From the perspective of a freight forwarder, I can authoritatively say that 2018 has not being a good year in the industry. We had a spill over of issues from 2017 to 2018, particularly port congestion, traffic gridlock and the uncertainties generally in the industry. Though the government is trying but the major issue is the port planning and structuring. A look at the 2006 port reforms, will show that all is not well. The truth is the gains of the reform is yet to be harnessed; there is need for us to put more efforts in making the port look attractive, competitive, increase the level of patronage, reduce the level of cargo diversion to other ports and generally make the port user friendly. I believe these are some of the indices that tend to prove that all is not well with the industry. Nothing can be done in this year but I would plead with the government to put work to action in the industry next year. The Nigerian Shippers’ Council have tried their best in bringing out innovative management in the industry; by creating Inland Container Depots (ICDs) which is the global trend now. Infact, with those ICDs, we ought not to be having issues ofport congestion anymore. This is because ICDs are meant to help in cargo evacuation to the hinterland but that will happen when we have seamless transport system to the hinterlands. For instance, when the government is able to create linkage of rail system to the port; good highways and not just port access road; and of course, the waterways. This is because this has yet to be done, that is why we are having issues at the port. I believe with the creation of ICDs, if government can create efficient railway system operation, there will be succour for freight movement.
The performance of the Nigerian maritime sector has been really poor; there has not been any improvement at all. Just take a look at the roads in Apapa; seeing that alone would tell you that the government has failed the maritime sector, failed to address how the sector can contribute to the national economy. The maritime sector was potentially the largest, after the oil and gas sector, that could create jobs and contribute to economic development. But there was no critical government policy that had, so far, been enunciated on how to increase the country’s ship tonnage. There ought to beport development because without the port, we will not be able to compete with our counterparts in other countries for cargo traffic. Inadequate port development is responsible for the diversion of numerous ships to other countries, which have much more efficient ports. If all these are not put in place, the industry will continue to be in a mess every year.
We encountered a lot of challenges in the maritime industry this year; the turnaround was not much. Cargoes are trapped in the port for months mostly due to the deplorable condition of the port access roads. Again, some securities agencies under the guise of regulating they traffic, have turned it to be money-making venture. This is causing a lot of problems for the industry. From Wharf road and Creek road leading to the Apapa port and the Apapa-Oshodi express road which leads to the Tin-Can Port, the two busiest ports in Nigeria have witnessed their fair share of containers falling off trucks and killing unsuspecting port users due to the bad state of the roads. Access into or exiting the two busiest ports in Nigeria remains a herculean task for port users. Many have had to divert their cargoes to Nigeria’s neighbouring ports due to the increased cost that has accrued on cargo clearance as a result of the infrastructural decay at Nigeria’s ports. Also, the issue of holding bays for empty containers has still not come into existence. I will rate the assessment of the maritime sector for this year as low.
My assessment of the maritime industry this year, is nothing to write home about. Nigeria as a nation is characterised by backwardness and the maritime industry is not an exception. It seems the government and even the maritime sector has not made progress this year. We have been talking about the maritime sector becoming a hub but we have done nothing about it. I feel the government should work towards establishing and sustaining an effective maritime sector.
This year is almost ended but there is no appreciable improvement in the maritime sector. The government seems not to understand how the maritime sector can be effective to help the economy grow. Whilethe Treasury Single Account (TSA) is a good idea, the implementation of the initiative slowed down operations in the sector. The Maritime agencies like the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), are not functioning at optimum level, because they are not getting their funds as quickly as before. In fact, the TSA is not just slowing down the sector alone, but the entire economy. It has not impacted well, not because the idea is not a good one but because the way it works is too slow. Government must understand how the sector works, and for the sector to work effectively, it must also have a Minister of Maritime Affairs. The aviation sector is a very small sector in transportation but it has its own minister. I believe the government; especially the Ministry of Transportation should start looking into this as from next year.
The maritime industry tried to re-bounce in 2018 but the attempt was not coordinated. The absence of a national shipping line is part of what government should have paid more attention to but nothing has happened in that regard. Look at the Apapa port road; it is in a shambles. Containers are falling off trucks, on innocent people and causing a lot of gridlock and the government is complacent about the situation. The call for a Truck Transit Park has not been attended to. I hope that if the required port facilities, good access roads and cost of doing business are friendly compared with other countries; the maritime industry will surely generate more revenue than oil.
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