Nigeria: Leading the Charge Against Marine Pollution

27 November 2020

Eromosele Abiodun highlights efforts by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, African Marine Environment Sustainability Initiative, and United Nations Environment Programme to tackle marine pollution, which is a major obstacle to Nigeria's quest for blue economy.

Following global economic turmoil and the increase call for governments across Africa to diversify their economies, there has been a steady rise across Africa in the attention given to the responsible use of the oceans to contribute to economic development. Experts believe the opportunities around Africa's blue economies are enormous with significant potential to create jobs and improve livelihoods.

Africa's vast coastline hosts a maritime industry estimated at $1 trillion per year and this is only scratching the surface.

Africa has 38 coastal states and a number of island states like Cape Verde, Sao Tomé and Principe, Mauritius, Seychelles and the Comoros. Collectively African coastal and island states encompass vast ocean territories of an estimated 13 million km².

The Seychelles, for example, has 1.3 million square kms of ocean territory that remains largely underdeveloped. Somalia has the longest coastline in Africa (approximately 3 000 km) and claims ocean territory stretching about 120 km off shore.

But what is often missing in debates are issues of governance and security. Five themes are particularly important to ensure both: safety and security, rule of law and transparency, respect for human rights, sustainable economic opportunity and human development.

Experts believe many African countries are failing to ensure safe and secure conditions for those working and living off the oceans. Tracts of the sea off East, West and North Africa are often labelled lawless. Illegal fishing, sea piracy and armed robbery, drug and human smuggling have assumed staggering proportions. Capping this is the rise in illegal migration.

For this to change, experts said diverse actors need to start cooperating across national boundaries to secure and use ocean territories. It has become common knowledge that individual states can do little on their own. The solution of cooperation is simple but difficult to sell to a critical mass of African governments that are often suspicious of collective agendas.

Failure to ensure that ocean territories are secure promotes ungoverned spaces, which criminals exploit. At worst, neglected maritime spaces benefit insurgents and terrorists as is obvious in Libya, Somalia and Nigeria.

Africa has had to contend with three volatile oceanic regions where criminality makes it impossible for countries to realise the potential of their oceans. These are the Horn of Africa, the Gulf of Guinea and the waters of the Mediterranean to the north of Libya.

A common denominator in the three hubs is that countries on these coasts have failed to make the areas safe. This has opened the door to criminal actors.

Marine pollution

But the greatest danger now is the alarming rate of marine pollution. Experts believe the health of marine ecosystem is on the decline as a result of anthropogenic waste that is discharged into coastal or marine environments, resulting from the human activities on land or at sea.

They therefore warned that it is very critical that governments, global businesses and political leaders recognise the growing threats and urgently act to restore the marine environment to healthy state for economic development of Africa.

Last week, Maritime expert and founder of the African Marine Environment Sustainability Initiative (AFMESI), Dr. Felicia Mogo, called on Nigeria and other African countries to urgent tackle marine pollution so as to realise their blue economy ambition.

Mogo made this call during the second AFMESI symposium themed: "Marine pollution prevention and control towards blue economy," held in Lagos.

Noting that pollution was one of the major limiting factors to the blue economy in Africa, Mogo also encouraged African countries to unify their positions and make contributions on the issue to the global regulatory bodies such as the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

"The BASEL Convention is a global convention that advocates for preventing transboundary movements of hazardous waste, among others. For example, a country may claim to have the resources to manage this and it is investigated but some others, especially African nations may go for it because of poverty and lack of understanding. They take such waste and dump it in the oceans and seas; eventually, these end up as very toxic substances," he said.

Mogo, a former Director of Marine Environment Management at the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), also called for more advocacies among African nations, their producing companies as well as communities in coastal areas.

"When country A is signatory to a convention and country B that is the neighbour is not; it simply means you can dump that toxic material in my backyard, via the ocean. Nevertheless, the ocean does not know any political boundary; it's a problem for everyone.

"To address this as a continent, we should have one voice when we are defending or when we are negotiating or getting into this kind of convention on the global level. This problem of pollution is harming food production, destroying biodiversity and eroding the economic gains that should have been generated from the sector," she posited.

Also speaking at the symposium, the Managing Director, Nigerian Bottling Company Limited and Chairman of Food and Beverage Recycling Alliance (FBRA), Mr. Matthieu Seguin, said that an alliance of with a shared concern for the environment has been formed adding that the alliance is collaborating with all stakeholders to build a sustainable recycling economy for food and beverage packaging waste.

Seguin, who was represented by the Executive Secretary, FBRA, Agharese Onaghise, described the symposium as a great opportunity to reinforce commitment for a sustainable future, adding FBRA would partner with AFMESI to provide and implement lasting solutions to preventing and managing marine litters.

"We believe in collaboration to address climate change concerns particularly as it concerns packaging waste and its effects in our land and marine space. As part of FBRA's commitment to the marine clean up to promote climate change, FBRA signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Lagos State Government for a 3-year period to support the State program to clean up and prevent waste pollution and other packaging waste on inland waterways of Lagos. FBRA also purchased and provided 6 boats for this purpose, " he said.

On his part, the Convener of the annual Oil Trading and Logistics Africa Downstream Exhibition and Conference, Mr. Emeka Akabogu, stressed that it is high time to itemize deliberate actions that need to be taken and initiate actions to realize the potentials in the blue economy.

His words: "We should begin to focus on how to translate the blue economy gains from the good theoretical realm into actionable terms to generate revenue. In the space of the last four years, there has been so much talk about the blue economy and its numerous potentials, thus, we must be able to translate this advocacy into businesses that benefit every Nigerians."

Akabogu, who is on the Advisory Board of AFMESI and an Honourary Secretary of the Nigerian Maritime Law Association (NMLA), also reassured that addressing the menace of pollution would steer Nigeria in the right direction to harness the gains of a blue economy.

Marine litter

According to the Environmental Law Institute (ELI) for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), plastics constitute about 95 per cent of marine litter found on coastlines, sea surface and the ocean floor. Also, an estimated 4.8 million to 12.7 million metric tonnes of plastic entered the ocean from land-based sources in 2010, and about 8 million metric tonnes has entered the oceans each year since then. It is estimated that between 1.15 million and 2.41 million metric tons of plastic trash currently flow from rivers into the oceans every year.

The top 20 polluting rivers were mostly located in Asia and account for 67 per cent of the global total. Shipping, fishing, aquaculture, tourism and recreation are directly affected by plastic pollution. Marine plastic pollution is estimated to cause at least $13 billion annually in economic losses.

In the same vein, a recent Greenpeace report found that the West African region loses about $2 billion to illegal fishing.

"Most African countries are keenly aware of both the ocean's potential as well as the threats to this potential. A number of initiatives point to this. These include: the African Union's 2012 Integrated Maritime Strategy 2050 which recognises and encourages the importance of African countries paying greater attention to their maritime interests and the recently agreed Lomé Charter - a continental effort to encourage and coordinate efforts by African states to attend to maritime security, safety and development," the report stated.

Others the report said are: "the Yaoundé Code of Conduct for West Africa which maps out an inter-regional set of responsibility zones to oversee and facilitate responses to growing criminality in the Gulf of Guinea and an increase in the presence of international naval capabilities off the Horn of Africa to stem the piracy tide off Somalia. This was complemented by the Djibouti Code of Conduct that enabled East African intervention to counter piracy threats. The code has been extended to include other maritime crimes.

"At national level the Seychelles' government has set the tone with its explicit focus on the importance of the blue economy. A National Blue Economy Roadmap aims to advance economic diversification, unlock investments and address food security. Although the approach taken by the Seychelles seems obvious given its dependence on the surrounding oceans, the connection is just as important for Africa's other 38 coastal states."

South Africa, the report pointed out, runs a host of maritime initiatives to tap into the blue economy. "The country recently adopted a policy - called Operation Phakisa aimed at four priority areas: marine transport and manufacturing, offshore oil and gas exploration, aquaculture and marine protection services," it stated.

AAMA Initiative

Meanwhile, the Association of African Maritime Administrations (AAMA) is responding to these challenges by putting the crisis on the front burner.

Last year 33 African maritime administrators under the auspices of AAMA gathered in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt to chart a new course on how to protect African marine environment.

The theme of the conference was "Protecting the African Marine Environment so Support Sustainable Development."

The representatives of the following member administrations attended the conference: Mauritania, South Sudan, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Sao Tome & Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Seychelles, Somalia, South Africa, United Republic of Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Ghana, Cote D'Ivoire, Comoros, Cape Verde, Djibouti, Benin, DR Congo, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Kenya, Guinea, Libya and Nigeria.

Speaking at the conference, Chairman of the African Union (AU) and President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame called on African government to put measures in place to protect Africa's rich marine resource and the environment because the continent already losses a whooping $42 billion (N15.12 trillion) annually to the devastating effect of climate change.

Represented by the African Union Permanent Representative at the League of Arab States, Bouzahar Abdel Hamid, he said Africa must urgently take advantage of its maritime resource to grow its economy and ensure sustainable development.

He said: "The theme of the 2018 Association of African Maritime Administrators (AAMA) conference, "Protecting Africa's Marine Environment," is apt considering that Africa loses a whooping $42 billion annually as a result of the devastating effect of climate change on its marine environment. The African Union Commission places importance on the blue economy as an option for the development of the African economy. The blue economy has been described as the new frontline of Africa's renaissance. It is for that reason that the AU is working towards it being a cartelist of the growth of the African economy.

"Moreover, by including maritime issues in the African agenda 2063, the AU commission has made a commitment to ensure that the blue economy remain a pillar of the drive to ensure that the African continent achieve its aspiration of sustained economic growth and development. Furthermore, it is our aspiration that by 2063 Africa should have the necessary infrastructures to support the expected growth of the maritime sector. The infrastructures should include high speed rail network, roads, shipping lines, sea and airports as well as advanced Information and Communications Technology and the digital economy. The African Heads of State and Governments have demonstrated a clear commitment that this becomes a reality, hence the signing of the African Continental Free Trade earlier this year."

Learning from Singapore

Also speaking at the conference, the Chief Executive of Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, Mr. Andrew Tan, called on African governments to make strategic investment in container port infrastructure.

"The strategic investment in container port infrastructure made by our founding leaders became the early foundation of Singapore's economic growth story. It gave Singapore the first-mover advantage to ride the global wave of containerisation and subsequently to capture other growth opportunities in tandem with global developments.

"Our long-term commitment to port infrastructure development continues to be a work-in-progress today. Following Tanjong Pagar, we continued to expand the City Terminals in Keppel and Brani (these are names of locations in Singapore). By the 1990s, we started construction of the Pasir Panjang Terminal. The construction of the Pasir Panjang Terminal is carried out in four phases. Pasir Panjang Terminal Phases 3 and 4 were completed earlier this year, bringing our total container handling capacity to 50 million TEUs," he said.

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