By Lakinbofa Goodluck
The port business all over the world is an integral part of a nation’s economic structure as it is a veritable source of income for forward thinking economies. Being the gateway for goods, the port is never starved of activities. If you visit any port and there is a dearth of activity, that is a sure sign of economic downturn in such country and a signal to impending privation. This explains why many countries invest resources in standardizing their seaports. Moreover, just as the airport being a first impression creator can influence the perception visitors may have about a country, the seaports can significantly influence the popular perception about a country. If the seaports are well managed and standardised, users are prone to think that every other aspect of the country is well-managed. In contrast, if the seaports are shabbily managed, the same perception could be extended to the generality of a nation. As a country that heavily relies on importation of virtually everything it consumes, including chocolates, the ports serve as major revenue channel for the Federal Government and even State hosting the ports. For us in Nigeria, most of the ports in the country are in the southern region and understandably so; by divine providence, the region is more endowed with the features that support maritime activities.
Goodly, there have been efforts to establish dry ports in the northern part of the country; an idea that is perfectly suitable for a country like Nigeria if the push is predicated on national interest. There is no crime in having 37 functional ports (seaports and dry ports) in Nigeria so long as there are no sentimental, political, and divisive motives to their establishment. Norway, a country of about six million people, has more than 80 standard ports functioning optimally. This is a total contrast from what currently obtains in Nigeria, a country of more than 180 million population with just six seaports, not all of which are operating optimally.
Even in the sub-region where we claim to be the giant, we are still lagging behind. In terms of port management and viability, Nigeria still trails behind Egypt, South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya and even Djibouti in Africa. Apart from Port Said in Egypt, the Durban Harbour in South Africa is arguably the busiest port on the continent, adding significant economic value to the South African economy; and it is just one of the eight well-managed seaports in the country. Nevertheless, Nigeria is exceptionally blessed such that if we resolve to take advantage of our natural benefaction, we can create a huge African maritime hub in the coastal areas of the nation that will provide massive employment and generate revenue for the nation.
To make this a reality will demand a re-evaluation of the current system. I believe the INTELS Public Private Partnership model is prototypical of what should obtain in Nigeria. Historically, since the company started business in Nigeria and became a concessionaire of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), it has diligently delivered on its obligations beyond expectations and without complaint from the government or users of the port. Rather, it has received commendation for its performance. Currently, no port in Nigeria can match the services rendered at the Onne Port and it may be plausible to say that currently no other firm can manage the Onne Port and by extension other ports in the country better than INTELS.
There is a lot to explore from the innovations INTELS has introduced at Onne Port and at the Onne Oil and Gas Free Zone. Attempting to write about the magic INTELS has displayed in the management of Onne Port is to sign a contract for the publication of several editions of a book I would have titled “The INTELS Magic at Onne Port”. But for the constraints of space and time, I will only highlight a few of the many innovations. My first stop on this ride is the 24-hour operation at Onne Port. Long before the Nigerian Ports Authority considered rendering 24 hours service at other ports, INTELS had started operating 24 hours in Onne with the introduction and institutionalisation of a “One Stop Shop” strategy to service clients maximally. The Onne Free Zone, which is located within the Onne Port Complex, being the largest Oil and Gas Free Trade zone in the world, operates a one stop shop solution that provides clients with all operational needs within the operational environment including office accommodation, hotel accommodation, catering etc. This is rooted in the philosophy that the current world thrives on efficiency more than mere effectiveness. It is no wonder that the Onne facility handles more cargoes every year than all the other eastern ports put together.
The storage facilities available in Onne allow companies, especially IOCs, to invest in equipment for future projects, thereby saving cost. This is in addition to other facilities and incentives that have been provided to support oil and gas business in Nigeria. Furthermore, practically every activity in the port is technology driven in order to ensure efficiency and state of the art service delivery. In another display of commitment to world class service delivery, INTELS recently acquired one of the largest port handling cranes in the world – a 600 tonnes Liebherr crane capable of lifting cargoes as heavy as 208 tonnes with a 17-metre boom outreach – to increase its efficiency in cargo handling and stay ahead in the business. The crane, acquired at a princely sum of USD6 million (N1.83 billion), is the largest at any port facility in Africa. Sitting on 104 tyres, is capable of lifting cargoes as heavy as 208 tonnes with a 17-metre boom outreach.
Onne Port is and Onne Oil and Gas Free Zone are also the safest of such facilities in Nigeria. The level of investment in security at the port is exceptional. The Naval command at the port is adequately equipped to prevent and/or respond swiftly to any form of security breach. This is in addition to technological installations aimed at ensuring the security of lives and investments.
These distinctive attributes of the Onne sets it apart from other ports in the country, and should naturally elicit positive reactions from all Nigerians. We should take pride in the fact that we have a working project of this nature in our country and see to it that the investor that made it happen is well-guarded and protected for the benefit of all.
The Onne Port and Onne Oil and Gas Free Zone have become the reference point in port and free zones operation in the country due to its astute management by the concessionaire, INTELS Nigeria Limited, over the years. This success can be extended to other ports in the country in order to reinvigorate our maritime exploits as a nation. INTELS has shown that Nigerian ports can be managed commendably.
What INTELS has done in Onne is to raise the standard for port management and prove that Public Private Partnership in the management of port facilities is a mutually beneficial endeavour. To be precise, the INTELS model should be replicated to revive other ports especially those outside Lagos in order to develop them to world class standard. By operating in a government owned port facility and Free Zone housing over 170 other companies, INTELS has continued to provide top-notch integrated services to the oil and gas industry and other patrons of the facilities. The company has developed the zone to become a foremost oil service centre for onshore and offshore operations while providing the West African and greater sub-Saharan oil and gas industry easy access and duty-free distribution facilities. No wonder, every individual that has visited Onne is quick to commend INTELS for its world class service delivery.
What we need now as a nation is the collective resolve to make every aspect of our economy work. Some of our ports need revamping; they need to go through technological and innovative makeover to make them attractive. As we work on reviving the waning ports, we must jointly protect the integrity of the viable ones. The ability of INTELS to keep delivering world class service is significantly tied to the treatment it gets from other stakeholders, which presumes that all parties that have a stake in the operation of the company at Onne Port must, as a matter of integrity, respect contractual agreements at all times. Similarly, we must put the national interest first in every action we take. INTELS has shown to us that PPP in port management can work; let us wait no longer.
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