The Nigerian Ports Authority’s recent handover of Warri Port Terminal B to the concessionaire, Ocean and Cargo Services Limited, deserves commendation for its economic significance to the nation. The terminal, which is at the old Warri Port, was abandoned over ten years ago after the collapse of its quay wall in April 2008. During the concession of Nigerian ports in 2006, it was first concessioned to Associated Maritime Services Limited. The company abandoned the terminal and relocated to the Warri New Port following the collapse of the quay apron alongside other decaying infrastructure.
The old Warri Port covers an area of 4.39 hectares, and boasts of facilities like a 760-metre long quay deck with appropriate quay hardware, open cargo storage areas as well as engineering and maintenance yards. These sterling facilities have remained abandoned for years with the nation losing billions of Naira annually in revenue, and the surrounding communities wallowing in poverty and unemployment.
The Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), however, woke up from their slumber in June 2014 to advertise for Expressions of Interest for the re-concession of the terminal. Thirteen firms submitted their Expressions of Interest. For unknown reasons, evaluation of the bids and issuance of request for proposals to the preferred bidders took another three years. Finally, after evaluating the requests for proposals from the seven preferred bidders, an indigenous firm, Messers Ocean and Cargo Services Limited emerged winner. Announcing the winner after a meeting of the governing board, NPA said Ocean and Cargo Services Limited will operate the terminal for 25 years. The concessionaire will rehabilitate the infrastructure at the terminal and deploy modern technology that will make the port competitive.
Significantly, on Tuesday February 12, 2019, NPA and BPE handed over the terminal to the new concessionaire.
We congratulate Ocean and Cargo Services Limited on winning the bid for the old Warri port and on successful take-over of the port. We also commend the Federal Government for reviving business activities at the port, and for dredging the Escrovos Bar, which will facilitate the movement of ships to and from the port. Nevertheless, we expect the government to do more by encouraging the revival of the other eastern ports. A situation where the ports in Port Harcourt, Calabar , Burutu, Sapele and Koko – ports that contributed immensely to shipping activities in the past – remain abandoned is condemnable and makes no business sense. By neglecting those ports, the Federal Government is only shooting itself on the foot. The Calabar Port, in particular, is a sad case, as the port’s access channel, identified as one of the major hindrances to business activities at the facility, has become only a conduit pipe for privileged individuals to siphon public funds. The only time the port is heard about is when a new contract is being awarded for the dredging of the channel and when the billions of the contract sum sinks into the drains.
There is no gainsaying that if properly utilized, Nigerian seaports have the capacity to increase significantly the country’s revenue and its GDP. As the strategic gateway to the country, the efficiency of the ports determines to a large extent the prosperity of the nation. Many economic experts have maintained that if the maritime sector is properly harnessed, it is capable of funding the nation’s annual budget.
We also note the relative peace that has pervaded the Warri Port environment for some time now. Some years ago, the port neighbourhood was plagued by restiveness and violence that often affected activities at the port. As NPA appealed during the handover ceremony, the host communities should ensure that peace continues to reign and that they work with the concessionaire to ensure safe movement of ships in the port. If the port begins to buzz again, the host communities will feel the effect first, especially in the area of employment, while business and commerce will receive fresh vigour.
Ocean and Cargo appears to be aware of the enormous responsibility and task of running the Warri Terminal B. Having run a port terminal for 12 years, the firm is in a familiar turf. It is, therefore, expected that the company will harness its wealth of experience and expertise to set a new standard in this latest venture.