Port concession has paid off, says Ex-NPA Managing Director, Omar Suleiman

Ten years into the concession of the nation’s seaports by the Federal Government, former Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Engr. Omar Suleiman says the exercise has brought immense benefits to the Nigerian economy.

Suleiman, who was Port Manager of Onne Port during the concession programme in 2006, served as NPA’s Managing Director from December 2010 to August 2012.

While speaking against the background of the 10th anniversary of port concession, the former NPA helmsman said the port system was characterised by huge inefficiency, prompting government to invite private firms to bid for cargo handling operations.

“We entered port concession then because as you know, NPA had a cargo dwell time of three to four months.

“Ship waiting time, you cannot have less than six days. Turnaround time was something else because by the time the ship arrived, it was a problem problem of stalking where it could offload,” Suleiman told NPA’s in-house journal, Nigerian Ports Today, in an interview.

Also speaking on the issue, NPA’s Managing Director from October 2003 to May 2007, Chief Adebayo Sarumi, said the government agency’s ineptitude in handling cargoes at the nation’s gateways led to port concession.

“On a typical day, there are supposed to be 9 cranes and only one is working. On a typical day, there are supposed to be 12 pilot cutters but only one will work. On a typical day, there are supposed to be 100 forklifts, hardly will you get three working.

“But go and look at the bottom line, the amount of money that NPA has paid. What happens to the money? Do you compare the money to the availability percentage? You spent huge amount huge amount of money (but) because you don’t have access to the books, you don’t even know what was happening back then,” Sarumi told the NPA in-house journal.

He said, “It got to a stage where NPA was spending 95% of its income; even the 5% that was left was not 5% that could be called their own.

“You know how much was going to contractors; as at 2003, N49billion was going to contractors. What were they spending? What was their productivity? How fast could we turn round the ships? How many cranes were available to work? How many tugs were available to pull ships?”

Sarumi, who midwifed the port concession programme, commended former commended former President Olusegun Obasanjo for his courage in reforming the port.

“The President at that time was willing to reform, had the courage to reform, couldn’t be bothered and was a bulldozer. He didn’t look at anybody’s face. He wanted reform.

“He knew that he could not negotiate for the reform of the economy without reforming the port system. Absolutely there is no way you can do it either then, or even today,” he said.

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