Nigeria’s Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, on January 17 at the State House in Abuja, launched the Expanded Committee on Sustainable Blue Economy. The committee’s task is to recommend how to strengthen the governance framework and infrastructure of the maritime sector in Nigeria.
The event was part of the Nigerian government’s plans to use the potential of the ocean economy to address the challenges of poverty and unemployment.
Throughout history, the oceans have been used to extract natural resources, conquer new lands and trade goods. The oceans have also played a crucial role in cooling the planet, making it habitable despite the accelerating pace of global carbon emissions.
More recently, the ’Blue economy’ is fast gaining traction in development circles as a policy option for countries – developed and developing alike – to further their economic goals.
At the inauguration of the Expanded Partnership Committee on Sustainable Blue Economy were representatives of 10 states: Rivers, Lagos, Delta, Akwa Ibom, Borno, Ogun, Ondo, Cross River, Bayelsa, and Edo states. Also there were people from maritime agencies like the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN), and the Chief of Naval Staff.
The committee also comprises the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Power, Finance, Environment, Trade and Investment, Agriculture and Water Resources, Lake Chad Basin Commission, Nigeria Economic Summit Group, and others.
“There will be several agencies and several interactions between institutions because we are dealing with ports and terminals, oil and gas, the environment, tourism, hospitality – a whole range of economic activities that are connected to what is described as the blue economy,” Mr Osinbajo stated at the event.
He said the scope and engagement of the committee would be improved to accommodate more relevant government agencies and private sector stakeholders.
According to the World Bank, the term ‘blue economy’ refers to the sustainable use and conservation of marine, inland aquatic, and coastal resources for food security, job creation, and economic growth.
The blue economy encapsulates all sea-related commercial activities.
What could undermine the realisation of Nigeria’s blue economy?
Nigeria’s blue economy remains one of the country’s anchor sub-sectors, with maritime trade contributing 1.6 per cent and fisheries contributing 3-5 per cent to the GDP.
In the 1960s, one of the major focuses of Nigeria in the blue economy was fishing. The country was home to many trawling companies and fishing boats.
However, the government’s failure to manage and enforce the fishing policy has been a major issue drawing the sector back despite the relevant contribution from the sector.
Several policies have been created but only very few are enforced in the country. For instance, some policies that can help address the challenges facing the fishing industry are still being debated years after they were proposed.
One of such is the proposed National Fisheries Policy, which is yet to be fully discussed and adopted, six years after its first presentation at a National Fisheries Development Committee (NFDC) meeting in Lokoja. The Federal Department of Fisheries attributes this delay to a lack of funds to convene required stakeholder meetings.
In an interview with PREMIUM TIMES, the former director of fisheries and president of Fisheries Society of Nigeria (FISON), Foluke Areola, emphasised the importance of following through with these policies.
“The most important thing about these policies is being able to follow through, such a committee should not just be constituted, but composed of relevant stakeholders that will look at things holistically and critically, apportioning appropriate disciplinary measures. I think this has started in the right direction.
“Some of the current issues that could exacerbate existing challenges, apart from weak legal, policy, regulatory and institutional framework, are environmental management and local community involvement,” Mrs Areola said.
In the Blue Economy Policy Handbook, prepared by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, it is noted that the full potential of the blue economy cannot be reaped unless the issues of climate change and environmental mismanagement are addressed.
Pollution through dumping of toxic wastes and discarding of single-use plastics still goes unchecked on Nigeria’s ocean.
Sustainable development implies that economic development is both inclusive and environmentally sound, and is to be undertaken in a manner that does not deplete the natural resources that society depends on in the long term.
The need to balance the economic, social, and environmental dimensions of sustainable development in relation to oceans is thus a key component of the blue economy.
According to a marine and natural resource researcher, Ifesinachi Okafor-Yarwood, there have been some blue economy projects across the continent, like the Kribi Port project in Cameroon and the Lamu Port project in Kenya. Some have been successful but others not.
“Drawing on the case studies, we found that successful initiatives accentuated the involvement of local communities and promoted the sustenance of natural ecosystems. They successfully balanced ecological, social and economic features’, Ms Okafor-Yarwood, of the School of Geography and Sustainable Development, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, UK, and her co-researchers stated in a joint research work.
“Unsuccessful projects were likely to exclude local communities in the process and undermine their livelihoods. They also tended to prioritise economic gains at the expense of the environment.”
What does this mean for small-scale fishers?
According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), one of the important elements of the Blue Economy is the necessity of protecting – and restoring where needed – the existing ocean resource base that already supplies food and livelihoods to billions of people.
Nigeria’s marine waters are home to over 6,000 species of high economic value, including crustaceans, sharks, rays, fish, and marine plants and mammals.
But despite being a vital source of food and nutrition security and a major source of livelihood for vulnerable coastal regions, the industry has been grappling with a myriad of challenges, including unregulated and unregistered fishing practices that have led to dwindling fish stocks.
Mrs Areola stated the importance of engaging coastal fishing communities.
“I think it is important that the committee puts into consideration, the artisanal and small-scale fishers, who constitute a large majority of the fisheries economy in the country. Some states have been able to support small-scale fishers, and even when I was the Acting Director, we had always supported with boats, nets, and other tools. But we need more coordinated support for them. They are just too big and relevant to food security to be ignored,” she said.