waters may be considered no longer safe for international shipping and that can affect the volume of maritime trade and eventually lead to drop in revenue.
Another implication is that our waters can become a destination for rickety ships and thereby becoming a dumping ground for ship wrecks and derelicts. As at today, Nigeria is the leading maritime nation in West and Central Africa in terms of ship traffic and cargo. This feat was not achieved in a day. It is the cumulative effect of the reforms successive administrations introduced to strengthen the capacity of NIMASA as a Maritime Safety Administration for the country.
As former Director General/CEO of NIMASA, Executive Director (NIMASA), Assistant General Manager (NPA) and representative of Nigeria on the Council of International Maritime Organisation (IMO), my advice is that the federal government under the able leadership of His Excellency President Bola Ahmed Tinubu should consult major maritime stakeholders on issues affecting the maritime industry for proper guidance. The industry is the gateway to the economy of Nigeria and also very critical to the logistics aspect of the oil and gas industry since most of the crude oil production and exploration activities take place offshore Nigerian waters. Trial and error will not work. Rather, NIMASA being the regulator should be strengthened technically. The whole idea of merger should be set aside until wider consultation with the industry stakeholders is held.
Written by Dr Ade Dosunmu, Former DG/CEO NIMASA