The sad story of a nation: Govt has taken positive steps to rebuild projects across Nigeria - Monye
By Henry Umoru
Professor Sylvester Monye who is the Special Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan on Performance, Monitoring and Evaluation hails from Onicha Ugbo in Aniocha North Local Government Area of Delta State. Before his present appointment, Monye was Secretary, National Planning Commission, where he was in charge of the administration of the Commission, with oversight responsibility for the Centre for Management Development, CMD, Lagos, the Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research, NISER, Ibadan; and the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, Abuja.
With this appointment, he served as Secretary of the National Economic Council. Monye who had served as member, Committee on Management of the Excess Crude Account; Committee on the Niger Delta; the Steering Committee of Vision 20:2020; and the National Steering Council on the National Integrated Power Project, NIPP, is currently the Chairman, Presidential Monitoring Committee on Ports Reform. In this interview, Monye bares his mind on decongestion of the ports, achievements of President Goodluck Jonathan in the sectors, the Railway System, the economy, among others. Excerpts:
YOU are the Chairman, Presidential Monitoring Committee on Ports Reform and decongestion, how has it been so far?
I am the chairman of Ports Decongestion Committee, our mandate basically is to assist the federal government to decongest, not just the activities at the Port, but also to decongest the gridlock on the Apapa Oshodi express way which has made life difficult for the road users, so it is a two- prong assignment.
On the port side, we have done a lot of changes that have resulted to tangible results. Some of the tangible results may not be immediately known or seen by non port users. But those who use the port will attest to the progress we have made there.
For example, when we started the assignment, there were about 14 federal agencies who would normally constitute delay in the process in the clearance of the goods. At that time, each agency would stop and search containers and cargoes being brought in. The first thing we did was to examine the need for each agency at the port to determine whether they should really be there or not. So the finance minister with her transport counterpart set up a Technical Working Committee made up of experts and headed by the then managing director of the Nigerian ports authority to examine the role of these government agencies at the port.
It was the technical committee that recommended the removal of so many agencies from the port whose activities were constituting a bottle neck to the operations of the port. The technical committee also recommended for the abolition of cargo tracking notes and so many other activities that they regarded as been obstacle to easy flow of traffic and cargo at the port.
With that initial work, our committee was to implement those recommendations. We were very successful at that; we reduced the number of clearing institutions from 14 to 7. It was actually from 14 to 5, but due to the pressure of the peculiarity of our environment. For example we had recommended that SSS should no longer operate out of the ports because of the nature of our country where people are smuggling arms as well as other initiatives of the port; we also reduced the number of clearing bills from 39 to 7. That is the first benefit that we derived from that move.
Now if I say reduction from 39 to 7, it will put things in context. So I like to put it in monetary terms so that people would understand what that reduction means to the importer. Now if you are an importer and you borrowed money from the bank for a period of six months at the interest rate of 20 per cent, what that technically means is that for every single day you are paying $40,000 on interest.
So just imagine your cargo lying at the port for 39days. If you multiply 39 by 40, it is well in excess of $4million. That is the first thing.
Now, if you now know that instead of over $1 million interest, we have reduced it to 7. If you multiply 7 by 40,000, it works out approximately $280,000. So that is a huge savings for the importer. The importer does not put this money in his pocket, because it reduces the price. Ordinarily whatever an importer pays as cost of importation, he passes it on to the consumer in the form of higher price. But by reducing it, he has no reason to increase its price, so everybody benefits from this savings. So that is the kind of gains we have really achieved in this ports reform initiative.
We are also looking at the way the port itself operates. At the time of privatisation, we realized that it was done hurriedly. Hurriedly means certain fundamentals were not put in place, for example if you look at the telecom sector, before the companies were licensed, there was a regulator in place, NCC, even before the telecom operators were licensed. Subsequently NCC was able to regulate the prices, their conduct, the quality of service and so on and so forth, so there was a regulator.
But in the case of the port concession, there was no regulator in place. They were simply concessioned, the assets were transferred from federal hands to private hands without any regulator in place to determine the level of service to be provided, the quality of service to be provided and the cost of service to be provided. The result is that efficiency has not increased at the ports. New equipment have not been brought in, yet the cost of clearing has gone up massively because nobody is controlling activities of those concessionaries.
Second thing we have done successfully is to get the Nigerian Shippers Council to be approved by the federal government as an interim regulator pending when the bill at the national assembly is passed into law establishing proper economic regulator at the ports. So that is also another thing that we have done. We have also done a lot of things at the ports in collaboration with the customs in terms of how goods come in and how they go out. I am quite pleased to tell you that although the bulk of imports still go through the red channels. What I mean by the red channel is where Customs physically examine about 80% of the goods that come in and only 20% is allowed to go without compliance to physical examination.
The reason for comprehensive physical examination is that unfortunately Nigerian importers engage in unnecessary practices that are designed to avoid normal payment of duties. So the evidence available is that we have wrong declaration of value and even wrong declaration or deliberate misleading declaration as to the content of their cargo.
So the result is that they are subjected to physical examination and then of course in the process of the physical examination, they will discover that they are bringing in not necessarily a wrong cargo, but not what is disclosed on the manifest. That is what you find when you do the physical examination. So these are some of the changes that are taking place.
We have been able to establish about 179 companies that have complied consistently to the rules of the land to the extent that there is confidence in whatever they declare. So when their goods come in, they are taken from the ships to the factories of these importers like Nestle, Breweries and these big importers, they have integrity, they are not doing sharp practices. So whatever they declare either as raw materials or supply, they sail through. It is when they get to their premises that paper work is done, subsequently and the necessary duties paid. So there are no challenges there.
But it is the smaller importers who bring in one container, two containers and they buy goods, they don’t have money to pay duties, they try to forge documents, they try to under-declare or do wrong declarations that really get into trouble. So as far as we are concerned, the President owes it to you to ensure that you do not suffer and that is what our committee is charged to do.
However these companies that engage in wrong declaration, really have to bear the full weight of the law. So whatever delay they suffer in the process, it’s their own making. So our concern is those who are legitimate, who are correct importers, who do all the right thing and we believe that they shouldn’t suffer. So we have done that.
Fourthly on the port side, the government has completely reconstructed all the internal roads on the ports to ensure that the movement of cranes and trailers are unimpeded. So I can tell on and on.
But we still have congestions and the routes are still blocked.
Well we are looking at two things. I told you there are two sides. One is at the port side, the other one is the road side. I was describing the port side and you can see that we have done very well. But that is part A. Part B is the road. Even if the goods are cleared with speed and the trailers cannot take out the goods, it still constitutes delays because we know that there are trailers that spend up to 2-3days just trying to come out of the port after they have been cleared with speed, so that is also part of the problems.
One of the things we discovered is that along Apapa-Oshodi express way, you see that there are so many Tank farms on the road. These tank farms owned by Independent Marketers like Oando, Conoil, Capital oil and all those companies, you will discover that people come to lift petroleum products from these tank farms.
We also discovered that PPMC can easily supply to Ogun state, Ibadan and Ilorin where they have depots, these have also been done. But unfortunately I am told that in every 24hours these pipelines are not able to work for more than 10hours because of vandalism.
So as they pump petroleum products through the pipelines, people go to damage them, they are fighting almost a losing battle trying to get these pipelines working. The result is that rather than people go to Ilorin, Ibadan or indeed Ogun state to lift petroleum products, they go straight to Apapa-Oshodi express way where they have tank farms, because those ones are discharged from Atlas Coast straight into these tank farms.
So at any point in time, you are assured of lifting petroleum products from these tank farms, whereas in Ilorin and Ibadan and other places, you are not sure. And if you do not allow people to come to this axis to lift because some of them lift and transport to as far as Sokoto, Kano and Maiduguri and they rely on that, if you block them, it raises scarcity. So the consequences are really extensive for everybody and that is one reason we have the traffic gridlock along that axis.
Secondly, the trailers who are going to the port to carry dry cargo or returning containers also constitute a gridlock so that if you will now have a combination of trailers and tankers on that road all competing for space that is exactly the cause of the gridlock.
The third area causing the gridlock is the nature of the road, the condition of the road itself. As you would all be aware, the federal government awarded the contract for Julius Berger to fix the road from Cele bus stop up to Coconut junction in Apapa, we have done that.
But from that Coconut point to Apapa is where we have the big one and one of the reasons we cannot fix the road, or have not been able to fix the road is because the trailers and tankers are blocking the road.
Each time we try to move them, they threaten us with strike. The strike is important because if you use force, they go on strike. You and I in Abuja here will immediately feel the effect of that strike, the man in Enugu, the man in Kano, in Jigawa will immediately feel the effect of the strike. So what we try to do is to balance the interest of wider Nigerians who need the petroleum products and need for traffic flow on that road.
Over the last couple of years we have been discussing, in fact we used the military about two years ago to clear the road. It is not very difficult to clear the road; what is important is the consequences of clearing the road. We did and we have showed that it can be done. We did it in collaboration with the Lagos state government.
Having cleared the road, the consequences of our action was something that we also didn’t anticipate. Till today people say go and clear the road. We have soldiers, the police, the Navy, but that is not the whole thing. Because the road has completely failed now, the tanker drivers can no longer move, the trailer drivers can no longer move.
We had a meeting about four weeks ago in Apapa. I chaired the meeting, I invited all the stakeholders, all the independent marketers were there, tanker owners were there, trailer owners were there, NUPENG was there, PPMC was there, PPPRA was there, transport was there, Works Ministry was there, even the road contractors were there, army was there, police was there, Lagos state government was there, even the Lagos state House of Assembly representing Apapa area was also at the meeting.
It was a very simple meeting, we said to everybody that we are all victims of the mess. The road contractor who was there told them, yes, I have a contract to fix the road but I cannot the fix road until the trailers were taken off the road. We cannot even mobilise to site unless they get the trailers and tankers off the road. And that we agreed there and then on the request of the stakeholders that they needed 48hours to move the trailer and tankers off the road and that has been achieved. Work has commenced. Julius Berger has moved to site and as I am talking to you now, work is on-going.
The good thing also that came out of this is that the independent marketers as well as PPMC, PPPRA met, I set up a technical committee consisting of the users and they met and agreed on two things. One is that no tanker should come into Lagos unless they are ready to lift products. The committee was headed and coordinated by PPPRA and it agreed with all the tanker drivers that hence forth, any tanker coming to lift petroleum product will park at Shagamu and outside Lagos and only enter Lagos when they are called to come in. So a call up system is being designed by these independent marketers to ensure that you only come in to lift and not come in to park your tanker or trailer because you want to lift. It has been achieved. If you want, I can give you the minutes and agreement of the committee.
What about NUPENG?
They are part of this, NUPENG, PTD, they are all there. The only government agency there, was PPPRA because they are the ones coordinating. But otherwise it is their own affair, they have agreed to this voluntarily because as Nigerians would say “water don pass garri”. So that we have already achieved and work is ongoing.
Secondly, this committee also set up a monitory committee among themselves leading the monitory initiative to ensure that the implementation of these monitory initiative goes on unimpeded. NPA has also led another team to establish a call up system for their own trailer drivers so that trailers don’t go to Apapa any more unless there is a need for them to go in.
The third area is the issue of trailer parks. When they go off the road where do they go? There is a trailer park that Lagos government told us about. It is in Iganmu area and it has capacity to accommodate 2000 trailers at any particular time. There is also another private trailer park owned by capital oil that has the capacity to hold about 2000 trailers. In addition, the federal government is in the process of completing a holding bay, eight opposite Tin Can port that has the capacity to hold about 320 trailers.
On the whole, once the road is fixed and we ensure that these facilities are fully utilised, you see that there will be no need for trailers and tankers to park on our roads. In that extent, we are making excellent progress, but of course to the man on the street, all they want is to clear the road for them to pass. But everybody needs to be patient and things are working. We are not looking for immediate or what you call quick quick wins. We want wins that are sustainable and that is why we are taking a bit of time. Otherwise we are doing very well.
In monetary form, how much is Nigeria losing annually from the problem of Port congestion?
I honestly don’t know. If I should tell you that I have computed, that will be incorrect. First of all, loses come in different forms and shape. You cannot quantify the value of lose of time. People spend three to four days on the road. If you are a trailer driver and you are suppose to make three trips to lift cargo and make money and you make one in a week, clearly the lose is huge. The same to the tanker drivers, the same to the ordinary man who is suppose to go to work. I was talking to Frank Aigbogun the publisher of Business day, and he said to me because of the gridlock, some of his writers come to work and they don’t go home, they spend the night in the office and they carry on the next day, how can productivity be supported by such working condition. So, if you are talking about the cost, it is incalculable to Nigerians and it is something that we are very mindful of. So, if I tell you a figure now, then of course, I would be lying but certainly we know that there is a huge cost to such gridlock.
In the area of rails, what are you looking at to ensure that it will serve as an alternative to the use of Tankers and Trailers?
The interesting thing about what we are describing is that we are developing a holistic system that include both land, water and even rail transportation network. One of the things that this government has done is to consider the possibility of establishing what we call inland container depots that will allow cargo to come into Nigeria. We put on the back of a train, take it straight to an inland depot so that you can go and clear your goods in Kaduna instead of you coming to Lagos, you can designate your import as going to Kaduna or going to Enugu or somewhere. The idea is that when the goods come, they are put in a train and straight to your port of designation and that is being done. There is now a train link between Apapa port and Ido, that is already completed and it is happening that we are able to lift cargo by train from Apapa to Ido and from Ido to the various locations. But of course and I am sure you are aware that the federal government has recently commissioned the Onitsha water port. Again the purpose of that commissioning is to see if we can carry containers on barges to as far as Onitsha port. That port is already completed and commissioned by this government; a lot is being done.
The present administration through all the efforts in the last four years has ensured that the initiative of the rail link is properly funded and executed to the extent that today we have a train link between Lagos and Kano. This train link carries cargo from Lagos to Kano and it also carries passengers. So it is a very important link. The objective of this administration is not to abandon anything that is done by previous administration.
In fact at the start of this administration, there was an audit by the Architect Bunu’s committee that established that well over 6000 federal government projects have been abandoned and these are some of the things this administration has been fixing.
As someone in charge of monitoring projects and also advising Mr president, what would you tell Nigerians that President Goodluck Jonathan has really achieved?
Well let me say that when the president was campaigning, he campaigned on the mantra of transformation. Campaign means telling Nigerians what he would do when he becomes the president and that is really very important. What is also important is that leaders who campaign and promise Nigerians that they would do A, B or C, remain faithful to their commitment. What we have achieved and what we see today is a president who has been very faithful to Nigerians on his campaign promises. He said at that time that he would change the way government does its business. So I am going to touch on a number of sectors so that you can have a holistic view of why this administration has achieved
First he said he would transform Nigeria, it is a transformation government as you know. The first thing he has done is to say let us look at our infrastructure stock to know what we do, he has done that and he continues to do that.
On the road side, for the first time, you can drive from Ore to Benin if you are coming from Lagos without crying. From Benin to Ore is a perfect drive. I was on it only three days ago. Perfect road from Onitsha head bridge right up to Ore and after Ore. There is a bad patch between Ore and Ondo and work is going on now. So if you are a road user, you experience some delays and difficulties. It is not because the road is bad, it is because of the work going on on that road and that is being fixed.
If you are a road user between Onitsha head bridge and Awka and Enugu, that is being fixed; between Enugu and Umuahia, is being fixed. And from Umuahia, Aba up to port Harcourt is also being fixed. The road between Onitsha and Owerri road has been completed; the east west is also being completed. The patch between Port Harcourt and Yenegoa has gone more than 80% completed. The road between Abaji and Abuja has been completed. From Abaji to Lokoja is more than 70% completed; From Lokoja to Okene is being worked on extensively. From Okene to Auchi and Benin is also being worked on.
So if you pass on these roads, you will see that work is ongoing. Don’t forget that these roads have been there forever but at least today you can see action that is going on. There is a bridge linking Edo state to Delta state, that bridge would cut or reduce traffic time by over three hours. When I was discussing with the minister of works, he said that from his house to Asaba would probably take him half an hour when that bridge is completed. But I am pleased to tell you that I just got a letter from the contractor about two days requesting for commissioning of the road. The road is completed, once it is opened again that is done.
If you go from Minna junction on Kaduna road, you will see that work is ongoing and we have achieved at least 50% completion between Suleja end to Minna. The dualisation is going on a fast pace, today, we have one of our highest projects between Kano and Maiduguri expressway, a double carriage way that is ongoing, work has exceeded 50% completion on that axis. Between Ibadan and Ilorin, work is ongoing by the federal government. So that is the way Federal Government has been doing.
And you know of course that Federal Government is working massively between Lagos and Ibadan expressway, that will take a little bit of time, but work is on going. The highest gain for us is that for the first time, Federal Government is using PPP to do a second Niger Bridge, Asaba, Niger, Onitsha bridge. That is being done by Julius Berger and Sodon Wealth Fund Consortium, work is going very fast there. The Federal Government on the road network has gone nuclear. It is total war on our infrastructure. What we have achieved and are achieving there is evident, so it is not political talk, it is what is on ground. If anybody believes work is not going on, I would like to know. So, that is on the road sector.
On the rail way sector, for the first time in over 25years, we have trains moving people and goods. In and around Lagos, Abeokuta, Lagos, Kano and so many places. Now work is ongoing between South and up to Maiduguri railway lines. Railway work is going on between Lagos and the East through Benin. So there is a lot of work going on based on the fact that he said he will do it and he is doing it. Mind you, these are major works that cannot be completed over night but the work is on going.
We also know that in the aviation sector, we have recorded a lot of successes. 22 old airport terminals across the country have been been renewed completely. For the first time in our history, we are having our airports being given a face lift, that has been achieved. For the first time, I don’t think there is any country in the world that is building five brand new international airport terminals; this administration is doing that and work is going on very fast. On the five new international terminals, one in Abuja, one in Lagos, one in Kano, one in port Harcourt and one in Enugu and all are being done.
In the FCT for the first time, in the history of this country, we are going to have a mono rail that will take people from Abuja city centre straight to Kubwa, with one leading to the international airport just as you do in the UK when you travel, to enter train to go to the airport. In the next one year or so, you will enter train from Abuja and go straight to the Airport. So that is also being achieved.
On the area of agriculture,we have achieved incredible transformation. The first thing we did was that the minister did within 3months of coming to office was to abolish government involvement in the sale of fertilizers because that was a major source of drain for the country. Drain for the country in that you lose money and you don’t even get the quality of fertilizer that you are looking for and that has been completely achieved, so nobody is talking about supply of fertilizer any more. If you are not a farmer, you won’t buy fertilizer and when you buy fertilizer, you buy directly from the supplier. What the government does is to send their money through electronic means. Doing that business is strictly between the farmers and the suppliers of fertiliser.
Government is no longer involved and that is being achieved. In terms of rice production, it is on record and it is not disputable by anybody that we have increased massively in the production of rice. One of the biggest companies producing rice has just commissioned his rice silo in Nasarawa state just about four weeks ago. In that farm, it has 10,000 hectares of land.
In fact, a huge community of rice farm with a huge million facilities. The same thing you find in Ebonyi, you have Ebony rice and it is sold today in any supermarket in Abuja. Even the packaging you will think that it is imported from India or Thailand. It has the same quality and I was told it is even more nutritious than the ones we import. So agriculture has received incredible transformation. Cocoa production is going on; also sorghum, maize, they are all being actively grown in Nigeria today. So there is a huge transformation in agriculture sector.
In the education sector, for a long time and the first time, government has built schools for Almajiri kids. Both in the west, in the north and everywhere, that government is tackling because part of our difficulty is lack of access to education and this government is providing access to young people to go to school to improve their lots.
As you all know, this administration is running one of the best economies in the world to the extent that we have been growing consistently for the last five years in the excess of 6%. Only two countries are growing faster than Nigeria in the whole world and that is China and India. But otherwise Nigeria is the fastest growing economy in the whole of Africa. We recently did our rebasing of the economy; Nigeria is the largest economy in Africa and also the 26th largest economy in the whole world.
Does the ordinary man feel it?
The ordinary man is not supposed to feel it because the whole essence of rebasing is not for you to have money in your pocket. It is for you to know who you are. If for example I said to you some 19years ago when we did our rebasing that we are using, 22 or 24years ago, you were a student, you lived in the village, you didn’t have a wife, you didn’t have a car and I look at you in 2014 with the eyes of say 22years ago, I will be looking at you and say this boy has no car, he is not married, is it not this small boy. But what you are saying to me is, oga I am not a small boy, I am married, I have a good job, I am a graduate, I have a car, I have children, that is basic. Now by telling me all these things, has that added any kobo to your pocket? You are simply telling me who you are today, not what you were some 19years ago. That is what the economic rebasing has done. It is to tell Nigerians that we are not as backward as we thought.
Secondly we are telling Nigerians that this is the new structure of the economy. We are now telling Nigerians that some 19 or 20years ago we did not have GSM, our vibrant ICT sector. Today the vibrant ICT sector is contributing 8% to our GDP. We are saying to Nigerians that agriculture which was the dominant thing some years back is no more the dominant thing. We are telling Nigerians that the SMEs are contributing this much to our economy. Before they were not even recorded. So that is what rebasing does. It is not designed to put money in any ones pocket, so that just where we are.
So on the whole, this president has promised Nigerians that he will transform the way things have been in this country and I am delighted to tell you based on the record that this president has done exceptionally well in keeping faith with Nigerian people.
What is happening to the report by Bunu on abandoned projects across the country?
When the president saw the report, one of the things he said was that every project must be completed by the Federal Government. Those that cannot be completed can actually be given to those who are capable of completing them. That is really the basis of some of the projects we are tackling. We are continuing and completing these projects. And that is one of the reasons it is a lot easier.