Last Thursday’s visit of Delta Ports by the NPA team led by the managing director,Hadiza Bala Usman has once again highlighted the need for the government to refocus its priorities by giving attention to abandoned ports WRITES FOSTER OBI
Although the visit to Delta Ports by the managing director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Hadiza Bala Usman, and her management team, happened a little bit late, after Calabar, Lagos and Port Harcourt, it was also timely. The Port which looked weather beaten and abandoned has seen bad days. A first time visitor will know this by the derelict and unkempt nature of the administrative building and solitary state of the main port. It was like a ghost town.
When the NPA staff saw Usman and her team, they were actually excited or so it seemed. But while some in the usual Nigerian nature of sycophancy shouted ‘the messiah has come’, a few sighed and said ‘na today’? Meaning this is not the first time we have being witnessing this kind of visit.
A tour of the port did not ignite any ray of hope either. It was a moral killer and its abandoned state bad public relations for the government. It was lonely and unattractive, requiring urgent attention. Taking into consideration the fact that ministers of transportation, Senate Committees on Marine and transport and NPA MDs have visited the port, it leaves much to be desired.
But while others have visited in the past without making any visible impact, Usman comes with a different aura, a sense of inquiry and urgency that makes her sound believable. There is this intense passion on her part to know everything that needs to be addressed and she responds to every question. But until the perceived zeal is transformed to tangible structures that people can see, analysts believe that the so call zeal may just be another whited sepulchre.
Although the port is located in Warri, Usman and the management team made as top over at Asaba to see the state governor, Ifeanyi Okowa. Okowa’s reception was warm. The NPA MD told the governor that they had come to his domain to inspect NPA facilities in the state and would like to work with the governor to improve the port. She said the Authority would welcome suggestions on how to reposition the ports.
She noted the need to carry the host community along and why it is important to prioritise and strengthen relationship with the state executives since such partnership is necessary to deal with some recurring issues like encroachment into NPA facility and youth unemployment and restiveness in the state.
While responding to the MD’s speech, the governor said this was not the first time top officials of government have visited the port with high sounding promises but end up doing nothing.He lamented the non-functional nature of the ports. One of the challenges he highlighted was the fact that although successive governments had visited, none has found the need to dredge the port to attract bigger vessels. He told Usman “I believe the port will be dredged now and we will like to remember you for that.’’
He noted that port development is fundamental in galvanising business activities in the area and its environs. He highlighted the strength of the market, the closeness to the South East and the fact that if the port is dredged and become functional, importers from south east and the south south will be making use of it often and goods coming to the market will be cheaper.
‘’In anticipation of the dredging of the channel, we have decided to dualise the 141km road from Ughelli to Asaba to connect to Onitsha road. It is costing us a lot of money. It is in three sections; we have finished one. When the road is finished, it will take less than 90minutes to get to Onitsha.’’For him dredging the port will boost activities in the state, as people will be encouraged to use the water more often and it will open up more interaction with other parts of the world; create employment and deal with youth restiveness.
“Whatever will create jobs for our youths is welcome. We are looking forward to partner with the NPA. We are glad you came,” the governor said.
Also at Warri, the NPA MD and the team visited the Olu of Warri, Ogiame Ikenwole. Usman told his majesty that the team was in Warri to visit the port facilities as well as create relationship with the traditional institution; adding “I am also a daughter of traditional institution,’’. Most importantly she enlisted the support of the institution to stimulate economic activities in the area, to create jobs for the youths, to stem militancy. Also she mentioned the need to reclaim encroached property of NPA.
The traditional ruler pledged her full support. He was excited to see a woman heading NPA for the first time and was optimistic that something different will happen. Although the town is privileged to have Warri and Koko ports, but the ports are not functioning well. He said the Escravos needs dredging. He said that if NPA could transform the ports and get the youths engaged, restiveness will stop because somebody who is engaged will not have time for rabble rousing. “Let your time bring that transformation so we can use it to challenge the men,’’ He told Usman.
Before the tour of the Warri Port, the Delta Port manager, Okeke Simeon Okeke took time to highlight the challenges faced by the port. He told the NPA team, later joined by the members of the Board led by Emmanuel Olajide Adesoye, that the port is suffering serious neglect. He told the MD “We believe that by the time you leave, the place won’t be the same because we know your antecedents.’’ While this may sound patronising it was obvious that the port manager is asking that something drastic be done to a port that has serious capacity to generate multiple revenue to boost the economy but which previous government had abandoned due to misplaced priority.
Warri port which has a total land mass of 363 hectares of land has been badly encroachment by the host communities that are always spoiling for a fight. The ports in Delta comprise Warri port, which is the main port, Koko port, Burutu port, Sapele port, Crude oil ports and Jetties which are 48 in number. The terminal operators that manage Warri Port include INTELS and Julius Berger and Associated Maritime.
From the port manger’s narration, the port has long been abandoned which reduced activities at the port to near zero. Instead of the main port, NPA generates more of its revenue from the crude oil ports and jetties. A major problem at the Warri Port is especially at the entry point is that the navigational buoys used as as locators or warning points for the ships has been swept away by the water, so safe navigation has become impossible. Okeke said that vessels get stuck here, sometimes for four days. Also the tugboats that belong to the Authority are not in good condition so in such cases NPA will hire tugboats to rescue grounded vessels.
He noted that the few vessels that come there get stuck, adding that these shipping agents are suffering. “It is equally an embarrassment for the Authority. It needs emergency remediation, and you may need to give it urgent attention,’’ he told the visitors.The port manager also stated that the revenue generated between 2007 and 2016 was $607.7m which translates to N9million while the revenue collectedis $1.2347m or N6m.
The challenges confronting the port seem daunting. The dredging of the channel presents a major challenge and until this is done, activities at the port will still remain minimal. On the other hand dredging the channel will obviously create a big hole in the purse of the NPA. Beside the channel dredging, the wreck removal poses a major challenge. To the extent that the facilities needed to perform this exercise are all broken down, is a sad commentary on how not to run revenue generating agency. Okeke told the NPA team that the breakwater which serve as protection for cargo stowed forward, deck equipment or similar structures at risk of damage from green water is broken down and wreaks cover the water and poses danger for vessels. In one particular instance, he noted that one of the crew members died in a vessel accident.
He also called for a concessionaire to manage Koko port. Besides this he said that the buoys which called Buoys 6 and 7 need urgent replacement as this is like a road map that guides vessel movement and prevents them from getting stuck. He also called upon the management to look into encroachment into NPA property by the host communities and constant litigation that hampers development.
The staff Unions was not left out. In a three page petition to the authorities, Monday Ahamba who spoke for the Junior and Senior staff Union chronicled their challenges and fears as well as suggestions to reform the abandoned port.
For instance he highlighted the dilapidated facilities at the port, the need to dredge the port as well as provision of operational vehicles to monitor the jetties that are scattered round the state. He said that the trailer park built by the NPA which has been taken over by the host community need to be recovered. He faulted the authorities for allowing towage facilities to die and getting the services outsourced to outsiders because vested interests.
On the issue of unceasing rumours of retrenchment, the Union called on the managing director to come out clean on this as it kills staff morale. Besides he said that the idea of placing the employment of both junior and senior staff at the headquarters does not augur well for the growth of the organisation. The Union highlighted the need for a succession plan to replace aging professionals.
Responding, Hadiza Usman told the port manager that the Authority will take urgent action to replace the buoys but that the issue of dredging will be tackled later. She said the management is open to suggestions of how to improve the port. She told the port manager that she will need to be properly briefed on why there is a huge gap between the revenue generated and revenue collected and how this gap could be bridged.
She allayed the fears of the staff concerning retrenchment, a rumour which she said she had discountenanced earlier. She said the management will however introduce appraisal form which will rate the performance of each staff. Also on succession plan, she called for ideas from staff if they have any.
The Chairman of the NPA Board, Adesoye is also assuaged the staff by soothing words. He told them that the present team of NPA management mean well for them and that going forward, things will definitely change for the better.
At the stakeholders’ conference to round off the tour, a lot of issues were thrown up. Solomon Asite, the state President, Chamber of Commerce told the visitors that Warri port is lying fallow and that this creates serious concern. He said that most of the vessels that come to the port before with general cargo are diverted to other ports because the channel is blocked.
An association named Shipping Trade Group represented by its President; Acherman Thilo called the attention of the managing director on so many things that have gone wrong at the port. He said the breakwater which is broken down is a major challenge at Warri port. He said that in the last few months, more than 15 vessels have been grounded and that the port does not have any functional tugboat.
Among other things he called on the MD and her team to make Warri port work again.
Emiko Oghominoro, who represented Delta Stakeholders Association, said it was worrisome that while the NPA is making money, the host communities are suffering. He said that stakeholders have been on this issue of dredging for the past 15years. He said that if the NPA does not take the needed action, the aggrieved communities whose youths are unemployed will continue to foment trouble
But NPA, Executive Director, Marine operations, Sekonte Davis in one of the responses told the stakeholders that one of the major problems hindering the port is the attitude of the people.
He said that even bringing wet cargo to the port is a challenge as most importers are diverting their cargo to Lagos. “We have to talk to ourselves. Even when an importer has the means, he can’t come here. Our attitude is driving business away. I am a Kalabari man and the thing is affecting me too. So we a need a change of attitude for things to change here,’’ he snapped.
One of the stakeholders stood up in protest to challenge the ED. He was obviously not amused at the bitter truth. He asked whether there were no tensions in Lagos and yet people take their cargo there.
Usman told them she will look into their pleas. She highlighted areas of immediate attention while the others would receive attention with time.
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