Multiple challenges stalling development of fishing business in Nigeria- Orakwusi
Mrs. Margret Orakwusi, a former Chairman of Nigeria Fishing Trawler Owners Association (NIFTOA), has bemoaned the myriad of challenges that the fishing business in Nigeria is faced with.
Speaking at a media roundtable in Lagos by the League of Maritime Editors and Publishers, Orakwusi said the sector suffers poor infrastructure for operations, inconsistency of regulation, security issues and sabotage as amongst many more issues.
A key problem of the sector, Orakwusi said, is that the fishing terminal which her association was able to get the Government to establish in Apapa Lagos, has been turned into tank farms.
Orakwusi said that the development has robbed the sector and the economy at large the opportunity to create thousands of jobs for different categories of workers even as it denied the operators a dedicated infrastructure for ease of operation and improved output.
Her words: “When we noticed what was going on, we approached the government and cried that any serious-minded country that wants to develop its infrastructure should go into fishing. So, we proposed fishing terminal; a terminal for fishing produce. So what that means is that for anyone that wants to go into fishing, what that person needs to do is to buy a vessel and all other services are being provided at the terminal. So, it’ll be a case of pay as you go. Unlike what some of us are experiencing, we buy our trawlers, we pay for jetties, we provide our mechanical and carpentry workshop, fuel dump, cold room, fire service etc. all these are too much for an investor.
“So you see the reasons the cost of going into fishing business is high, which investor can afford all these in this present economy? So, the government in their wisdom dedicated a place in Kikrikiri to serve as fishing terminals, by the way, other countries that are seriously into fishing have terminals, Ghana, our neighbour has but we all know how things have a way of going wrong in this country. We don’t know what eventually played out till we started seeing tank farms being erected by “powerful people” in this country. As far as I’m concerned these “powerful people” are saboteurs of the general public.
“A dedicated terminal that will serve the interest of everybody, grow the fishing industry, accommodate all aspects of everything needed to make the fishing business easy like carpentry, mechanic, fire service, rope repair etc. was turned into something else. These are some of the things I believe have made the fishing business very cumbersome.”
She also identified the issue of insecurity on the waterways, saying that pirates’ attacks on fishing trawlers were among the issues.
She added that such attacks forced many to relocate to safer places, a development that affected the business in Nigeria.
According to her, those who have remained to do the business in the country were mainly doing so for the purpose of patriotism.
“Another thing is piracy attacks. We were the first to experience a piracy attack in Nigeria, and when it happened we cried out but we were not taken seriously. But it’s easy to understand that because it’s a new form of incidence happening on the water. We have suffered losses such as human lives, equipment, vessels etc.
“These kidnappings that are all over the news started from the seas because our people were usually taken, ransom demanded. We cried but nothing happened and it has really affected the numbers of fish trawlers and fishing companies we have in the country because most them have relocated to a safe environment and you should also know that most people who were fishing in the country are expatriates so the capital flight is a different thing. Of course, a businessman is in business to make money and if the climate is not safe he relocates.
“The few who are remaining are driven by blindness in “patriotism” but even then they’re one leg in the country and the other outside. These are the things that have contributed to the decline you see in fishing in the country, it breaks my heart and I’ll tell you why.”
On her advice for the success of the deep blue project to address the issue of insecurity on the nation’s waters, Orakwusi said it was cheering news that some pirates have been convicted under the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences (SPOMO) act.
She said, “Though coming late but cheers us up and gives us that confidence that we can now go back to the sea with full force. Remember this problem has been there for many years so we need to appreciate the efforts made so far and encourage them and as stakeholders, we should contribute our quota and be able to advise them when things are not working.
“So, I call on the traditional rulers especially those of them in the riverine areas and where these pirates take off from to provide the right intelligence. When they were kidnapping our people, they were being kept in comfortable camps. The traditional rulers should wake up to their responsibilities and help this nation to succeed in the deep blue project.”
Orakwusi also recalled that there was a time industrial fishing was the second in foreign exchange earnings in the non-oil sector in the country.
She also said Nigeria has always remained one of the countries that produced one of the best seafood as against what is being imported into the country now.
She added that it was surprising as to what could be wrong that some people cried that Nigerian agricultural produce were being rejected.
“It also breaks my heart because people should be learning from what we’re doing, our activities are highly regulated by Nigeria and by all other countries we export our products to. We fly the Nigerian flag with pride; it is on record that no seafood cleared by Nigerian fishery lab that has failed analysis anywhere in the world and the Nigerian Fishery lab was set up by us and the government. That’s one of the few government-stakeholders partnerships…
“So, when people cried that Nigerian agricultural produce are being rejected, I said what is wrong with these our people, can’t you study where it is working perfectly, it didn’t come easy to see, it came very expensively but we complied with the requirements of the European Union (EU). Everything we do is according to their standard.
“I’m a very proud fisherwoman as my children call me today, it gives me more satisfaction to whatever our people are eating and that brings me to the quality of the products that we import into this country. What we export is highly regulated, but what we import are cheap products that would not pass analysis. At times you hear the women in Ijora screaming because these are products that are not fit for human consumption, some of them are caught in all sorts of contaminated environments. Nobody is checking and we all know these.
“We should not continue to feed our people with cheap products that we cannot guarantee, our hygiene, handling, and environment. I can today beat my chest that with the analysis of my products and the certificate I can go anywhere in the world because daily we analyse the water before we start fishing, we batch them but who does that for the products being sent into the country?”
She disclosed that the current situation is a huge gap between demand and supply with most people believing it’s about 50 per cent but added that it could be much more than that.
“So, it shows the potentials for investors to come in, it shows there’s a huge market that we fishers are unable to satisfy, It also shows that this is an area that needs infrastructural development.”