Oyetola’s Ambitious Fish Production Initiative and other Matters

Ismail Omipidan writes about the fish production initiative and other programmes executed by the Minister of Marine and Blue Economy, AdegboyegaOyetola, in the last eight months.

resident Bola Tinubu did not mince words when he declared upon assumption of office in May 2023 that transformation of the economy was central to his agenda.

To ensure the realisation of the agenda, the President set out by unbundling some of the ministries to give room for robust engagements and promote friendly economic environment to foster rapid growth.

Incidentally, one of the new ministries established is the Marine and Blue Economy and to pilot the ministry is someone who is vast in private and public sectors operations, in person of former Governor of Osun state, AdegboyegaOyetola.

Realising that there is no time to waste, the minister hit the ground running by meeting with stakeholders in the  new ministry, which is expected to generate revenue for government  and entrench a culture of global best practices in the maritime domain.

The minister declared from day one that the ministry would embrace the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) models to transform the sector. He assured the indigenous ship owners that the PPP initiative would not in anyway impede the growth of local players, but would rather provide an avenue for them to create and extract more value from the sector, especially through ship construction, maintenance, and repairs.

At the first Stakeholders’ Roundtable Engagement on Advancing Sustainable Development in Nigeria’s Marine and Blue Economy sector, convened to bring together players in the sector to discuss and chart a roadmap/direction that will advance the industry’s potential, promote sustainable Blue Economy investments and ensure global competitiveness within the sector, the minister noted that the PPP model, a collaborative synergy between the private sector’s efficiency and the public sector’s oversight, would bring about transformative impact on the marine and blue economy as well as boost the creation of substantial job opportunities and the facilitation of increased trade and investment in the nation.

As part of efforts to walk his talk, the minister, last week, met with an indigenous Delta Systematics Group, led by Professor John Onwuteaka, to X-ray a Strategic Plan for enhanced fish production to position Nigeria as a global leader in fisheries.

The comprehensive Strategic Plan for the Enhancement of Fish Production, the minister noted, aims at transforming the marine and freshwater fish production in Nigeria with the aim of reducing the country’s dependency on imports, increase domestic production, and establish Nigeria as a net exporter of fish.

The initiative, led by the minister, is divided into short-term, medium-term, and long-term programmes.

Each of the  programmes, it was noted, has specific goals within a structured timeline. The short-term programme has the innovative GIFT Tilapia programme.

The programme is expected to produce over three billion fingerlings to adult fish within four years, generate over two million jobs across related sectors, and contribute over four trillion Naira to Nigeria’s GDP.

In the medium- and long-terms, the focus would be on addressing the crucial challenges of insufficient fish meal production for feed and enhancing artisanal fisheries.

Also, the strategic exploitation of Nigeria’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is anticipated to produce trawling and sea farming export-oriented revenues exceeding $5 billion. This, would no doubt further secure Nigeria’s position as a formidable player in the global fisheries and aquaculture market.

The strategic initiatives that were X-rayed for the enhancement of Nigeria’s fisheries sector include several key projects, all of which are aimed at modernising and expanding the industry’s infrastructure and capabilities.

To drive home the plan, the meeting recognised the urgent need to resuscitate and modernise existing storage and processing facilities. It also emphasized that the effort would be complemented by the strict implementation of biosecurity and traceability infrastructure, which is critical for maintaining the health of aquatic stocks and ensuring the safety and traceability of seafood products from “catch to consumer.”

Similarly, a comprehensive digital infrastructure would be implemented for managing fisheries data in an integrated manner. The platform, it was noted, would provide a cohesive framework for managing aquacultural and artisanal fisheries data, facilitating decision-making and ensuring regulatory compliance.

The plan also includes the establishment of fishing harbours and terminals in both coastal and inland areas, alongside the formation of fisherfolk cooperatives. These facilities and organisations aim to support the livelihoods of local fishermen, while simultaneously promoting sustainable and profitable fishing practices and inducing tourism.

The plan would also develop national pond and cage aquaculture clusters accompanied by associated farming cooperatives. This initiative aims to increase and double domestic fish production; reduce reliance on imports; and secure the supply chain, contributing significantly to national food security and economic growth.

Interestingly, the indigenous Delta Systematics Group, is peopled by prominent Nigerians who are experts and critical stakeholders in the industry. The team of experts, it was further gathered, would be instrumental to integrating essential public and private initiatives into the heart of Nigeria’s fisheries enhancement strategies.

“This strategic plan not only aims to revitalise our fish production sector but also to ensure long-term sustainability and food security,” Oyetola added.

Apart from the ambitious fish production initiative, Oyetola since assumption of office has carried out several activities, including ports inspections and quality assurance exercises, and meeting with the Customs’ headship on the imperative of deploying scanners at the country’s sea ports to enhance the ease of doing business.

As part of port efficiency across all the country’s ports,  the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), in conjunction with Port Community System Association, helped to develop the PORT Community System framework report, which was handed over to the minister recently. The ministry has since  initiated contractual bidding processes for the implementation of the Port Community System across Nigerian ports, just as work on the development of Marine and Blue Economy Policy document has reached an advanced stage.

Additionally, the minister has completed some of the projects he inherited. Some of these projects are: the Funtua  Dry Port, Port Access Roads in Onne and the rehabilitation of some access roads in Tin Can and Apapa ports.

One of the landmark breakthroughs of the minister in the last eight months of being in the saddle as the Minister of Marine and Blue Economy, is putting an end to the multi-billion naira yearly loss to Lagos ports traffic gridlock.

 The minister had, in December 2023, held a stakeholders’ engagement, to examine  the challenge of extortion and illegal checkpoints on the port access roads. After blaming the enumerated illegalities for traffic congestion along the port access roads, he promised to eliminate extortions of truck drivers, illegal checkpoints, and unapproved parking of trucks along the port access road within one week.

According to the minister, the maritime industry is germane to the development of the economy and the goal is to ensure that players in the industry do not lose money due to congestions and traffic gridlock.

To the amazement of the stakeholders, today, sanity has returned to the Tin-Can Island Port corridor as the perennial traffic gridlock on the  Mile 2 and Tin-Can in Lagos has since given way, following a recent clearance operation.

For close to a decade, the Apapa gridlock had been a pain in the neck of federal

and state law officers, with the persistent gridlock defying all known solutions.

Oyetola’sefforts at changing the narrative in the Marine and Blue Economy is gradually yielding results. Although it is not about brick and mortar, the minister is determined to position Nigeria as a premier maritime nation by utilising the potential of its blue economy to diversify revenue, assure sustainable development, and cultivate environmental stewardship.

-Omipidan writes from Abuja.

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