By Omotilewa Quadri
The House of Representatives on Monday kicked off investigation into alleged malpractices in the maritime sector.
The investigative hearing, which was held in Abuja by the House of Representatives Committee on Ports, Harbours and Waterways, followed several motions calling for an investigation into alleged malpractices in the maritime sector.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, while speaking at the hearing, noted that the allegations raised were weighty, with potential to seriously affect the economy.
He emphasised the importance of an effective maritime sector to the Federal Government’s diversification drive, saying that the Nigerian maritime industry still seemed to be struggling in spite of efforts aimed at repositioning it.
Dogara commended the executive arm for improved service delivery and enhanced contribution to economic growth.
He however said despite these efforts, the maritime industry is yet to attain the desired and expected status of becoming the hub for international freight and trade in West Africa.
“In this regard, it has been observed that over the years, the Nigerian maritime industry has failed to attract the required local and foreign investment inflow that is proportionate to its contribution to both the Nigerian and West African economy, despite its great potential and enormous investment opportunities,” he said.
DOgara described as unacceptable a situation whereby ports in other West African countries deliver better and more efficient services than Nigerian ports.
“According to the National Bureau of Statistics in March, Nigeria’s ports dropped down the global ratings basically due to bad infrastructure.
“Interestingly, major competitors in the West African region, such as the Port of Lome in Togo, Port of Dakar in Senegal, and the Port of Cotonou in Benin Republic, all deliver better efficient services than the Nigerian Ports. This is really not acceptable.
“Some of the problems that have been identified as the reasons the Nigerian Ports are performing so poorly include bad infrastructure, high cost of doing business and low draught at a lot of our major waterways.
“It is our hope that the legislative exercise being carried out through this committee will proffer lasting solutions to these problems,” he said.
He also stressed the need to dredge the ports outside Lagos to increase traffic and in turn, boost economic productivity in other parts of the country.
“It has also been pointed out by stakeholders that dredging our port channels will increase traffic to our ports and invariably increase economic productivity.
“For instance, if we have cargoes going up north to places such as Kaduna, Kano and Maiduguri, such cargoes would not need to go through Lagos, which is already so congested.
“But for this to happen, the channels of other ports need to be dredged.
“Reports have it that the Lagos water channel is about 14.5 meters deep, while the Port Harcourt and Calabar channels are less than 10 meters deep, which limits their capacity to receive big cargo ships.
“This explains why there is so much congestion at the Lagos Port. If we must make the expected progress in our maritime sector, all available resources must be accountably and prudently managed to meet the various demands for improved infrastructure,” he said.
He identified inefficient collection and accounting procedures, contract repetitions and payment of huge commissions to service providers compared to remittances into the Federation Account as other factors militating against efficient service delivery in the maritime sector.
The investigative hearing was necessitated by motions relating to guaranteed minimum tonnage in the contract signed between the Federal Government and private terminal operators, and abandonment of dredging projects among others.
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