Killing the goose that lays the golden egg

[box]By Bolaji Akinola[/box]


Sometimes I wonder why successive governments treat the maritime industry with disdain. With the exception of the administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, every other government, under our present democratic dispensation either lack idea of how to run the affairs of the industry or do not understand the place of shipping in the nation’s economic development.

The rot that defines the state of road infrastructure in the port city of Apapa, Lagos, is a clear manifestation of government’s insensitivity to an industry which contributes at least two trillion annually into the national coffers in addition to creating more than one million jobs for Nigerians.

The roads in Apapa, which plays host to Nigeria’s two major seaports, the Lagos Port Complex Apapa and the Tin Can Island Port Complex, have gone from bad to worse as a result of neglect and government’s inaction.

The two major roads leading into Apapa are no longer motorable. The Apapa-Oshodi expressway, which is the main artery through which goods are moved out of the ports to other parts of the country, has failed completely more than five ago without an iota of concern from government.

The other road – the Ijora-Wharf road – which had served as an alternative road to the Apapa-Oshodi expressway now has potholes big enough to swallow a truck. The road has become a graveyard of trucks which frequently fall into its numerous ditches, spilling their goods, resulting in monumental losses to owners and truckers.

Residents, commuters and businesses in Apapa who are at the receiving end of this collapse, have described the federal government’s neglect as unfortunate.

It has become increasingly difficult to move around, in and out of Apapa.

The Lagos State government cannot be exonerated from the rot. Since 2009, it had collected N1,000 daily from every truck plying the port route in the name of Wharf Landing Fee. Then Governor Baatunde Fashola, while marketing the Wharf Landing Fee idea to stakeholders said its proceeds would go into maintaining roads which suffer from the pressure of heavy duty trucks plying them, especially the roads in Apapa. It turned out to be another mere political ‘locker room’ talk. Billions of naira accrue annually without commensurate benefit to road users.

The roads apart, the government seem determined to decimate the maritime industry and its operators through the enactment of policies that chase customers away from our seaports to the ports of neighbouring countries.

Policies such as the auto policy, rice policy, fish quota system and forex policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria are all anti-maritime industry. While campaigning, General Buhari and his runnining mate, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo promised to reverse the policies, which have only succeeded in promoting smuggling activities in the country, but one and a half years into their tenure, nothing has changed.

Maritime industry stakeholders are groaning. They have cried themselves hoarse, but who will come to their rescue? Who will administer the much needed painkiller? Some are becoming despondent.

The minister came. He made several promises. Sweet talk. Political talk. Yet nothing has changed. No concrete steps have been taken or are about to be taken to address the challenges of the sector.

The powers that be have merely appoint their anointed into positions of authority in the industry. Someone called it ‘compensation’ for the hard work of those folks during the run up to the general election. Hmmmm. Compensation! At the detriment of a whole sector?

And the beneficiaries of the compensation come without any understanding of the industry and its challenges. They devote their time and energy chasing shadows, ignoring the substance, because they don’t know what the substance is.

President Muhammadu Buhari’s government should take another look at the maritime industry. He should borrow a leaf from his former boss, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. Left on his own, I do not think the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, will make any meaningful impact on the industry. We need change – strong visible change in the maritime industry.

Government must immediately bring together a broad spectrum of stakeholders from across the industry with the aim of finding new solutions to the most important challenges facing the industry today and in the future.

The President must create a platform for collaboration across the industry – ship owners, bankers and other investors, shipyards, suppliers, brokers, lawyers, ship management, insurance, ports and various service providers – as well as with other important stakeholders and opinion shapers. He must meet with stakeholders from all sectors of the industry to discuss its strategic challenges and innovative solutions in a new thinking context.

This is the way to go to develop this all-important component of the economy.


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