The Maritime Organisation for West and Central Africa (MOWCA) will be in the news this week, as the 16th Extraordinary Session of the General Assembly holds, November 16-18, in Accra. The highlight of the gathering will be the election of a new Secretary General.

This is coming few months after the emergence of the Transport Minister of Ghana, Kwaku Ofori Asiamah, as the MOWCA President. Asiamah took over in August at the 15th General Assembly held in Kinshasa.

MOWCA means so much to the West and Central African sub-region as far as transportation and international trade are concerned. Nigeria has a big stake within the maritime bloc, being the destination for nearly 80 per cent of cargo bound for West and Central Africa.

The MOWCA election scheduled for Thursday comes against the backdrop of muscle flexing by several gladiators in the sub-region. In contests like this, stumping and lobbying are common practice, as every stakeholder hopes to be recognised and favoured in the ballot. This has been the scenario in the past few months. Now, the election is here and political calculations are at work.

MOWCA, which was set up in 1975, plays an important role for its 25 member-countries, particularly, with respect to trade promotion. But, typically, it helps the regional and international community to handle all maritime matters that are regional in nature. It is a powerful maritime bloc.


MOWCA started as the Ministerial Conference of West and Central African States on Maritime Transport (MINCONMAR). The name changed following reforms carried out by the General Assembly of Ministers of Transport in August 1999 in Abidjan. It aims to protect the general interest of its members with regard to maritime trade. Inside the union, littoral and landlocked states interface for the provision of seaborne trade.

But more importantly, MOWCA’s main policy focus include, “Port development and facilitation with particular reference to achieving a cost effective faster ship turnaround times and creating special berths and conditions for landlocked countries, coastal /feeder shipping in MOWCA ports; strengthening of service-oriented shippers’ councils to effectively protect and represent the users or the demand side of the shipping industry; maritime safety and environmental protection; enhancement of efficiency of maritime administrations; the implementation of flag state control measures and regional Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on port state control.”

In carrying out these objectives, the group has established specialised units representing the ports, shippers and operators. These units are under the direct coordination of the Secretary General.


Nigeria with its size and resources has always been a Big Brother to its African neighbours. West and Central African states can attest to this. Nigeria is usually at the forefront in addressing issues of concern in the region. It takes the lead with huge financial implications.

In the past, Nigeria’s interest had always suffered hitches, as the desired support or cooperation had failed to come from the sub-region. This was the case in the contest for International Maritime Organisation (IMO) seats.

At the 15th General Assembly MOWCA in August, Nigeria’s interest witnessed yet another drawback, as some countries took to the politics of dichotomy and fielded candidates, who were not qualified for the post of Secretary General. Guinea and Republic of Benin had presented two candidates for election as Secretary General.

Incidentally, the two were overage. The constitution of MOWCA requires persons vying for the position of Secretary General to be below 55 years. But the two candidates from Guinea and Benin were between 60 and 62 years old. This was against Nigeria’s candidate, Dr. Paul Adalikwu, who was 55 years at the time nominations closed in 2020.

The behaviour of Guinea and Republic of Benin had angered Nigeria, prompting the Minister of State for Transport, Senator Gbemisola Saraki, to lead the Nigerian delegation to stage a walkout from the event.

Article 74 of the 1999 Rules of Procedure of MOWCA provides that whoever is vying for the post of Secretary General must be between 35 years and 55 years.

The incident that played out during the August event was allegedly masterminded by participants from the Francophone countries who were believed to have ganged-up against Nigeria’s interest.

Contribution to MOWCA

As a giant in trade and shipping, Nigeria has made enormous contributions to MOWCA. At the time the race for Secretary General was taking place in August, Nigeria had contributed over $5 million in support to MOWCA. Beyond this, Nigeria has committed tremendous effort and resources to the promotion of trade in the region. It has confronted multinational shipping agencies and their liner conferences against unfair trade practices in the region.

Nigeria has been at the forefront of efforts by MOWCA to stop losses to foreign shipping companies amounting to billions of dollars as a result of multiple surcharges. In 2019, Nigeria raised the alarm over yearly losses of about N150 billion yearly to multiple surcharges by shipping agents.

The country is not alone in this, as other states had also narrated their own experiences during a sub-regional summit in 2019 on “Unfair Shipping Surcharges and High Local Shipping Charges at the Ports of West and Central Africa”, held in Abuja.

The concerns have bordered on lack of consultation, timing, and cost structure of the surcharges. Among the resolutions at the 2019 summit was to take the matter to the Global Shippers Council, which later held another forum in London with liner conferences from different continents on the issue. To some extent, this effort has put checks on such surcharges, which come in different forms and terminologies at the expense of African shippers.

Gulf of Guinea

One of the common issues affecting trade in the West and Central African sub-region is the issue of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. It is one of the reasons why shipping companies have continued to impose surcharges on goods coming to the region. It comes in the form of “War Risk Surcharge”. Besides, ship-owners who bring goods to the region are forced by circumstances to have on-board armed guards to protect them from pirates and sea robbers. The cost is often transferred to the final consumers of shipping through surcharges. As at 2019, West African countries were said to have lost $2.3 billion to maritime crime in three years. Worried by this development, Nigeria has made efforts to address the Gulf of Guinea security challenge with the Integrated National Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure, also known as the Deep Blue Project.

The Deep Blue Projects aims to secure Nigerian waters up to the Gulf of Guinea from land, air, and sea. It is an initiative of the Federal Ministry of Transportation and Federal Ministry of Defence, which is being implemented by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), with personnel drawn from the Armed Forces, the Nigeria Police, Directorate of State Services, and other security agencies. The purpose is to prevent illegal activities in Nigeria’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), enforce maritime regulations, enhance safety of lives at sea, and prevent criminal activities in the inland waterways.

This is a highly capitalised project for the security and safety of vessels coming to the West and Central African states. Director General of NIMASA, Dr. Bashir Jamoh, believes with the deployment of the assets of the Deep Blue Project, Nigeria and, indeed, the West and Central Africa should be freed from high surcharges.

The Nigerian effort to secure its waters and the larger Gulf of Guinea is bearing fruit. The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) recently reported a 77 per cent decrease in security breaches in the first nine months of 2021, compared to the same period last year. Though championed and executed by Nigeria, the credit for the feat, which has been acknowledged by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), goes to the region.

What MOWCA Stands to Gain

Against the background of Nigeria’s willingness to sponsor and support projects aimed at trade facilitation in the region, MOWCA member-nations stand to gain even more if Nigeria’s candidate is elected as Secretary General of the group.

MOWCA needs a country with strong influence and resources to be able to effectively pursue the economic interest of the region. Having shown strong commitment over the years, Nigeria would be expected to keep the flag flying and not relax on this role.

With its nominee as Secretary General of MOWCA, Nigeria would certainly be confident to do more in the pursuit of security in the Gulf of Guinea and galvanising West and Central African nations to pursue an effective course of regional maritime security