Demystifying Africa’s Sea Power and unlocking the value within – Sylva Nze Ifedigbo

“The sea is an underwater museum still awaiting its visitors.” – Phillip Diole

The above quote stands very true of Africa and her oceans and seas. Despite being bordered to the south for the most part by the Atlantic Ocean with a coastline of approximately 853km, Nigeria is yet to fully harness the value of her territorial waters and her people, most of who live on land, have very little regard or relationship with the sea. 

But we ought to care more about these large bodies of waters because they feed us, regulate our climate, and generate most of the oxygen we breathe. They can create millions of jobs, are essential for our participation in international trade, support the tourism industry and are critical for our national security. These and many other issues are brought to the front burner of discourse in the book Developmental Challenges of Sea Power in Africa: Securing ships, ports and people by Retired Rear Admiral Michael Akinsola Johnson.

After a distinguished career in the Nigerian Navy which spanned for almost 35 years, Johnson who is also an Engineer, chartered marine technologist and Fellow of the institute of Marine Engineers Science and Technology, UK among other accomplishments, is in the best position to speak about the sea, the opportunities, challenges and threats that they present and he does so in this well researched book which not only demonstrates his depth of understanding of the issues but also a genuine concern about the treasures left untapped, akin to the ‘museum’ in Phillip Diole’s quote, waiting to be visited. 

The book is divided into seven chapters each dealing with a particular issue, but which are all interconnected. Johnson writes with the clarity of one who knows, and from this vantage position, he lucidly discusses such issues as sea piracy, pollution of seas, the impact of shipping on the environment, maritime accidents, safety of mariners at sea and sea terrorism. He also interrogates such germane issues as ocean governance, the impact of shipping on international trade, Nigeria and indeed Africa’s position in shipping and international trade, the training of sailors, the dearth of shipping lines in our climes and the sad state of our ports. 

There is a chapter on ship building, and another in which the author made a convincing case for why African countries should advance regional initiatives and collaborate closely in addressing common maritime challenges. And despite much of the book being a sad commentary around ills, missed opportunities and failures to take advantage of the treasures the seas hold, the book ends with some dose of hope, with the author seeing exciting times ahead with a lot that can be accomplished if private players and governments on the continent can collaborate to help the maritime industry to thrive especially in a post Covid-19 world. 

A book about seas, ports and ships may present the picture of a boring read, riddled perhaps with technical jargons relatable to only persons in the maritime industry, but that is not the case here. Johnson’s use of language and the way he presented the issues in simple, clear English makes this book an easy and insightful read. I dare say that it is a perfect introduction to the world of the seas for the uninitiated, a sound thought leadership for those already in the sector, and a good companion for policy makers and private players in the industry. 

The value which the seas can bring our economy is huge yet sadly, even as politicians’ campaign at this time for the next general elections in 2023, there is hardly any mention by the leading candidates of the seas, nor have we seen any emphasis being placed in terms of policy direction for how they would herness this value when elected. It is pertinent to note for example that the issue of crude oil theft which is on the front burner of national discourse at the moment is one that is fully linked with how effectively we are policing our waterways.

At a time when our country is grappling with insecurity, dwindling revenues, unemployment and other economic woes, we cannot continue to ignore a visit to this “underwater museum”. With the AfCFTA taking shape, Nigeria must seize the opportunity presented by repositioning her maritime sector for excellence and if there is any confusion as to how to go about it, this book is a good place to start.

Published by Origami – An imprint of Parresia Publishers, 2022 |  139

Sylva Nze Ifedigbo, creative writer and social commentator is the author of Believers and Hustlers. He is available on social media at @nzesylva.

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