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Nigeria extends maritime territory, a boost for blue economy ambitions

NIGERIA'S maritime territory has expanded to 16,300 square kilometers following UN approval, a move that will enhance its blue economy and growing strategic investments in ports and coastal road projects.

IN a step towards revitalizing its blue economy, Nigeria has won the right to extend its maritime territory, a development that promises to position the country as a key maritime hub in the region, according to a presidential source.

The state house statement released on May 15 said Nigeria’s President Tinubu had been briefed of this development by the High Powered Presidential Committee (HPPC) on Nigeria’s Extended Continental Shelf Project.

“The project aims to extend Nigeria’s maritime boundaries in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), 1982,” the statement explained.

According to the HPPC committee, the request has been approved and it allows Nigeria to extend its continental shelf beyond the established limit of 200 nautical miles.

”As it stands now, the area approved for Nigeria is about 16,300 square kilometres, which is about five times the size of Lagos State,’’ Aliyu Omar, a surveyor expert who is also the secretary of the committee told the President.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea defines a continental shelf as an area comprising of the seabed and subsoil of the submarine areas that extend up to 200 miles beyond which one enters the protected waters of the high sea.

The space hosts rich deposits of hydrocarbons, gas, solid minerals, and a wide variety of sedentary species. This makes the additional territory a shot in the arm for the country which has been ramping up investments and policies aiming to revamp its blue economy.

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In August 2023, the West African country established a standalone maritime ministry, the Marine and Blue Economy Ministry, which according to experts was a strategic move to tap the country’s rich marine resources as an element of the national economic framework.

In a 2023 opinion article on The Conversation, Isa Elegbede, a marine sustainability and blue economy expert, said “Harnessing the blue economy could be a game changer for Nigeria.”

“Strategic planning, global partnerships and investment can make it a reality,” he adds.

Recent upgrades on the country’s ports further show a commitment to decongesting ports, enhancing efficiency and seizing economic opportunities through improved sea freight logistics.

Nigeria is investing US$1 billion in the rehabilitation of its seaports

As the government explores different funding options for the port rehabilitation project, there are ongoing projects whose constructions and complete promise to catalyse maritime economic activity for the country.

The Coastal Road, for instance, linking Lagos to eight states along the coastline is one such project that is quickly taking shape.

The federal government recently (in February) approved the allocation of more than US$600 million (more than 1 trillion Naira) for the first phase of the broader 700km road project. The allocation is for a 47.47 km dual carriageway of five lanes on each side and a train track in the middle from Ahmadu Bello in Lagos to Lekki Deep Seaport.

Even as Nigeria’s quest for a more robust and rewarding maritime economy continues, the nod from the UN to extend its coastal territory is a positive sign for many other countries that have made similar requests awaiting decisions.

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In a 2022 workshop paper, Maurice Kamga, a judge at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg, explained that as of 2009, 21 countries from Africa had made at least a preliminary request seeking to have their coastal territories expanded. This number had risen to 25 by 2022.

They include Angola, Benin, Benin/Togo (joint submission), Cameroon, Cabo Verde, Comoros, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Togo.

“The Commission has already made its recommendations on five submissions, while the rest are still pending,” Kamga highlighted in his submissions.

Submissions for Mauritius, Namibia, and Mozambique are under active consideration, according to the commission’s website. This means they are likely to get feedback sooner.