Joy Dimka, Senior Legal Officer, Nigerian Shippers' Council.

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Potential benefits of the extension of Nigeria’s maritime borders 23 Jan 2024

The United Nations, through the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), has extended Nigeria’s seaward continental boundaries from 200 to 220 nautical miles. This was disclosed last month by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). According to NIMASA, the increase in Nigeria’s seaward boundaries follows a submission by the country to the CLCS and subsequent approval by the Chairman of the Commission, Adnan Rashid Nasser Al-Azri.

The extension of the nation’s maritime borders means that Nigeria is allowed to now redraw the territorial map of its sovereignty in the Gulf of Guinea, thereby granted the right to exploit the abundant carbon and marine resources believed to be present in the area. According to the Director-General of NIMASA, Bashir Jamoh, the extension of the nation’s maritime borders will bring additional economic benefits to the country.

The administration of President Bola Tinubu seeks to exploit the potentials of the Nigerian marine economy. Accordingly, the Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy was newly created by the president. The Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs Service, Bashir Adewale Adeniyi, said the development of Nigeria’s blue economy will enable the agency to generate over N5 trillion in revenue. In line with such optimism, Dr. Jamoh said the sector can generate around 350 million jobs.

According to the United Nations, the term blue economy refers to the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth while preserving the health of ocean systems. The goal is to stimulate economic growth by tapping into the vast potentials of the oceans. Central to the concept is the understanding that economic activities within the blue economy must be conducted in a manner that preserves the health and integrity of ocean ecosystems.

The continental shelf is defined and regulated by international law, particularly within the framework of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The relevant articles that define and address the continental shelf are found in Part VI of UNCLOS, specifically in Articles 76 to 85.

In simple terms, the continental shelf is like the underwater extension of a country's land. If one imagines oneself at the beach, and as one walks into the water, the seafloor gradually slopes downward. The part of the seafloor that gently slopes from the shore into the sea is called the continental shelf.

The continental shelf of Nigeria is an extension of its land territory beneath the seabed of the territorial sea, as it is for most countries. However, Nigeria’s continental shelf before now extended up to 200 nautical miles from the baseline or to the outer edge of the continental margin.

To the south, Nigeria borders the Gulf of Guinea, an important maritime region known for its significance in shipping, trade, and offshore resources. The Gulf of Guinea is a large gulf or inlet on the northwestern part of the Atlantic Ocean, situated along the western coast of Central Africa. It is bordered by several countries, including Nigeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Sao Tome and Principe. The Gulf of Guinea is a significant region for maritime activities, trade routes, and the exploration of natural resources, such as oil and gas. It plays a crucial role in the economic and geopolitical dynamics of the surrounding countries.

On the 7th of May 2009, Nigeria submitted to the CLCS, in accordance with Article 76, paragraph 8 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (1982), that the limits of its continental shelf would extend beyond 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured. Although it wishes to extend beyond the allowed 200 nautical miles, it has no definitive measure as to the particular length of its continental shelf. It is pertinent to note that the UNCLOS Convention entered into force in Nigeria on the 16th of November 1994 and was ratified, but the country is yet to draft an indigenous body of rules concerning the continental shelf.

Nevertheless, a continental shelf is a strategically important location for military purposes and has been proven to be a valuable source of fisheries, minerals, carbon energy, resources, and scientific discoveries. The factor endowments are further elaborated below:

Sedentary fisheries

Sedentary fishes on the continental shelf, for example, have long been exploited in traditional economies to provide sustenance, trinkets, and religious artefacts. Such fisheries have been important enough to attract both municipal legislation and international conflict. Australia, for example, passed pearling industry legislation in the early 1950's in response to anxieties over the harvesting rates of Japanese vessels.


The scale and diversity of life on the shelf is thought to be vast but just how vast remains an open question. Estimates of the extent of deep ocean diversity vary from as low as 500,000 species to as many as 100 million species. This is a rich target for research or bio-prospecting and has attracted attention of major pharmaceutical firms hoping to develop drugs from marine resources for uses including the fighting of HIV, bacterial infections, cancer, and malaria.


In 1967, Ambassador Arvid Pardo delineated the various resources already then being drawn from the continental shelf. In addition to the tin, diamonds, phosphorite, sulphur, coal, iron, and hydrocarbons then being exploited, the global volumes of both producing and potential resources are today greater than ever. Placer deposits have been discovered on the shelf containing metals, including tin, titanium, chromium, and zirconium. Subsoil brine pools have also been found, containing concentrations of lead, zinc, gold, and silver. Volcanic springs have been found with high concentrations of iron, zinc, copper, silver, and gold. And naturally-occurring manganese nodules continue to attract interest.

Carbon energy resources

As a component of the economic value of the shelf, oil and gas reserves have been estimated to represent about 90% of the value of exploited seabed minerals. As a component of global energy production too, the shelf is vital: offshore oil wells produced about 30% of the 85 million barrels of crude oil consumed per day in 2010. Methane hydrates, or gas trapped in a water/ice lattice structure, are also of potentially enormous value. It has been estimated that methane hydrates contain double the combustible carbon of all other fossil fuels.

Now that there has been an extension of Nigeria's maritime boundaries, potential financial and economic implications could include:

Resource exploration and exploitation: Extended maritime boundaries may grant Nigeria additional rights to explore and exploit marine resources within the expanded area. This could include fisheries, oil and gas reserves, minerals, and other valuable resources.

Economic zone development: An extended maritime boundary may contribute to the development of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). This could attract investments in maritime-related industries, such as shipping, fisheries, and offshore oil and gas activities.

Revenue generation: If the extended maritime boundaries result in increased economic activities, the Nigerian government could generate additional revenue through taxes, royalties, and other fees associated with resource extraction and trade within the expanded maritime area.

Job creation: The development of new economic activities within the extended maritime boundaries may lead to job creation in various sectors, including maritime, fisheries, and the oil and gas industry.

Infrastructure development: Increased economic activities in the extended maritime zone may necessitate the development of maritime infrastructure, such as ports, shipping facilities, and other support services.

International relations: An extension of maritime boundaries can have implications for international relations, potentially leading to negotiations and collaborations with neighbouring countries and international organisations.

It is important that the Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy is aware of these advantages and puts the necessary policy implementation in place to achieve all the possibilities attainable.

Joy Dimka is a Senior Legal Officer at the Nigerian Shippers' Council.