In 2011, the Maritime Organisation of West and Central Africa (MOWCA) gave Nigeria the final approval to start the Regional Maritime Development Bank (RMDB) in the country. The Federal Ministry of Transport confirmed this to the media saying the bank had been given the go ahead to take off.
Both the General Assembly of MOWCA and the Bureau of Transport Ministers approved the bank and all the proposals of the Federal Ministry of Transport on the matter. The Minister of Transport, Senator Idris Umar said, “All the 25-member countries constituting MOWCA is looking up to Nigeria to take-off with the project.’’
This is not out of the ordinary as an estimated 76% of shipping business activities in West Africa takes place in Nigeria alone. Also the fact that Nigeria imports most of her consumables makes the ports of utmost importance to the country and her economy. The bank was intended to aid the development of the West African shipping business.
Sen. Umar said, “The approvals for Nigeria to host the banks’ headquarters came through the 13th General Assembly of MOWCA in Dakar, Senegal in July 2008; it also had the Late President Umaru Yar’Adua’s approval in February 2009; and the latest resolution of the 14th General Assembly of MOWCA on August 2011 in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo.”
In spite of the approval of the Regional Development Bank, it still lies fallow and a few have expressed fears that the headquarters would be withdrawn from Nigeria. As at February 2012 calls are still being made to the Federal Ministry of Transportation and the Federal government to provide ‘financial commitment’, appoint financial and legal consultants and open the bank’s secretariat.
It has been about a year and a half since the approval was given and media reports have it that several other countries in the sub-region are interested in having the bank’s headquarters moved to their own countries.
The Ministry of Transportation did not purchase any property for the bank; instead it acquired a two year lease for two buildings in Abuja. The rents for these unused buildings would be due in a few months. One building was to be the secretariat and the other, the transit guest house. The buildings lie dormant.
The bank is a sub-regional initiative supported by multilateral agencies like World Bank, African Development Bank (ADB) and European banks. Reports say MOWCA itself had made the initial contacts with these agencies, who have in turn accepted to work with MOWCA to move things forward. But when the baton was handed over to Nigeria everything grounded to a standstill.
MOWCA consists of 25 countries on the West and Central African shipping range, and five land-locked countries. The objective of MOWCA is to serve as the regional and international community for handling all maritime matters in the West and Central Africa.
Nigeria’s ‘inaction’ could easily be translated as lack of commitment to MOWCA. If other member countries are indeed eyeing the secretariat then Nigeria might lose it and lose the benefits. Several countries in West Africa have established their own specialised maritime banks and the benefits are streaming in.
Some of the benefits in starting the bank includes: generation of funds for the services of Cabotage Act and the Local Content Act at very good rates and conditions; increase in purchased vessels by indigenous ship owners who would be able to lift crude and refined petroleum products; to serve as a purely business bank for the development of the maritime industry; to create wealth and jobs.