Finance fishing boats

Potentials, challenges of the Nigerian plan to use the blue economy to fight poverty and unemployment


Nigerian Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, launched the Extended Committee on Sustainable Blue Economy at the State House in Abuja on January 17. The task of the committee is to recommend ways to strengthen the governance framework and infrastructure of the maritime sector in Nigeria.

The event was part of the Nigerian government’s plans to harness 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 rapidly gaining traction in development circles as a policy option for countries – developed and developing – to advance their economic goals.

At inauguration of the Extended Partnership Committee on Sustainable Blue Economy were representatives from 10 states: Rivers, Lagos, Delta, Akwa Ibom, Borno, Ogun, Ondo, Cross River, Bayelsa and Edo States. There were also people from maritime agencies like the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Nigeria Maritime Academy (MAN) and the Head of State -Major of the Navy.

The committee also includes the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Energy, Finance, Environment, Trade and Investment, Agriculture and Water Resources, the Lake Chad Basin Commission, of the Nigeria Economic Summit Group and others.

“There will be multiple agencies and multiple interactions between institutions because we are dealing with ports and terminals, oil and gas, environment, tourism, hospitality – a whole range of economic activities that are related to what is called the blue economy,” Mr. Osinbajo said at the event.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo SAN inaugurates the Extended Committee on Sustainable Blue Economy at the State house Banquet Center, Abuja.  Jan 17, 2022. Photos by Tolani Alli

He said the scope and engagement of the committee would be enhanced to accommodate more government agencies and private sector actors.

According to the World Bank, the term “blue economy” refers to sustainable use and conservation of marine, inland water and coastal resources for food security, job creation and economic growth.

The blue economy encompasses all commercial activities related to the sea.

What could undermine the realization of Nigeria’s blue economy?

Nigeria’s blue economy remains one of the country’s anchor sub-sectors, with maritime trade contributing 1.6% and fishing 3-5% of GDP.

In the 1960s, one of Nigeria’s main thrusts into the blue economy was fishing. The country was home to many trawling companies and fishing boats.

However, the government’s inability to manage and enforce fisheries policy has been a major issue that has set back the sector despite the sector’s relevant contribution.

Several policies have been created but very few are applied in the country. For example, some policies that could help address the challenges facing the fishing industry are still being debated years after they were proposed.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo SAN inaugurates the Extended Committee on Sustainable Blue Economy at the State house Banquet Center, Abuja.  Jan 17, 2022. Photos by Tolani Alli
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo SAN inaugurates the Extended Committee on Sustainable Blue Economy at the State house Banquet Center, Abuja. Jan 17, 2022. Photos by Tolani Alli

One of them is the draft National Fisheries Policy, which has yet to be fully debated and adopted, six years after it was first presented at a meeting of the National Fisheries Development Committee (NFDC ) in Lokoja. The Federal Department of Fisheries attributes the delay to a lack of funds to convene the required stakeholder meetings.

In an interview with PREMIUM TIMES, former Director of Fisheries and President of the Fisheries Society of Nigeria (FISON), Foluke Areola, stressed the importance of following these policies.

“The most important thing about these policies is to be able to follow, such a committee should not only be constituted, but composed of concerned actors who will look at things holistically and critically, distributing appropriate disciplinary measures. I think it started in the right direction.

“Some of the current issues that could exacerbate the existing challenges, besides the weak legal, policy, regulatory and institutional framework, are environmental management and the involvement of local communities,” Ms. Areola said.

In the Blue Economy Policy Handbookprepared by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, it is noted that the full potential of the blue economy can only be harnessed if the problems of climate change and environmental mismanagement are addressed.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo SAN inaugurates the Extended Committee on Sustainable Blue Economy at the State house Banquet Center, Abuja.  Jan 17, 2022. Photos by Tolani Alli
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo SAN inaugurates the Extended Committee on Sustainable Blue Economy at the State house Banquet Center, Abuja. Jan 17, 2022. Photos by Tolani Alli

Pollution from the dumping of toxic waste and the dumping of single-use plastics is still unchecked on the Nigerian ocean.

Sustainable development implies that economic development is both inclusive and respectful of the environment, and that it is undertaken in a way that does not deplete the natural resources on which society depends in the long term.

The need to balance the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development in relation to the oceans is therefore a key element of the blue economy.

According to a marine and natural resources researcher, Ifesinachi Okafor-Yarwood, there have been blue economy projects across the continent, such as the Kribi Port Project in Cameroon and Lamu Port Project in Kenya. Some have succeeded but others have not.

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“Based on the case studies, we have found that successful initiatives accentuate the involvement of local communities and promote the maintenance of natural ecosystems. They managed to balance ecological, social and economic characteristics,” said Ms Okafor-Yarwood, of the School of Geography and Sustainable Development, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, UK, and her co-researchers in joint research work.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo SAN inaugurates the Extended Committee on Sustainable Blue Economy at the State house Banquet Center, Abuja.  Jan 17, 2022. Photos by Tolani Alli
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo SAN inaugurates the Extended Committee on Sustainable Blue Economy at the State house Banquet Center, Abuja. Jan 17, 2022. Photos by Tolani Alli

“Unsuccessful projects risked excluding local communities from the process and undermining their livelihoods. They also tended to prioritize economic gains over the environment.

What does this mean for small-scale fishermen?

According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), one of the main elements of the blue economy is the need to protect – and restore if necessary – the existing ocean resource base that already provides food and livelihoods for billions of people.

Nigeria’s marine waters are home to more than 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 livelihoods for vulnerable coastal regions, the industry faces a myriad of challenges, including unregulated and unregistered fishing practices which have led to the decline of fish stocks.

Ms. Areola stressed the importance of involving coastal fishing communities.

“I think it is important for the committee to take into consideration artisanal and small-scale fishers, who make up a large majority of the fishing economy in the country. Some states were able to support small-scale fishermen, and even when I was acting director, we had always supported with boats, nets and other tools. But we need more coordinated support for them. They are simply too important and relevant to food security to ignore,” she said.


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