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How to utilise PR to build Nigeria’s image, attract investors

Cargo ship

PR practitioners, communication scholars, maritime experts, and other stakeholders have stressed the need to use public relations as a tool to tell compelling stories that would change investors’ perception about Nigeria and the blue economy.

They spoke at this year’s NECCI roundtable tagged, Awakening the Blue Giant, Catalysing the growth of Nigeria’s Maritime Economy through Public Relations.

They argued that regulatory bodies such as the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Nigeria Shippers Council, Nigeria Ports Authority were key drivers in galvanising indigenous participation in the sector.

Over the last decade, the blue economy has taken on greater importance in the context of an increasingly resource-constrained world and a climate-threatened global ecosystem, hence the need to properly harness the economic power of marine and maritime economy that are often underutilised owing to the inefficiency in the port activities which tends to slow processing time leading to long cargo turnover periods and lower potential incomes.

It has always been argued that Nigeria must change its reputation in order to attract investors in all sectors, and PR practitioners are to lead the way.

In the estimation of communication experts, any country with image issues will find it difficult to attract foreign investors, thus, the government must pay attention to recommendations by experts to change the narrative.

As the blue economy is the next level of economic transformation, the need to make the maritime sector globally competitive and as a strong driver of economic growth could not be overemphasised.

In his speech, Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who was represented by the Commissioner for Transport, Dr. Frederic Oladeinde said, “we must leverage on our strategic position in the Gulf of Guinea to make our country a force to be reckoned with and a choice destination for maritime business.

“On our part as a state government, we are developing initiatives aimed at harnessing the opportunities in our water endowments for aquaculture, transportation, and tourism. These initiatives will be largely driven by the private sector. Our focus will be on developing the necessary infrastructure and ensure that the environment conducive enough to attract private investments.”

Chairman, Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR), Lagos Chapter, Mr. Olusegun MacMedal told The Guardian that government needs to come up with a consistent positive messaging to the world, adding, “ PR is a management platform, and I must say that NIMASA and Nigeria’s Shippers Council have tried to engage stakeholders in activities to keep the conversation going.”

Though these engagements have not yielded the much-needed results, MacMedal is optimistic that they would manifest into greater level, as the practitioners are not standing still themselves.

Also, MD MediaCraft PR said PR was key in rebuilding the reputation of the country and the industry, as all these would count towards determining the quality of investments that would come into the sector.

According to him, “PR is reputation building, to tell the stories of the potentials and the opportunities in that space to encourage investors. The individual players in the sector also need to build their reputation.”

He commended NIMASA for its robust engagement with stakeholders, adding, “as regulators, they have done very well, but there is still a lot more to be done. We the practitioners are very open to more collaborations to achieve this common goal.”

Convener, NECCI PR Roundtable, Nkechi Ali-Balogun noted that the World Bank defines the blue economy as “the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, job creation and improved health of the ocean ecosystem.”

According to her, the Nigerian government has been paying lip service to eco-tourism and coastal resources development, as no competent system had been put in place to address pertinent issues of pollution and depletion of coastlines or exploiting or maximising the potentials of the coastline. “There is an urgent need to create reforms that will give visibility to the potentials and problems of the Nigerian blue economy while at the same time facilitating a pool of highly viable and available solutions and profitable investment options,” she said.       

Specifically, she said, “ocean-based assets and economic activities offer prospects for new sources of growth, jobs, and innovation. They also offer possible solutions to key environmental challenges such as alternative renewable energy through windmills and ocean currents. People are turning to the oceans as terrestrial reserves become depleted. However, this precious resource is also suffering the effects of human activities, including climate change, acidification, overfishing, pollution and much more.”    

Referencing Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), she said the coastal tourism contributed $8.8 trillion to the global economy, grew faster than the global economy for the eighth successive year, generated 10.4 per cent of all global economic activities, contributed 319 million jobs, representing one in 10 of all jobs globally in 2018.

In his keynote address, the Director-General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Dakuku Peterside stated that a good reputation and perception would encourage investors and generate more Foreign Direct Investment into the country.

Peterside, who is also the Chairman of the event, added that for a long time, there is a perception that the most profitable sector is the oil and gas economy, but from the 70s there is this contention that it is not advisable to depend on a mono-economy. The government has explored all sorts of options like agriculture, there are pros and cons about that but it seems we have not made much progress in that direction because to date, oil and gas contribute 70 per cent to our foreign exchange earnings.

But one sector that has a key role to play in the diversification of our economy is the maritime sector. It is capital intensive but it is not insurmountable. He also canvassed integrated blue economy policy for maritime sector.

Guest speaker and President, Africa Export-Import Bank (Afrexim Bank), Prof Benedict Oramah, stated that African seas and oceans represent major assets, adding, “According to the African Union, 90 per cent of Africa’s import and export are conducted through the sea. The AU has recognized the importance of the Blue Economy and has included it in its Agenda 2063 which is the blueprint for the development of the continent for the next few decades. For us at Afrxim bank, to boost trade, the ports must continue to receive financing for expansion to ensure that the value chain does not lose value, margin, and profit.”
 
Represented by Peter Olowononi, he noted that opportunities in the blue economy include: shipping, fisheries, tourism, energy, and others.

 
According to him, African coastal water contains one of the richest fisheries.

The Gulf of Guinea, the Indian Ocean and the coastal waters of East Africa include some of the richest fishing grounds.

The potential for aquaculture in Africa is enormous. Egypt, for example, have experienced spectacular aquaculture growth. In Africa, fisheries and the aqua sector is estimated to employ about 12.3 million people.

Half of these people are fishermen. 4.9 per cent are processors and 0.9 per cent work in fish farming. More than half of the fishers are employed in inland fisheries.

In Africa, fisheries are a great source of economic and social value to the continent but are considered to be largely unrecognised and not utilised to the full potential.

It is generally estimated that about 200 million people eat fish as their main source of protein. Fisheries contribute about 13. 5 of the GDP of Senegal.

Next is tourism, which is a major global source of revenue. In 2017, tourism supported 9 per cent of global jobs and generated $1.3 trillion or 6 per cent of the world economic earning.

Travel and tourism generated $7.6 trillion which is 10 per cent of global GDP and 277 million jobs for the global economy in 2018.

It is pertinent to note that a large portion of global tourism is focused on the marine and coastal environment and it is said to rise in the future presenting more opportunities for growth in the blue economy.

Another opportunity in the blue ocean economy is energy. The exploitation of ocean-based resources which are perhaps the major component of the blue economy presents great opportunities for coastal African countries.

In 2018, offshore fields accounted for 32 per cent of worldwide crude oil production and this is projected to rise to 34 per cent in 2025. Investors find it safer and more secure for them.

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