It has a matter not only of contemplation but national pride for me since the decision to host Africa’s prime maritime conference in Nigeria this year. So the efforts to get Abuja ready with all the logistics and detail has been a labour of love. So today we are ready.
That is why it is my pleasure and that of the entire maritime community in Nigeria to welcome all stakeholders to Abuja. We consider it a privilege to host this important conference that embraces Africa’s maritime elite, the men and women who determine when, how, what and who to sail on the high seas, the mainstay of peace, wealth and security.
As Africa’s largest market, our regulators will meet Africa’s regulators, our policy implementers will rub minds with international policy implementers and stakeholders, the crème de la crème of Africa’s oceans and seas who work together with our seasoned professionals in a bubble of ideas and innovation and find ways to bring the maritime industry here to a higher level. We shall chart with them the seas and oceans to optimize their benefits for the development of our people.
There is a reason Nigeria has waited with bated breath for this day and year to host this all-important gathering. This conference should have held here in 2014, but the ravaging forces of the Ebola epidemic scared all. So, we couldn’t.
Today is great day to hold it, and in the words of Winston Churchill, a great day is today to do so. That scourge has been cauterized. So I am particularly delighted that this conference, the 3rd in the series, after the first in Mombasa, Kenya and the second in Sandton, South Africa, is holding anchor here on our shores.
Nigeria’s place in the maritime world is not only deserved, it is common knowledge. It is special in the maritime community in Africa for a number of reasons. Nigeria accounts for over 60% of the total seaborne traffic in volume and value in West and Central Africa region. As the sixth largest OPEC exporting country, we contribute significantly to the global energy supply and what is known as wet cargo traffic.
Our signature adorns all continental maritime initiatives and charters that seek to promote the development of Africa. That is a measure not only of our potential influence but also wealth.
We are geo-strategically located as a major littoral state in the Gulf of Guinea. We sit a coastline of 853 kilometres that taps and caters to a landmass of 923,768 square kilometres.
By all estimation, we are a leader, high on the crest of maritime nations, determined to advance African maritime prosperity. So, hosting a conference of the continent’s maritime administrators is overdue.
It is no coincidence that this conference of maritime administrators and stakeholders is coming two years after African Leaders through the African Union subscribed to seven key aspirations encapsulated in the Agenda 2063 at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in January 2015 and three years after the adoption of Africa Integrated Maritime Strategy (AIMS) 2050.
Nigeria was a major part of that story. Only recently in Lome, Togo our Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo led us as a nation to play a critical role to make Africa adopt a Charter on Maritime Security, Safety and Development.
That singular watermark lay a foundation for making Africa’s maritime space the buoy of the continent’s development not only in terms of secure waterways but also to boost its socio-economic existence. This document was endorsed by 43 out of 54 African nations.
The AMAA meeting will raise our profile in the world of maritime. All of Africa knows the place of Nigeria on the continental waterways and what is called the blue economy.
The fact that we account for 60 per cent of the volume and value of African trade becomes even more emphatic as the world gathers in Abuja to deliberate on the issues of the industry.
A corollary to that is that it will show the maritime international community why Nigeria deserves a seat at the International Maritime Organisation, the premier body of maritime activity in the world. Such a seat will not only put at the centre where the critical decisions are made, but it will put the issue of Nigeria on the front burner. Such a seat will allow other big names in the industry to experience empathy about our issues.
This will make Nigeria not just a localised power but a global force. It will give power and voice to our efforts at home to fight piracy, other maritime crime, improve our human element capacity, attract investments. It is no small feat.
And this conference offers opportunities to showcase ourselves. When shall we discuss the issue of safety of the seas and ocean as well as cleaner oceans? When the conference confronts the problem of sea trade and fairness, we will know that the lop-sidedness of trade that affects our current accounts picture will come into play.
How can Africa get better share of the global maritime trade considering the cargo we generate and our contributions to seaborne trade? With this conference, we shall create better interface with other trading nations.
It means building value in trade and networking with the rest of the world on a better footing based on partnership and not servitude. This conference will bring attention to it and make Nigeria’s focus on what will make the country a mistress of the sea.
It is time to make long-term investments. Ours is an economy of great potential. In the era where we are focusing on the optimization of agricultural potential of our people, it is also time to see how we can turn potential into prosperity.
There are many Nigerians who are coming up with new ideas, with entrepreneurial audacity to dare and challenge the world with what we have to offer. This sort of conference with its eye on how to make Africa assert itself in global commerce will afford us with a view of the sea.
For Nigeria, it is also an opportunity to look at the maritime environment especially pollution ravaging us and endangering our oceans and seas. With illegal and unregulated fishing confronting us we must rise up and stop the impunity.
We have a lot to learn in this conference, we shall benefit from other countries as well, how to secure their waters and environment. We can also imbibe how they train their men and women in the industry.
A conference like this offers us the chance of renewal, to bring back the wealth of water. And where to start that but here, on our shores. We are a critical part of the maritime narrative not only on the continent but also in the world.
The world wants to sail her to trade and make profit. They should not only make profit but they should make it on our terms. That is why we have an opportunity to showcase our country.
Nigeria’s image will be immensely helped as the elite of the industry from 33 countries converge to jaw-jaw on the future of seas and ocean which is the source of much of life on the continent and livelihood and prosperity.
•Dr. Peterside is the Director General /CEO of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA)