By Jones OJIEH
That the issue of Nigeria acquiring the Shipping hub status in the West and Central Africa Sub-region has come to the centre- stage in numerous maritime discourse in 2011, is not surprising to watchers of maritime trade in Nigeria.
It is also no longer news that Nigeria has since independence been the biggest importer and exporter in the sub-region such that, the cargo throughput (oil and gas inclusive) till date dwarfs those of other seaports in West and Central Africa sub-region.
Unfortunately, this outstanding edge in volume of maritime trade has not translated into appropriate port development with a view to placing Nigeria in her rightful position in the sub-regional maritime trade.
The consequence of this seeming shortfall in the maritime port development program has resulted in smaller countries in the sub-region developing seaports with better attractive facilities, water ways depth, etc that have apparently placed them higher in the ladder in the league of efficient seaports in the sub-region.
The pertinent question that readily comes to mind is- why has the numerous previous managements of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) failed to appreciate the fact that deep seaport development is a veritable goldmine and catalyst to acquiring the much talked about maritime hub status in the sub-region?
It becomes more worrisome on the realization that, out of over 100 seaports development being executed worldwide, about 60% to 75% are deep seaports or terminals whilst the balance 25% or 30% are mostly inland waterways, ports or jetties.
Unfortunately, the template for port development in Nigeria in the past 50years has continually positioned the country in the bracket of inland ports operators.
However, maritime watchers have argued that there had been complete lack of political will on the part of government on tackling the issue of deep seaport development which is of public interest.
They further opined that while Nigeria is described as the giant of Africa, that cannot be said of her in the sub-regions maritime trade.
After all, the industry watchers had argued that after 6years of the commencement of port concession, a deep seaport world have been commissioned so as to accelerate the processes of acquiring the much desired hub status of the West and Central Africa sub-region.
Today, the new song being sung by the Managing Director, Nigerian Ports Authority, Engr. Omar Suleiman and the Transport Minister Senator Idris Umar respectively has undoubtedly put smiles on the faces of the industry’s stakeholders.
Firstly, the enthusiasm shown by Engr. Omar Suleiman on the deep seaport project and achieving the hub status since assumption of office has resurrected the hope of Nigerians in this regards.
While defending the authority’s budget before the National Assembly recently, the NPA boss never minced words when he promised to attract more vessels to the Nation’s seaports, develop new infrastructure that would make Nigeria the hub for the sub-region.
That was cheering news to stakeholders. It is therefore little wonder that industry watchers have described the Chief Executive of the NPA as the man that possesses the character and will to deliver the deep seaport and hub status on or before 2015.
Similarly, the emphasis placed on the need for deep seaport in the country by the Minister of Transport, Senator Idris Umar, during his press briefing marking his first 100days in office was another welcome development.
In line with the aspiration of the NPA boss, the transport minister disclosed that the Federal government has approved the establishment of three deep seaports in Lekki (Lagos State), Ibaka in Akwa Ibom and Olokola in Ondo State, stressing that the completion of the project will undoubtedly give the country the much desired hub status for the sub-region.
Reacting to the recent drive for the hub status, a maritime player, Mr. Charles Irabor, Managing Director of Maritime Energy Base seems to expect nothing less as he noted that maritime transportation is a key sector that needs to be developed by the Federal Government.
He, however, noted that the country, as the biggest importer and exporter of cargos in the west and central sub-region, needs at least one deep seaport as a hub for the sub-region, noting that the cargo throughput handled by the country’s seaports hiked from 66.98million metric tons in 2009 to 74.9million metric tons in 2010.
He therefore urged the NPA boss “to see the rapid transformation of the sub-sector so that it will impact positively on cargo handling capacity of the seaport and increase Gross Domestic Product, GDP, during his tenure.
It is now obvious that expectations of stakeholders are high and it behoves on Engr. Suleiman to deliver at least one deep seaport and achieve the hub status for the sub-region.