Of Nigeria’s preparedness for hub port status

The clamour for Nigeria to be a hub port in the West and Central African sub-region has been on for several years now, returning to the front burner at the just-concluded second edition of Nigeria Maritime Expo, NIMAREX 2012, held in Lagos.
The renewed desire for attaining a hub status in Nigeria followed a presentation by the Managing Director of Lagos Deep Offshore Logistics (LADOL), Dr. Amy Jadesim, on Development of the Hub Concept for African Atlantic Coast: Nigeria as a Focal Point. 
In her paper, Jadesimi said that Nigerian ports can only remain relevant by attaining hub port status for the West and Central African sub-region, adding that private investment in the development of ports facilities is known to be the winning model all over the world at the moment.
According to her, the development of logistics bases is one of the keys to making Nigeria the hub for deep offshore oil and gas in West Africa, because logistics bases provide the support and environment needed to enable all upstream petroleum related activities to take place in Nigeria.

Other stakeholders including the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Engr. Omar Suleiman, and the Chairman, Ports Consultative Council (PCC), Otunba Kunle Folarin, who were discussants of the Jadesimi’s paper, equally emphasised the need for Nigeria to attain a hub port status.
For Suleiman, the current volume of cargoes coming into Nigerian ports annually makes it mandatory for Nigeria to become a hub port in the sub-region.
Suleiman noted that the population of the country and the strategic position she occupies in the sub-region equally attest to why Nigeria should ensure that she takes the lead in the attainment of a hub port status.
Folarin, had said that Nigeria will only attain a hub port if she makes her ports more attractive by creating an enabling environment for ports operators.
Folarin noted that an enabling environment can be created by the government through favourable fees regime, charges and services rendered, noting that the hub port status may elude Nigeria if all these are not in place, because, according to him, other countries are already competing with the country.

However, Chairperson of the Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN), Princess Vicky Haastrup, took a different position, stating that she does not see Nigeria attaining a hub port status with the plethora of challenges, which, according to her, the ports in the country are currently facing.
Haastrup noted that Nigerian ports were built to attain a hub port status, because, according to her, there are no clear demarcation of the ports, especially in Lagos, from the city.
Haastrup added that, unless there is seamless documentation of Customs procedures, rehabilitation of the current ports structures, especially the access roads, Nigeria is far from attaining the hub port status.
The perspective from Haastrup and, indeed, those of all the other speakers, raise the critical question of Nigeria’s preparedness in attaining hub port status.

Haastrup certainly listed some challenges currently facing ports operations in the country, but we need to look beyond these, because the attainment of a hub port status is not just about ports operations alone, but the Nigerian maritime industry in its entirety.
Building new ports or deep seaports, using public-private sector partnership, which Jadesimi suggested in her presentation, may not be that efficacious panacea to actualising Nigeria’s ambitions for hub port status.
Government and other stakeholders must look at the maritime sector holistically, and one of such areas is the security of the country’s waters.
Nigeria’s waters have been rated as the most pirates-infested waters, coming second after Somalia. This rating has generating great debate regarding its propriety or otherwise, and we don’t wish to join the affray here. But a glaring fact is that Nigeria should focus greater attention on the issue of the security of her maritime domain, because no consignee is comfortable with potential threats to the cargoes.
Nigeria may put all the necessary infrastructures in place but without the security of her waters the dream may not be realised.

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