Maritime: How Abuja MoU, Influenced Enactment Of Cabotage Act In Nigeria And Other Countries

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 By Stephen Ubanna

When former President Olusegun Obasanjo, speared headed   the formulation and formation of the Abuja Memorandum of Understanding, MOU, on October 22nd, 199, barely four months in office to bring together all the African countries on the Atlantic Coast of Africa, 22  countries had jumped at it immediately.

The founding fathers of the 22 member- Abuja MOU, may have agreed that the mission would be ‘’to  develop  a system  of harmonized  Port State  Control, PSCOs,  inspection procedure  for the region’’  aimed at the reduction  and eventual elimination  of substandard  vessels from member countries Coastal waters  as well as prevention of marine pollution  and improvement of  the living and working condition of seafarers on board ships.

The Abuja MOU,  which was said to have been formed in accordance with the basic tenets of the International Maritime Organisation, IMO, a maritime agency of the United Nations, UN to reposition, 22 Atlantic Coastal African countries from allowing substandard vessels to apply in the region.

A top official of the Abuja MOU, Secretariat, had given  an insider information of the features of a substandard ocean going vessels which should  not be allowed in the region  to  include defective in design given and construction, neglect of its maintenance and repair, prolonged working life past the age of scrapping and manned by poorly trained personnel’’.

Other basic features of such substandard vessels included being undermanned giving rise to unacceptable   and questionable safety standards, and the Vessels being managed by unauthorized outfit Number, expired Doc. The founding fathers of the Abuja MOU, may have also realised that ‘’ the use of such  substandard ships was a major threat to the life of Crew members,  risk to the marine environment, risk to cargo and  threat  to maritime facilities  and means of livelihood’’. 

  They may have come to the conclusion that  the driving force to eliminating the substandard vessels from the Atlantic Coast of African waters would be the  provision of funds to support the member countries indigenous ship-owners   ‘’to do away with their Complacency, ignorance, and criminally mindedness’.

The  Abuja MoU, founding fathers may have also have at the back of their mind  that’’ it will strengthen the Maritime Administration of the member countries in their regulation and enforcement of their shipping laws , without any trace of weakness if the PSCOs, Inspection officials are not being compromised’’.

    Indeed, the Abuja MoU Secretariat core mandate , as  outlined by the founding fathers   was the ‘’harmonization of the , PSCOs,  to enthrone  safe  and secured shipping , clean ocean and good working and living  conditions for seafarers  in the Atlantic Coast of African region. With the Memorandum, being endorsed by 18 member countries in   the region and the remaining four other countries likely to join soon, ‘’it is expected to become a common block with no need  for bilateral  agreements  between member countries ‘’ to recognise each other’s Certificates and ships flying their Flag’’.

 A top official of the Abuja MoU,Secretriat, had said that the  Group had recorded a remarkable milestones in the last 10 years and has continued to forge ahead   within the  last 12 months  ‘’ to improve Communication  amongst PSCOs, create   a what whatsapp group in the region to enable the PSCOs member countries  interact  seamlessly , publish  and exchange ideas as it concerns  their daily job  activities and experience even in the warning of  errant  vessels in their waters’’.


Abuja MoU, Secretariat official  had told The Value News  that Bashir Jamoh, Director General,  Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, had been a major pillar of the that they are determined   to bring Equatorial Guinea,  Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC,  Mauritania and Zambia, which are ‘’the four member countries  that have not acceded  to the Memorandum  to deposit their  instrument  of acceptance at the Secretariat’’.

 The 18 member countries of the Abuja MoU, that were said to have  already  accepted the Memorandum and deposited their instrument of Acceptance  at the Secretariat as at May 8, 2023, included  Republic of Benin, Ghana, Coted’Ivoire,  Senegal, Cameroon, Liberia, Togo , Nigeria and the Gambia. Others were, Guinea Bissau, Republic of Guinea, Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Gabon, Cape Verde, Sao Tome and Principe, Angola and South Africa.

Given that shipping is an international business may have informed why the Secretariat had raised the bar beyond the traditional PSCOs to go into a working relationship with MTIs, which was said to have   commenced  CoP training  for the PSCOs  officials  in Italy  for higher Certification.

This may have further encouraged the Secretariat which is implementing the provisions of the Memorandum to throw their weight on membercountries to work on their respective countries National Assembly to enact the Cabotage Act that would facilitate the establishment of the Cabotage regime to raise funds to support indigenous ship owners to increase their respective countries tonnage.

The Abuja MoU, Secretariat had an agenda for pursuing for the enactment of the Cabotage Act in member countries ‘’to restrict the use of foreign vessels   in domestic Coastal trade and to promote the development of indigenous tonnage. The provisons of the Cabotage regime as outlined by the Secretariat included ‘’restrictions,  waivers,meet lack of capacity , enforcement,  and establishment ofCabotage Vessel Financing Fund, CVFF.

Former President Obasanjo had signed into Law the Coastal and Inland shipping (Cabotage)Act  2003, which according to Jamoh, the NIMASA, Director General  had come into force in 2004. Being a Legislative Apparatus for restricting access or preserving maritime trade within the geographical space of the country to develop its indigenous capacities and the need to develop the local shipping industry may have informed why member countries were said to have tried different policies.

Recall that while agreeing that member countries should enact the Cabotage  Act and subsequently the Cabotage regime  to increase indigenous tonnage, it was learnt proponents  of the policy  were advised from the onset  ‘’to ensure that  the West and Central African  sub-regions were not turned to dumping ground for old  vessels  that are past their working life and that no substandard ship  were allowed to trade in the two regions’’.

Mindful of the order of granting waiver and of the guideline for the implementation   of the Cabotage regime in Nigeria in 2003,  as passed by the National Assembly and signed into Law by the then President Obasanjo,  Jamoh, the NIMASA, Chief Executive Officer, CEO, had said that the Act  covers  wholly Nigerian owned vesels, Joint Venture owned vessels, Bareboat  chartered vessels and foreign vessels that were aid to have complied  with the provision of the Act.

 The Abuja MoU, Secretariat officials may have made it clear to the member countries that ‘’wherever a Foreign vessels are  considered for the Cabotage trade  she should be subjected to the PSCOs Inspection  before initial approval  and thereafter every six months’’.

The NIMASA, helmsman who   had repeatedly said that the Cabotage regime had impacted positively on the nation’s maritime sector have never minced.  According to him there have been greater participation of the indigenous ship owners in the country’s Cabotage trade.

 Given an insider information he had said that 68% of   of the vessels trading in Nigerian waters and which pay the two percent surcharge from the total contract sum performed by the vessel engage in the Cabotage trade are indigenous vessels which was a remarkable improvement from what it used to be in the past where the foreign shipping Companies dominate the country’s maritime domain.      

Victor Ochei, an Engr.  And Executive Director, NIMASA, Maritime Labour and Cabotage services, had alluded to the waiver   regulations in the Cabotage regime when he and other Management Staff accompanied the NIMASA Director General, to the agency Board room on Tuesday, May 2, 2023, to welcome Patience Diaba, led Ghana Maritime Authority, GAMA, Team at the instance of Kwame Owusu, his Ghanaian Counterpart, who are in the agency for a 10-day training programme on the workings of the Caboge regime in Nigeria.    

 The NNIMASA Executive Director had said that the waiver policy  had’’ served as a buffer  for intended shocks  that may arise from the Protectionist policy ( Cabotage regime) noting that it had continuously been phased out and thus  has become less attractive  to operators  in the country’s maritime domain.   

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