There are a number of critical issues affecting the development of Nigeria’s blue economy.
Nigeria has an inadequate framework to deal with environmental, social and governance conditions in its fisheries, does not have a domestic coastal management policy, pays inadequate attention to small-scale fisheries, and has significant knowledge gaps regarding marine life, seabed resources and the risks associated with fishing in the country’s coastal areas. Professor Shehu Akintola, an associate professor at Lagos State University in Nigeria, completed the Short Course on Ocean Governance and Sustainable Fisheries at the Australian National University in 2016.
Professor Akintola recognises the critical importance of supporting sustainable small-scale fisheries in Nigeria, and this Short Course further developed his knowledge of good governance in the management of aquatic systems. “Previously, higher education institutions emphasised fisheries science to the detriment of the role of fisheries governance in the quest for sustainable fisheries,” he said.
Since completing the course, Professor Akintola has become involved in implementing the voluntary guidelines of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) for securing sustainable small-scale fisheries in the context of food security and poverty eradication (the SSF Guidelines).
The implementation of these guidelines will lead to improved livelihoods for fishers: directly, by increasing their harvests through improved fisheries management, or indirectly, through the provision of alternative livelihoods, which may include diversification into aquaculture or a combination of fishing and other activities. According to Professor Akintola, “the voluntary nature of the SSF Guidelines ensures that they are home grown and amendable to suit the reality of stakeholder experiences and not cast in a rigid format”. The onus of encouraging compliance with the guidelines is on the state, and strategic implementation will largely depend on the will of the participants to comply.
Although there is currently no legislation in place to regulate the implementation of the guidelines, a series of legislative documents, such as the global Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (CCRF), supports their implementation and objectives. Because women make up the majority of small-scale fishers involved in the processing and preservation, marketing and trade of fish in Africa, Professor Akintola believes that the successful implementation of the SSF Guidelines will impact tremendously on them.
This will cascade to better food and nutrition security for vulnerable groups, including children and the elderly. An estimated 50 million people will benefit from the project through improved livelihoods, reduced poverty and improved food security and nutrition. When asked about the value of the Short Course to the implementation of these international guidelines in Nigeria, Professor Akintola said that the importance of stakeholder engagement was emphasised throughout the course as a way to ensure sustainability. Some progress has already been made globally, and many countries in Asia and a few in Africa already have successful stakeholder engagement programs in place. Professor Akintola is optimistic that once he can get other stakeholders, especially the donor community, to fund the process of establishing a culture of getting everyone to work together for a common cause, the necessary foundations will have been laid.
As a researcher, Professor Akintola draws attention to the SSF Guidelines and provides a pathway to their implementation in Nigeria. He also provides feedback from stakeholders in order to provide evidence-based interventions that will lead to the attainment of the SSF Guidelines’ objectives. He is a member of the Too Big To Ignore (TBTI) research network SSF Guidelines cluster, which supports the implementation process through a methodological, analytical and descriptive approach by documenting and analysing guideline implementation currently taking place and providing inputs to facilitate it. He hopes to organise and secure funding for a stakeholder engagement workshop on the implementation of the SSF Guidelines.
He is approaching academics, government, donor communities, fish workers and their organisations, as well as non-governmental organisations. He also hopes to attract collaborators in this stakeholder engagement process through the Australia Awards Alumni platform. Professor Akintola expects that implementing the SSF Guidelines will help fast-track the process of integrating the fisheries that are segmented into the entire blue economy framework. This will enhance the economic development of Nigeria and improve the quality of life of its citizens.