Abuja - Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, says Nigeria loses more than N2 trillion annually to capital flight following inability of indigenous ship owners to fully participate in crude oil exports.
The minister disclosed this at a one-day presidential retreat on maritime safety held at the Presidential Villa.
The retreat with the theme: ``Harnessing the Potential of Nigeria’s Maritime Sector for Sustainable Economic Development’’ was organised to generate concrete and implementable initiatives to improve the sector.
In her remarks the minister decried the lack of proper implementation of the sabotage laws to allow indigenous participation in shipping.
``On the issue of increasing local participation in the sector and sabotage, the indigenous Ship Owners Association of Nigeria has said that we now lose over N2 trillion annually in capital flight to foreign countries which own vessels used to lift about 150 million tons of cargoes including oil products from this country as no Nigerian flagship is currently plying international routes.
``Nigerian-owned vessels make up less than 1 per cent of the global fleet and are quite old; on average, 30 years of age.
``Increasing Nigeria’s participation in this sector will not only ensure that most of these incomes are retained locally, but will lead to increased jobs for Nigerians.
``As you will see from the Mackenzie presentation later, Philippines for example has been able to position itself as a global supplier of seafarers, creating a lot of jobs and significant foreign income for the country. Why can’t we replicate this in Nigeria?’’
Okonjo-Iweala also said that security threats in the Gulf of Guinea of which Nigeria is a major stakeholder had steadily risen from 45 per cent in 2010 to 64 per cent in 2012 threatening Nigeria’s more than 600 million dollars potential in fishing business.
The minister said the development had created major economic problems for the country and should be urgently addressed.
On the issue of port reforms, she said a lot had been done in improving the operation of the ports over the last few months with 10 per cent of the imported goods now taking less than seven days to clear.
She said though there had been significant improvement from what obtained years back, the target of achieving 48 hours clearance with complete documentation was yet to be attained.
``We want to use the time today to discuss what it will take to accelerate our reform programme and what is actually getting in the way.’’
Speaking in the same vein, the Minister of Transport, Idris Umar, said, the ministry was worried about the non-participation of indigenous ship owners in crude oil lifting.
He said government would ensure proper implementation of the sabotage laws with a view to building capacity of indigenous ship owners.
Umar said government would also review the policy that gave freedom to companies that bought crude oil to choose the company that would freight the oil.
``We are going to look at this and determine whether it is a legislation or a policy issue.
``I for one do not share the idea that Nigerians should be deprived patronage by the international oil company after using their hard earn money to buy vessels, it is absolutely wrong, we have to empower our people,’’ he said.
The Director-General of NIMASA, Mr. Patrick Akpobolokemi, said it had made significant numbers of arrest of oil thieves and illegal bunkerers.
He identified bureaucracy and lack of powers for the agency to prosecute those arrested as some of the major challenges NIMASA was facing.
``The greatest challenge of the maritime agency is bureaucracy, the civil service culture of doing things.
``This is an agency that is in charge of emergency responsibilities and you now apply the normal bureaucratic ways of getting things done; this is frustrating.’’
Akpobolokemi said NIMASA had identified certain laws that required amendments to make its job easier and more effective.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Maritime Services, Mr Leke Oyelese, thanked the president for the retreat and the Navy and the Police for their cooperation.
He said the Inter-Agency Maritime Agency Operations Committee put in place by government would help in addressing most of the identified problems.