Senior Special Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan on Maritime Services, Mr. Olugbenga Leke Oyewole, in this interview with select journalists including Yusuf Babalola of SHIPS & PORTS DAILY, speaks on what the federal government’s plan to tackle the perennial traffic gridlock in Apapa; present state of the nation’s seaports and other sundry issues.
What is the present position of the ports?
As you can see, the situation of Nigerian ports, like you would rightly have observed, has improved significantly.
In what areas?
In all areas and I challenge anybody to tell me one area that has not improved. In terms of the vessels coming in, the clearance of cargo, the turnaround time for ships, everything has improved and we are also improving in many other areas. We are not there yet, do not get me wrong.
What can you say about the port access roads?
Some months ago the access to the port was poorer than what we have today but as we talk today, government has already awarded that contract and the contractor is on site.
But it appears abandoned?
It was not abandoned, the contractors are still working. It is not abandoned. The only thing that has not made the effect to come properly before the people is that, while we tackle the issue of potholes on the road, we are also trying to ensure we evolve the call-up system for trucks that will come to the port.
Let me let you know three or four things government is doing at the same time to ease traffic and enhance movement around Apapa. Number one is that we are trying to fix all the pipelines from Atlas Cove to Ejigbo, Mosinmi, Ibadan, Ilorin and Ore so that we can disperse all these tankers, they can go to those locations and load.
Number two thing is that government has already connected the rails to the port and we are now designating inland container depots across the country whereby people from abroad can now say ‘please I want my goods to go to Osogbo’ for example, instead of coming to Apapa to clear we can now talk of goods living America and can be delivered to Osogbo and people will go there to clear and we know that will decongest Apapa.
The third one is fixing these roads and making sure that the roads are motorable to people. So, these things coming together with the call-up system will ensure that only trucks that are needed at the port will access the road at a particular time.
We should also not forget that there is an holding bay for truckers so that if it is ten trucks that should go to the port, only the ten trucks will be allowed into the port. These are things we are doing simultaneously. We have just talked to you about the road, other things are also ongoing, by the time everything is up and running, there will be full movement around Apapa.
NIMASA and the Nigeria Air Force recently signed an MoU on maritime security. What is view on this?
In fact, that is another level of cooperation that adds enormous benefits to the nation. You will agree with me that the expanse of our maritime domain – 84,000sq nautical miles – is difficult to patrol by just moving around with patrol boats so there is need for aircrafts that can move round the oceans and locate where ships are and what they are doing there.
Are they doing legal business? Are they doing what is lawful? You need to be able to identify these and it is already yielding results. So it is a way of having effective management of the nation’s coast.
Is the planned synergy between parastatal heads in the maritime industry feasible?
We are almost at the final stages. We are not oblivious of the fact that it is difficult to get the chief executives of these agencies to talk to each other but if they will not talk to each other physically, if they will not fix meetings between agencies, maybe by virtue of their responsibilities or one agency needing the help of the other one, we will make sure we fuse them on electronic platform; so that what one is seeing, the other one may also see it as per its own operations without compromising the sanctity of any agency.
It seems some of the ports are overstretched. What is the government doing about this?
The way out are these things I have mentioned to you. We are developing deep seaports across the country. There is one in Lekki that is ongoing, there is one around Ibaka that is ongoing, and there is one in Badagry that we are working on. These are additional ports that government is putting in place but beyond that, we are also trying to make sure there are inland depots where cargoes can be evacuated.
All these are efforts targeted towards making sure that a particular infrastructure is not over-stretched.
More than two years after, the Onitsha River’s port that is also meant to reduce stress on these ports is still under lock and key, what is the situation now?
Now the Onitsha River port and any other ports, I think are at the commercial stage where they have advertised for people that have the intention to run the port. Government will not want to run that port. No government wants to run the port. We want to give it to private people to run. It will be more efficient and a private man running it can come to Lagos to solicit cargos.
Government can not commandeer cargos to any particular port but if a private man is working between the private sector in Onitsha and the people in Apapa here, they can put cargos on his barge and it will simply move there but be that as it may, we want to ensure that we achieve a certain dept that is navigable to any barge going there but that port will run, I can tell you.