There are insinuations that Nigeria may have been schemed out of €15 million (N6 billion) European Union (EU)-funded project designed for the development and improvement of fisheries activities in the West African sub-region by the francophone countries.
The project is informed by the belief that contribution of fisheries to the economic development of West Africa is sub-optimal and the current governance of fisheries threatens food security, means of subsistence and marine biodiversity, hence EU is providing support to the fight against illegal fishing in West Africa.
Also, the project, funded under the European Development Fund (EDF), was aimed to improve regional fisheries governance in West Africa and this would include developing a regional fishing policy, putting in place regional coordination against Illegal Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing and improving fish stock management at regional level.
As THISDAY was reliably informed, the €15 million project is one of the many significant commitments to ocean conservation made by the EU at the 2017 Ocean Conference hosted by the EU in Malta.
Tagged: the EU-funded West Africa Fisheries Governance Improvement Project (PESCAO), it "aims at enhancing regional fisheries management by firstly, addressing regional fisheries policy at the Economic Community of West African Countries (ECOWAS) level; secondly by building the capacities of competent national and regional Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (MCS) authorities to deter Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing; and thirdly demonstrating the added value of coordinated approaches for shared fisheries management."
PESCAO, which is currently being implemented by the Fisheries Committee for the West Central Gulf of Guinea (FCWC), was launched in Accra July 30, 2018, without the participation of Nigeria.
This has been generating some concerns in the country among the stakeholders of the fisheries industry sub-sector who said Nigeria has not been fully involved in the implementation of the project.
FCWC is an inter-governmental body established in 2007 with its secretariat based in Tema, Ghana and with Ghana as its host country.
FCWC facilitates cooperation in fisheries management between the member countries including: Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Nigeria, countries which have several shared fish stocks and identified a need for cooperation and shared management of these resources.
Nigerian fisheries stakeholders, who pleaded anonymity, said almost the entire exercise is dominated by officials from the francophone countries without any active role for Nigeria, meaning that Nigeria is not part of the project.
When contacted, the FCWC Communications Officer, Mr. Kofi Taylor-Hayford, who is based in Ghana, said "the FCWC is indeed implementing a component of the Improved Regional Governance in Western Africa (PESCAO) project in our sub-region (FCWC-PESCAO). We are only implementing one out of the three components
since it is a larger regional project."
He said he could not give information on how only a few countries are dominant in the implementation.
But, the President of Fisheries Society of Nigeria (FISON), Dr. Lukman Agbabiaka, who played down on the allegation, said the emphasis of the society for now is to organise all the stakeholders into one formidable group, with a view to ensuring that Nigeria participates fully in the continental and global activities relating to fisheries for the benefit of the country.
According to him, that was the essence of the FISON and PESCAO High Profile Conference of Stakeholders, held last week for two days in Lagos, with a view to setting up of West Africa Non-State Actors for Fisheries and Aquaculture (WANSAFA) platform in Nigeria.
He noted that a similar meeting, which included Support to West Africa Integrated Maritime Security (SWAIMS) has also been organised.
Agbabiaka, said the essence of the stakeholders meeting was part of the effort to position Nigeria for the development of the fisheries industry sub-sector, adding that this would help the country to benefit maximally from the EU-funded projects.
He added that it was embarrassing that Nigeria was lacking in the area of regulations in the fisheries sub-sector, which made the conference apt at this time.
Agbabiaka said it has been observed that sometimes, fisherman A would approach a particular body for a grant and fisherman B would approach the same body for the same grant.
"We have a lot of organisations, but unfortunately, these organisations do not know themselves, which is an embarrassment to Nigeria when it comes to applying for assistance.
"What somebody has been given grant for in Epe, another person else in that same Epe is asking for similar grants. It is embarrassing," he said.
Earlier, the Team Lead of PESCAO/ECOWAS, Mr. Amadou Tall, said:
"Today's conference is to set up a National Non-State Actors platform for Nigeria to make sure that they can have one voice and get access to opportunities offered by our programme and WANSAFA."
He added that this is a unique platform to ECOWAS and can help to have work plan activities based on the needs of the region, which Nigeria can benefit from.