By Steve Agbota, [email protected]

With a coastline of 852 kilometres bordering the Atlantic Ocean in the Gulf of Guinea and a maritime area of over 46,000 sqkm, Nigeria possesses fresh mangrove swamps, creeks, coastal rivers, estuaries, bays, and offshore waters, making it very attractive to other nations.

   Eight out of the 36 states, with 25 per cent of Nigeria’s total population, share the Atlantic Ocean coastline and the country is blessed with abundant resources in oceans and seas to back its economic diversification and development drive.

The blue economy encompasses fishing, coastal leisure and tourism, shipbuilding, seawater desalination, offshore oil and gas.

However, new industries have emerged in deep sea mining, biotechnology, aquaculture, seabed extraction, offshore renewable energy and blue carbon sequestration. All these are what Nigeria can harness from its ocean economy.

It will be interesting to know that today, the ocean economy supports 90 per cent of global trade and provides millions of jobs. It includes shipping, tourism and offshore energy valued at $24 trillion. Marine fisheries and reefs, sea grass and mangroves are worth $6.9 trillion, trade and transport $5.2 trillion; and coastline productivity and carbon absorption, $12.1 trillion. Therefore, Nigeria’s establishment of a Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy is a strategic move.

Today, Nigeria’s untapped blue economy potential is valued at $296 billion but there are no clear cut policies to maximise them.

Daily Sun learnt that with the huge natural resources embedded in the nation’s blue economy,  Nigeria has no reason lagging  behind but can only tap into this huge potential through policies that would ensure marine sustainability.

The discovery of the potential in the blue economy is one of the reasons stakeholders’ and the ministry had a meeting to brainstorm on how to harness the opportunities.

Recently, the federal government said it is targeting  over $2.7 billion from the sector and the ministry has commenced the process of developing a national policy which will play a great role in enhancing the performance of the shipping sub-sector and boost trade facilitation as well as economic growth.

According to the ministry, the development of the policy will provide a comprehensive framework to deliver the expected $2.7 billion in revenue by tackling leakages, through the envisaged streamlined approach to the management of the sector.

At a recent meeting with stakeholders, the Minister of Marine and Blue Economy, Adegboyega Oyetola, said the ministry is exploring fiscal and trade policies to promote greater participation of Nigerians in the shipping industry.

He revealed that the government identified the maritime sector as a pivotal area of focus, and the ministry is committed to creating an enabling environment for businesses to thrive.

“As we navigate the complex waters of global trade and economic uncertainty, we must recognise the significance of the marine and blue economy sector in stimulating national economic growth and development.

“The government has identified this sector as a pivotal area of focus, and we are committed to creating an enabling environment that supports your businesses and promotes the growth of the sector as a whole.

“Ship owners and operators are the backbone of the maritime sector, contributing to trade, transportation, and job creation. We acknowledge the challenges you face, from safety and security concerns to regulatory hurdles and market fluctuations. It is the resolve of government to address these challenges and foster a conducive environment for your operations,” he stated.

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However,  a maritime lawyer, Dr. Emeka Akabogu, in a paper presentation said that the maritime sector is potentially the largest economic sector outside of oil and gas, adding that it is estimated that Nigeria’s untapped blue economy potential is valued at $296 billion.

“Experts also estimate that our maritime sector can generate N7 trillion annually and two million jobs over five years. This is largely because of our vast marine assets of the longest coastline in West Africa, stretching over 892 km from Badagry to Bakassi, with a total shelf area of about 42,000 km2 (UNEP, 2014).

“Our territorial sea extends from the coastline to a breadth of 12 nautical miles, the continental shelf extends about 50 miles making us one of the eight countries with a continental shelf that allows for the extension of our EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) from 200 miles to a further 150 miles. These are in addition to our nearly 4,000 Km of inland waterways,” he said.

According to him, this vast expanse, teeming with life, is a treasure trove of resources – from off-shore economic activities such as fishing, salvage, towage, and underwater resources such as bountiful fisheries, rich oil and gas reserves, to on-shore economic activities such as port activities, maritime transport, ship construction, repairs, and maintenance activities.

Speaking on the expectations of government, he said although there was no particular reference to the marine and blue economy sector in the manifesto of the President Bola Tinubu but the creation and designation of a dedicated ministry clearly indicates that the sector occupies a special position in the plan and programme of this administration.

“Deducing from its manifesto, some of the expectations of the government in this regard include youth employment, resource maximisation and revenue optimisation. The minister put it more clearly –  that Nigeria’s marine resources are harnessed responsibly, enriching the lives of our citizens while preserving the natural beauty of our coastal ecosystems,” he said.

He added that Nigerians are looking up to the sector to be efficient in solving their daily problems, to create job opportunities that will bring gainful employment and to create wealth.

“In the context of our discussions here, this will be through those activities in the maritime value chain relevant to NIMASA that optimise efficiency, quick turn-around, safety, security and cost savings,” he said.

Speaking with Daily Sun, a maritime expert,  Samson Basey, said that Nigeria as a nation is not serious about harnessing the enormous benefits in the blue economy.

“First, ask the government what policies they have they put in place to drive the ocean economy? We all understand that there is a new ministry called Marine and Blue Economy but the question is,  do the people overseeing the affairs of this ministry have deep knowledge of the blue economy? Blue economy is beyond what a minister will go in the internet to source for materials and dish it out during engagement meeting. We are not serious about this sector,” he said.

According to him, Nigeria, being blessed with an extensive coastline and abundant water resources, possesses a vast potential within the blue economy that remains largely untapped.

“The blue economy encompasses all economic activities related to oceans, seas, and other bodies of water. It encompasses various sectors such as fisheries, aquaculture, maritime transport, renewable energy, tourism, and mineral resources.

“By fully embracing the blue economy, Nigeria stands to gain numerous advantages. First, it offers an opportunity for economic diversification, reducing the country’s overreliance on crude oil.

“As the global demand for oil fluctuates and environmental concerns grow, Nigeria must seek alternative sources of revenue. The blue economy presents a promising avenue for sustainable economic growth, creating new job opportunities and attracting foreign investments.

“The fisheries sector, for instance, holds immense potential for Nigeria’s economic development. With a coastline stretching over 850 kilometres, the country possesses abundant fishery resources. However, due to limited infrastructure, outdated fishing techniques, and inadequate regulatory frameworks, Nigeria’s fisheries sector remains largely underdeveloped,” he explained.

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