By Levinus Nwabughiogu
A law seeking to restrict foreign vessels on Nigerian waters and allow only the carriers built and owned by Nigerians with locals as crew members is underway in the House of Representatives.
Essentially, the bill is seeking amendment to the existing cabotage act to promote the development of indigenous tonnage and also establish a cabotage vessel financing fund.
Titled: “A Bill for an Act to Amend the Coastal and Inland Shipping (Cabotage) Act, No. 5, 2003 to Restrict the Use of Foreign Vessels in Domestic Coastal and Inland Commercial Activities, to Promote the Development of Indigenous Tonnage and Establish a Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund; and for Related Matters (HB. 778), it is being sponsored by Hon. Lynda Chuba Ikpeazu.
The bill scaled through second reading at plenary on Thursday. On that same day the House gave its nod for a bill to establish a federal college of education in Bende, Abia State.
Leading the debate on the general principle of the cabotage bill, Hon. Ikpeazu listed the advantages the new piece of legislation if passed into law would bring to Nigeria.
She said: “Our Cabotage Law, set out to prescribe that only Nigerian built vessels, owned, as well as crewed by our nationals, and flying the Nigerian flag will operate in our domestic waters, unless exempted by authorized waivers.
“A successful cabotage regime comes with many beneficial advantages; jobs for crewmen, commercial benefits of local ship building and repairs, increased tonnage in our ship registry, enhanced security of our domestic waterways, economic advantages of having Nigerian ship owners etc.
“In over 15 years of its operation, the question has always been, have we achieved our desired objective of increased indigenous participation? Yes, we may have seen some increase in shipping entrepreneurship, minor incursions in ship-building, more training for prospective sailors (crew) etc. But by-and-large, our domestic shipping activity is still foreign dominated”.
The lawmaker also highlighted reasons the implementation of the extant cabotage law has been ineffectual.
Ikpeazu who is the Chairman of the House Committee on Maritime Safety, Education & Administration said that the 9th National Assembly has offered the lawmakers another opportunity to do the needful in the maritime sector.
“There are many reasons why Cabotage in Nigeria hasn’t achieved its potential. There are many factors responsible for why it hasn’t met the targets of its original promoters. These range from administrative to attitudinal to operational determinants. But some impediments are also legislative.
“The over 15 years of implementing the law has revealed statutory gaps not envisaged at the time of its enactment. Some adjustments to the provisions of the law could not just expand coverage, but also sharpen enforcement capabilities.
“A review, or at least amendment of the Cabotage Act 2003, thus became instructively imperative. Suffice it to say that a bold attempt at this was done in the 8th Assembly. Infact, the amendment bill was passed, but however failed to receive the accent of Mr President, citing certain reservations.
“The 9th Assembly has offered another opportunity for us, as a parliament, to do the needful and give cabotage the necessary teeth for success. The Coastal and Inland Shipping (Cabotage) Amendment Bill 2020 HB sets out to achieve this. It addresses the shortfalls of the principal Act, with a view to ultimately making cabotage, a policy success.
“I had the rare privilege of being part of the 4th Assembly that put that flagship law in place, and today, by the grace of God, I Chair the Committee on Maritime Safety, Education & Administration that oversights its implementation. I thus humbly say that I have a clear view of the potentially positive effects of this proposed amendment.
“I urge you therefore, to support this bill so we can get the optimal economic benefits and its multiplier effect to the maritime sector in particular, and the nation in general”, she said.
The bill when subjected to voice vote got the overwhelming support of the House.
On the bill to establish a Federal College of Education in the Bende, the sponsor, Hon. Benjamin Kalu said it will also provide fulltime courses, teaching instructions and training in technology, applied sciences, commerce, arts, social sciences, humanities and management and carry out research in the development and adaptation of techniques.
“The bill will also make provision for appointment of a provost and officials of the college to carry out the administration and disciplining of students of the college”, Kalu said.