Journalism in the service of society

Time to create Ministry of Blue Economy

WE are living in a world today that is full of uncertainties, but in order to survive, we must be willing to adapt to the changes taking place around us. Nigerians are trying to adjust and adapt to the prevailing harsh economic situation. With inflation at over 24 percent, a lot of businesses, especially SMEs, are in extreme distress and struggling to survive.

But we should also worry about how these challenging times are affecting leadership quality across all the three tiers of government. It follows therefore that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, all the state governors and chairmen of the local councils must lead through change and make decisions in the public interest.

Leadership theorists Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus coined the acronym VUCA in 1987 to describe “volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity” of situations. The constant and unpredictable changes in the world today (the impact of Covid-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war on global supply chains are two examples) demand strategic thinking, new skills and knowledge, and inspiring innovation from our leaders.

Rapidly changing technologies are enhancing efficiency and disrupting existing business models such as the hotel industry (Airbnb) and the taxi industry (Uber). Constant innovation must therefore be the name of the game, and instead of resisting change, our leaders should be curious, self-aware and willing to adapt.

As we try to adjust our sails in the new direction of our economic headwinds, President Tinubu definitely needs a team of trusted advisers and experts to support his vision. I am sure he will welcome fresh ideas and innovative solutions from time to time to stabilise the economy and increase our national revenue. 

We want competent and innovative ministers who can think on their feet, and are ready to block the “leakages” in their respective ministries. What we have on the record are 45 ministerial nominees out of 48 who have been confirmed by the senate after the nonsensical and annoying bow-and-go ritual.

Senate president Godswill Akpabio and his colleagues missed the point; the screening exercise ought to have been more rigorous and nuanced in view of the enormous challenges facing us.

It is being speculated that new ministries would be created to address our current situation. To be sure, there are new opportunities around us, and they include exploring the concept of “blue economy” and creating the Ministry of Blue Economy or Ocean Affairs. 

Truth be told, this ministry is long overdue in the face of our dwindling economic fortunes, and more importantly, to support the diversification of the economy. What is blue economy and what will this new ministry do for us? 

Since 2020, I have been researching this concept with the assistance of Rear Admiral Daniel Atakpa, (then a commodore serving as deputy director of Hydrography at the naval headquarters in Abuja). In that same year, I wrote an article titled, “The amazing potential of Nigeria’s blue economy,” published in several media outlets which eventually formed a chapter in my book, ‘My Lockdown Diary: Reflections on Nigeria and Covid-19 Pandemic’ published three years ago.

According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the “sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of the ocean ecosystem.” 

As I found out during my research, Oceanpanel.org is a dependable and insightful resource on the oceans, and it is a unique global initiative by serving world leaders (Nigeria is not on the panel) who are working together “to build momentum towards a sustainable ocean economy.” 

“The oceans lead to greater prosperity,” according to information available on the Ocean Panel website. “It is an engine of livelihoods, transport, commerce and energy production. A healthy ocean contributes $1.5 trillion to the global economy annually and has an estimated asset value of $24 trillion.”

Over three billion people depend on ocean resources for their livelihood, and more than half of the oxygen we breathe come from the oceans. The African Union (AU) estimates that the blue economy currently generates about $300 billion for the continent, creating 49 million jobs in the process.

Whether it is the World Bank, the United Nations or the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), they share the same view about ocean resources as the next great economic frontier of the world. 

The UN defines blue economy as “a range of economic activities related to oceans, seas and coastal areas and whether these activities are sustainable and socially equitable.” The oceans cover two-thirds of the Earth’s surface and they are vital for planetary and human health – including combating climate change.

The blue economy concept always emphasises “sustainability” of the oceans, even as we exploit it for economic benefits. The economic activities in the traditional sector include fisheries, coastal leisure and tourism, ship and boat building, sea water desalination, offshore oil and gas, and shipping (marine transportation).

However, more recently, emerging sectors include blue carbon sequestration, aquaculture, seabed extractive activities, offshore renewable energy, deep sea mining, and biotechnology with opportunities for training and employment.

The economic potential and capacity of the blue economy within the resource-rich Gulf of Guinea is simply breathtaking, but accurate data analysis is required to monitor the sustainability of the oceans.

In my earlier article, I noted that Nigeria which is situated in the Gulf of Guinea has a massive coastline of about 420 nautical miles and an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 200 nautical miles. This translates to a maritime area of 290 square kilometres, about one-third of our land area (924 square kilometres). 

Since Africa’s ocean wealth is estimated at about $300 billion, just imagine what will accrue to Nigeria annually if we get our act right. The Maritime Stakeholders Forum has been asking for a review of the enabling laws in the maritime sector to ignite the blue economy and bring it to life.

According to Rear Admiral Atakpa, a leading expert on the blue economy, we must optimise the benefits of traditional and emerging sectors in a sustainable way by using an important tool known as “Marine Spatial Planning (MSP).”

“The MSP is considered the most important element in the establishment of a functional and virile blue economy, and the most critical requirement next to maritime security,” Real Admiral Atakpa added.

“The MSP”, he continued, “is the overarching administration of critical ocean-based and ocean-related maritime stakeholders with respect to who gets and does what, where, when, why and how, in a given maritime space for the purpose of achieving ocean sustainability through a well-coordinated use of the ocean space in a manner devoid of inter-sectoral conflict and rivalry.”

Rear Admiral Atakpa also said the sustainability component of the blue economy will avert resource recklessness and it will enhance Nigeria’s signatory commitments to the United Nations Development Goals in the context of Goal No 14 which is “Life below Water.”

The MSP is to be administered by a Marine Spatial Planner (an expert in ocean affairs) that would effectively be the minister in the proposed ministry.

Properly harnessed, this ministry will boost our revenue – it will significantly reduce our budget deficits – at a time we are using over 90 percent of our revenue to service our debts. It has just been reported that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) owes JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs $7.5 billion in what it classified as “securities lending.” 

There’s also another liability of $6.3 billion owed in foreign currency forwards (forex obligations CBN needs to meet to foreign investors), bringing the total debt obligation to $13.8 billion that has reduced the reserves of CBN. This report is contained in its audited financial statement as at December 2022 published on its website.

Stakeholders in the maritime sector have also asked President Tinubu to create a separate ministry for the sector out of the Ministry of Transportation as a deliberate policy for economic prosperity.

Nigeria’s maritime industry is large enough to have its own ministry dedicated to the blue economy activities. Transportation and aviation used to be under the same ministry until they were separated by the previous administration. Why can’t the maritime sector have its own ministry?

At the moment, the different blue economy sectors operate in silos as departments and agencies under different ministries with varying understanding of, and commitment to, the ocean resources. For example, fisheries is under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development while shipping is under the Ministry of Transportation.

Offshore renewable energy and deep sea mining are yet to be fully assimilated within the Energy Commission, and Ministry of Mines and Steel Development respectively. The same thing applies to marine tourism. 

Thus, the Ministry of Blue Economy will serve as a one-stop shop ministry for all maritime and maritime-related departments and agencies in Nigeria for the purpose of achieving ocean sustainability, and eradicating the present and routine duplication of functions. The current situation also engenders budgetary duplication and wastages.

The new ministry under the right leadership (it must not be business as usual otherwise the purpose would be defeated) will emplace proper accountability for ocean-generated resources and wealth. If there’s a ministry of aviation that is not contributing to the national GDP as much as the maritime sector, we may as well have a ministry of blue economy.

I stated in my article three years ago that Nigeria, South Africa, Madagascar, Kenya and Somalia are the five African countries with blue economy potential. However, I decried the situation whereby our maritime operations continue to lose money to foreigners due to weak regulatory frameworks. 

For example, we lose significant export revenues to foreign ships lifting oil from Nigerian ports because we don’t have a national ocean carrier. The shipping sector alone loses over N7 trillion annually, according to dependable sources. This is massive capital flight that we can no longer afford. What then is the purpose of the Cabotage Act 2003?

The Ministry of Blue Economy will warehouse all maritime departments, agencies and stakeholders. President Tinubu can task the newly created National Economic Council to engage appropriate technocrats and experts to come up with an operational framework for the new ministry. 

The agencies that will be supervised by the ministry include the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Federal Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, Nigerian Ports Authority and the Nigerian Shippers’ Council.

Others are the Nigerian Institute for Oceanography and Marine Research (NIOMR), and the Maritime Academy of Nigeria in Oron, Akwa Ibom State established for capacity and manpower development.

The strategic goals of the ministry will include but not limited to bringing all maritime and maritime related departments under one roof for effective ocean administration, transparency and accountability; eliminating the duplication of functions and rivalries between agencies and departments, and promoting and maximising ocean sustainability.

The proposed ministry will serve as a dependable source of alternative revenue – away from oil. The minister must therefore be a professional who is knowledgeable about blue economy management and familiar with marine spatial planning which will be at the core of the ministry’s mandate. 

However, it must be noted that we cannot operationalise the blue economy concept without the expertise of the Nigerian Navy. Apart from providing hydrographic support in critical baseline data on which all other sectors of the blue economy are to be built, it will also ensure credible maritime security and enforcement of marine spatial planning directives in compliance with Step 8 of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC)/UNESCO 10-step guide to MSP. 

President Tinubu, the ball is now in your court. How do you want to play?

Braimah is a global public relations and marketing strategist. He is also the publisher/editor-in-chief of Naija Times (https://ntm.ng) and Lagos Post (https://lagospost.ng), and can be reached via [email protected].                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

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