I think the government should be able to liberalise the ports, make it more effective for more ships to come. When you talk about challenge of insecurity, it is the responsibility of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and I am sure they are working now to handle that. The security challenge is one of the things scaring away importers apart from the fact that ports in the eastern part of the country have low channel. So I want to urge the government to empower the necessary agencies particularly NIMASA which has the security mandate, give them security apparatus to do the needful to address these challenges. That way, it will also free Lagos port from congestion.
The reason why the eastern ports are not developed despite all the hues and cry is highly political. The answer is simply, there is no political will on the part of the government to address the issue. People talk of insecurity but there is really no place in the world that we don’t have piracy, the rate at which they operate only differs. If the government really want to help decongest the ports in Lagos, they know what to do. Most of the importers that reside in Onitsha and Nnewi still patronise Lagos ports but if you put the transportation cost of bringing down the containers to the east, it still amounts to the same. Government should do all it can to revive the eastern ports. Onne for example is operating well but others like Calabar ports are operating below capacity. So we need more political will on the part of government to address the problem.
It is in the hands of the federal government to make the eastern ports work. They can put in place measures like creating incentives for ships to come here instead of just having all the ships rely on Lagos. We as clearing agents are ready to work but the problem is, it is only Onne port that is operational other ports like Calabar, Port Harcourt area 1 and Warri are all lying fallow. If the governments open the other ports, it will create employment for youths in the region.
If the government can expand the eastern ports, it will enable bigger vessels to call in because we have come to understand that the ports here have shallow draught to take big vessels. If the government put in place necessary infrastructure, it will help decongest the Lagos ports. Even right now, the Onitsha and Aba importers have now realize that they can ship and clear their containers here. But we need the government to do more to encourage the importers so that the ports here will develop and we as clearing agents will have more work to do. Sometimes we stay here for weeks without doing anything because jobs are not coming. I believe the government knows what to do to develop the port but sometimes they politicised some of these issues.
My plea to government is that they should address the problem of infrastructure. For example, there is no access way from Onne to Aba, it is a death trap. When the roads are fix, truck drivers and even owners of cargo will have rest of mind and feel happy doing business in this area.
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