Why the government must pay more attention to the ports

A lot has been written about the Nigeria maritime industry with its vast potentials that would make the Western nations go green with envy. It has been variously referred to as the gateway and key to the Nigerian economy.  Reports show that as an oil producing and exporting country, and also a consumer nation, Nigeria is a large market for foreign goods because of its size. It is therefore believed that the maritime industry holds the key to the nation’s growth and development. It is based on this premise that experts have canvassed for the right leadership that will introduce policies and programmes, with the capacity to unlock the potentials in the sector.

Without sounding immodest, efforts have been made by successive regimes in the past to address the problems weighing against the industry’s efficiency. Expert assessment however shows that these efforts are not deep but remain mere flashes in the pan. Some of the regimes have been accused of minding their personal estates, reaping without ploughing back and ‘muzzling the ox that trade the corn.’

Investigations show that ten years after port reforms, the Nigerian Port Authority (NPA) is yet to provide the necessary infrastructure to reduce cost of doing business. The ports are yet to be connected to the national grid. There is no provision for full port access to enable effective operations.

Analysts have argued that in 2006, though  the agreement the Nigeria Ports Authority(NPA) had with concessionaires  required provision of reasonable assistance for the supply of independent power plant at the ports premises, the provision is still farfetched which meant that  the terminal operators will to provide private electricity generation on their own. Also in the area relating to the provision of general security at the port, which includes land and sea entrances to the ports, aside provision and maintenance of perimeter fencing at the port boundaries, the NPA is said to have partially done its part. The Authority had also agreed with terminal handlers to maintain suitable number of navigational aids, such as floating lights, lighthouse and radio-navigational system such as GPS, DGPS and beacons among others. The NPA, according to reports, is yet to comply fully with the agreement.

There are just too many infractions because the government of the day runs a winner takes all show.  Recently the immediate past Spokesman of Tincan Island Command of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) Chris Osunkwo told SHIPS & PORTS DAILY that  the office complex of command is dilapidated and due for a major turnaround as many of its offices are usually flooded whenever there is rainfall in Lagos .He said that the lobby of the top floor of the building and several offices including the Public Relations department were always flooded during rainfall. This has been on for long and Tincan Port is one of the highest revenue earning Port in the country.

Before his exit, the immediate past Managing Director of NPA, Malam Habib Abdullahi was one of those who believed that the infrastructures at the port need overhauling if the country must move forward. He advocated for the provision of adequate port infrastructure by the Federal Government and the private sector to facilitate export activities through the seaports. He stressed that the provision of appropriate port infrastructure was necessary to enhance trade in the economy.

With available indices, Nigeria’s strategic location in Africa puts her at advantage in becoming the centre of shipping activities. Reports indicate that the country is a coastal state, with extensive coastline and vast exclusive economic zone. It has inland waterways and large volume of various commodity, oil and gas exports. It goes without saying that if the vision of increasing local content participation in maritime industry is pursued strongly, Nigeria will comfortably measure up to viable economies of the world.

It is still a common knowledge that despite the country’s large export of crude and import of over 100 million tons of general cargo, no Nigerian flagged ship is currently plying international routes. Nigeria is also the only oil producing nation without a national fleet, while lesser countries which recently joined the ranks of oil producing countries, and has a fleet for her oil deliveries.

Before the present regime came up with its harsh policies, available reports indicate that Nigeria exports about 900 million barrels of crude oil annually, but foreign vessels earn the freight of about $2.25 billion, yearly, carrying the country’s crude with no freight earning benefits to Nigeria.

The truth is that if the country must take is rightful place among the comity of nations; anomalies like this must be sorted out without political considerations.

Looking at the low cargo volume at the ports, it may sound out of place asking the government to invest money in infrastructures at the ports. Yet it is good to be forward looking as the ports by all means will definitely pick up. Analysts believe that this is the right time to put the Port in order in preparation for the boom period.

While the government calls for diversification to get out of the pigeon holed mono economy, the government should sit down and take proper stock. The maritime industry if well harnessed is a money spinner. In its multiplier effect, it impacts on the development of other economic activities, such as the freight forwarding, stevedoring operations, towage, pilotage, warehousing, marine insurance, banking, amongst others. If the government must reap from this sector and be less dependent on oil, it must properly invest and address the infrastructural deficits which affects the image of the Ports internationally.

Copyright Ships & Ports Ltd. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit given to www.shipsandports.com.ng as the source.