In campaigning for the 2019 Polls, President Muhammadu Buhari, recently launched his policy document dubbed Next Level. Based on specified priority areas, the document outlines the President’s focus for the next four years. In terms of infrastructure; road, rail and air, received a detailed analysis. It was however not detailed on maritime development.
Squeezed in under the Ease of Doing Business category and the priority area of Business and Entrepreneurship Development, Buhari summarized his plans for the maritime development in the overhaul of investment procedures. He assured Nigerians that investment procedures such as Customs, Immigration, trade and production procedures would be simplified. This is in addition to the completion of the Lagos-Calabar costal rail project and the enforcement of deadlines for the issuance of government licenses and permits. This brief mention given to maritime issues and the scant regards for the challenges besetting it is an indication of the government’s misunderstanding of the sector’s importance to the overall growth of the Nigerian economy.
Nigeria is import dependent; majority of its needs are met through the importation of cargo brought in through the seaports and land borders. For months on end, the major issue that has slowed international trade and drawn the attention of both the Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode and Vice President Yemi Osibanjo, is the Apapa gridlock. Truck drivers, trailers and oil tankers, all struggling to gain access into the Lagos ports, are unable to do so as a result of deplorable access roads. Presently under re-construction, the poor state of the Apapa port access roads has for years been responsible for the bottleneck on that axis which frequently spills over into surrounding environs. There is also the matter of the Tin Can port access roads, in a far worse state than that of Apapa, and abandoned by the Federal Government for decades. Daily, human lives and valuable cargoes are lost when trucks and containers tip over, spilling their contents on other hapless road users due to the giant sized pot holes on the roads. A direct consequence of this gridlock is the high cost of doing business at Nigerian ports, which is reflected in higher haulage costs, high cost of demurrage, and the needless loss of agricultural exports, which often get spoilt when trucks taking them to the port spend weeks in transit.
Another issue, which should have warranted prominent mention in the policy document, is the problem of sea piracy. Of recent, this issue has steered Nigeria into the ignoble position of recording the highest number of pirate attacks in the world for two consecutive quarters. Designated a high-risk area by international maritime bodies, Nigeria attracts one of the highest premiums in marine insurance as a result of piracy. This, of course, is also reflected in high freight cost. Even the $103 million maritime security contract awarded to an Isreali firm, ostensibly to train and strengthen Nigerian naval forces, has made no impact on our waterways security. This is in spite of a six-month performance window promised by the Minister of Transpiration, Rotimi Amaechi.
Inland waterways development, an inconspicuous but no less critical aspect of maritime development, was equally absent. With its vast network of rivers and creeks, the inland waterways are a viable solution for taking human and cargo traffic off Nigerian roads. Ironically, two of Nigeria’s river ports, on which millions of naira has been expended in construction, still idle away even after their so-called completion. While the Baro port has no accessible access roads, the Onitsha port has been awaiting concession for six years. With the year almost at an end, it is unsure whether the Oguta and Lokoja ports slated for completion this year will make the deadline and if they do, will ever become operational.
International trade and by extension the maritime industry is the lifeblood of every developed economy. It is for this reason that advanced economies expend effort and resources in developing this sector. Nigeria, already battling with a failing economy and a huge unemployed population, will make no headway in improving agricultural exports if the current issues in the maritime sector remain unresolved.
While Nigerians await the 2019 elections and its outcomes, it is not out of place if President Muhammadu Buhari takes a second look at his policy document. The necessary corrections as regards maritime development must be made, if he indeed, plans to move Nigeria to the next level.