NiMet, Lokoja and a nation’s wasted blue economy

Just like many other resources and opportunities the Federal Government wastes, the blue economy has abundant potential to create employment and earn badly-needed forex for the country. These possibilities stare us in the face but we do not see them. Our clueless political class rather chooses to junket all over the world, looking for handouts from the so-called developed world, to copy and paste on our governance template. The saddest part of the matter is that now the world is forcing us to take a second look at the blue economy, we still fail to see the entire picture.

As the single largest natural asset on the planet which represents some 99% of the earth’s living volume, the ocean delivers numerous benefits to humanity. It gives oxygen and supplies 15% of humanity’s protein needs. It helps to slow climate change by absorbing 30% of carbon dioxide emissions and 80% of the excess heat trapped by greenhouse gases. It serves as the highway for some 90% of internationally traded goods, via the shipping sector. It is the source of hundreds of millions of jobs in fisheries, aquaculture, shipping, tourism, energy production and other sectors. It is also the source of some 30% of the world’s oil and gas resources. While millions of the world’s poorest people depend heavily on the ocean and coastal resources for their livelihoods, small-scale fishing provides about half of the world’s harvested seafood. This is the Blue Economy.

It happened this Monday when the Vice-President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, inaugurated the country’s Expanded Partnership Committee on Sustainable Blue Economy, where he advocated for wider participation of relevant stakeholders in order to leverage the country’s marine resources. He identified areas to be exploited to include ports, terminals, fishing, training, environment, tourism, power, oil and gas.

Besides maritime agencies like the Nigerian Ports Authority, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Maritime Academy of Nigeria, the expanded committee also comprised of 10 state governors from Rivers, Lagos, Delta, Akwa Ibom, Borno, Ogun, Ondo, Cross River, Bayelsa and Edo states. Other members are ministers of Foreign Affairs, Power, Finance, Environment, Trade and Investment, Agriculture and Water Resources, Chief of Naval Staff, Comptroller General of Customs, Lake Chad Basic Commission, Nigeria Economic Summit Group and others.

The issue I have with the above committee is in its shallowness. The blue economy is so colossal that 10 state governors – just because they share boundaries with the Atlantic Ocean – are not enough to leverage its gains. Our country is so blessed that we have the signature of the Atlantic written all over the local geography. Rivers, Niger and Benue have two wide and long course ways flowing through our hinterlands all the way to the Niger Delta where they are magnificently funnelled into the ocean. And, as if the Creator personally designed Nigeria, these two great rivers embraced each other in an aquatic marriage right in the belly button of Nigeria— Lokoja. Yet, this historical pseudo-city has evolved to become a microcosm of our national catastrophe.

That brings me to the second point. The blue economy is supposed to include derivatives that are not directly related to the ocean. There is tourism and the management of the ecosystem of the estuaries from the oceanic waterbodies. This is where Lokoja comes in. If it were in a more creative clime, Lokoja would have been converted into a vital economic hub. The confluence city would have become a melting point of all ethnic nationalities of Nigeria; of all business ventures of the country; of all transportation vehicles of the regions; and of all aquatic concerns of the sub-continent. But in contrast, what the city has become is a squalid linear enclave of abandoned projects and white elephants, darkened by ferocious politics and clueless rent-seeking enterprises.

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An important challenge of the blue economy is to understand and better manage the many aspects of oceanic sustainability, ranging from sustainable fisheries to ecosystem health, to pollution. A second significant issue is the realisation that the sustainable management of ocean resources requires collaboration across nation-states and across the public-private sectors and on a scale that has not been previously achieved. Obviously, this requires an out-of-the-box innovative spirit on the part of the government.

It is my opinion that a nation like Nigeria, which beats its chest as a leader in Africa, should always be creative and forward-looking when developing its national development agenda components. Some other African countries, like Kenya, have already set up their own partnership committees on the development of the blue economy, hence we cannot afford not to explore beyond the scope set by the mainstream global governance systems.

Therefore, the Federal Government must include those critical agencies, whose task revolves around supporting the maritime sector, such as the Nigeria Meteorological Agency. Shipping businesses and their crews understand firsthand the impacts of adverse weather in their quest to deliver their cargoes on time and with maximum safety and fuel efficiency. Weather is a key aspect in planning the best route and preparing for the conditions likely to be experienced en-route and at destination ports. Therefore, a high resolution, reliable weather forecast service with hazard warning and emergency response facilities are as necessary to seafarers as a pair of eyes is to a chef.

One of the goldmines we could quickly and effortlessly tap in the maritime sector is meteorology. It is instructive to note that the United Kingdom, a country which met sector we look up to, started its Met Office essentially as a business. The UK’s national meteorological service — now known simply as the Met Office — from its formation in 1854 with a staff of four and a budget of a few thousand pounds, rose to its present position as a scientific and technological institution of national and international importance with a staff of nearly 2,000 and a turnover of about £200 million per year.

It was formed as the meteorological department of the Board of Trade with a specifically maritime purpose. The Met Office is now an executive agency and trading fund responsible to the UK government’s Department of Business, Innovation and Skills and serves not only the shipping industry but also many other groups of users.

In Nigeria however, our own Met office, NiMet, despite supplying climate data and weather info to the aviation industry, has yet to service the maritime sector. We have over 6,000 ships berthing in our ports annually and if these ships use NiMet’s weather services, the revenue will be in billions of naira. All we need to do is, in the spirit of local content and raising forex, for our own local authority to provide weather information and data to ships operating in our country.

This is the reason one finds it hard to believe that the government is not just playing to the gallery when it mouths economic diversification. NiMet and Lokoja should be the litmus test. Lokoja is an eyesore that needs a makeover, while NiMet is a goldmine wasting away. Ironically, other foreign organisations who are in the business of supplying meteorological services are providing these data services to ship operators in Nigeria, thus taking the money that should be retained in our country.

There are two elements for the blue economy.  The first is the necessity of protecting – and restoring were needed – the existing ocean resource base that already supplies food and livelihoods to billions of people. The other side is opportunities that exist for enhanced or new sustainable economic activities derived from the ocean, and its tributaries.

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