•As inter-agency rivalry stifles progress
•Govt politicising issue to remain in Lagos – Ship Owners Association
•As Reps C’ttee summons Nigerian Customs, NNPC, BPE, others to appear for questioning
By Levinus Nwabughiogu
ABUJA — The best way to speedily decongest Lagos seaports is to make eastern ports operational in their full capacity, critical stakeholders in the maritime sector told an ad-hoc committee of the House of Representatives yesterday.
The stakeholders include the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, Nigerian Navy and Transport Ministry, among others..
Lamenting that Lagos ports are overstretched, the players said the Federal Government will need to dredge the rivers, beef up security and put appropriate infrastructure in place in the eastern ports.
The stakeholders, however, acknowledged that lack of synergy and cooperation among the relevant agencies of government in the sector is a major challenge hindering optimal use of sea ports in the eastern part of the country.
However, the Ship Owners Association of Nigeria accused the government of politicizing the upgrading of eastern ports, saying it was a deliberate attempt to keep Lagos attractive for importers.
Those were the views of major experts at a one-day public hearing by an ad-hoc committee of the House of Representatives meant to “Determine Why the Warri, Port Harcourt, Calabar, Onne, and Onitsha Inland Ports Complexes are not being Put to Maximal Use”, yesterday in Abuja.
The hearing was sequel to a motion passed by the House at plenary on Thursday, July 18, 2019.
The major stakeholders at the hearing included the Ministry of Transport, Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, Shippers Owners Association of Nigeria, Nigerian Shippers’ Council, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, Nigerian Navy among others.
Making their presentation at the hearing, the representative and Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Transport, Saliu Sakari, said lack of synergy among the government agencies was essentially the challenge.
He said: “The reason is general insecurity, centred around robbery, kidnapping, piracy and so on and so forth. There is a deficit of major infrastructure that the ports require. Unfortunately, also, multiple charges by various agencies, lack of synergy and cooperation among government agencies, which lead to scaring the users, are some of the major reasons.”
Sakari, however, recommended that with sufficient funding and cooperation among the stakeholders, the challenges could be surmounted.
“With sufficient funds, cooperation among government agencies, including NPA, NIMASA, Navy, Army, SSS, Police, Shippers Council, the environment would be made attractive to users.
“There should be sanction against any users of the ports who violate the rules and regulations. There should be no sacred cows. I don’t think we do not have enough laws, it is the lack of implementation of the rules.
“There should be understanding among these relevant agencies. We should see ourselves as one to work together for the benefit of the country at large. We have sufficient laws in place. The only problem is implementation. There should be maximum support and partnership. We also need support from the National Assembly,” he said.
Asked to comment on the contract awarded for the dredging of Calabar port, the Permanent Secretary said it was stalled by the ongoing investigation by the anti-graft agencies of the contractors who were at loggerheads over the volume of jobs so far executed.
“Calabar port dredging, yes, there is a contract or PPA arrangements. That arrangement was on before the coming of this administration. But there are issues. The case is before EFCC. This one says I have done a,b,c,d, and this one said no, you have not done what you claimed. We cannot just say yes we agree with one. EFCC came in.
“If dredging has not been done, how can you start work? That’s why we are involving the parliament. Yes, the ministry is a clearing house for agencies under us but there are issues. The issue of interagency Rivalry needs to be addressed properly. A superior body has to come in and give a superior directive. NIMASA, NPA, Navy are all involved. What is happening in the eastern ports that made them not to be maximally utilized is as a result of the reasons highlighted,” he said.
Unsurveyed channels hinder use of eastern ports — Navy chief
Sakari’s position was also corroborated by the Chief of Naval Staff, Ibas Ekwe, who was represented by a Director of Training at the Naval Headquarters, Rear Admiral Abraham Adaji.
The Naval chief further cited non-surveying of the channels as another major challenge, and recommended the need for synergy among the stakeholders.
“The business of shipping requires safety. One major challenge is long, narrow, eastern channels, non-surveying of the channels. Vessels proceed at very slow speed. The channels are largely unmarked, narrow, and the surface is very small.
“Another one is poor infrastructure over long years of abandonment. We resort to complete manual inspections. There is problem of evacuation of goods. It requires about 100 trailers for evacuation to take place. There are no infrastructure on the ground to facilitate evaluation of cargo from the port.
“Calabar port is well situated to serve north eastern states but there is no road. It cannot also serve northern cities like Aba because the road is bad. So, we need to take care of that.
“The incidences of attacks within the waters are major issues. There is also the problem of cargo. If a ship comes to port and there is no cargo to evacuate, no goods, it is a problem.
“So, the economy is also a problem. There is really nothing to bring them to Calabar because there is nothing to bring in or take out.
“There is need for closer synergy. I agree with the Permanent Secretary. The maritime industry has potentials to employ a lot of people. If we want to take maximum benefit from the industry, there is need for synergy, it will help.
“There is need to improve infrastructure. There are maritime regulations and governance. They will have to close gaps in the areas exploited. When ships enter their locality, they will have goods to take away.
“Until there is a higher body to resolve the issues, there is need for a higher government oversight so that all the projects and priorities can be brought in. The problems are there. If we don’t have a common ground for the resolution of issues, we will continue to have problems,” he said.
Also speaking, the representative of the Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, and Executive Director, Engineering, Professor Idris Abubakar, also highlighted the problems of piracy and general insecurity.
On his part, the NIMASA representative, Captain Sunday Umura, noted that “incidences of robbery and piracy on the eastern ports are on the increase; there is also the risk of longer passage in the eastern ports.”
Executive Secretary of Shipper’s Council, Hassan Bello, said in his contribution: “The choice of the port depends on the shipper. Some cargoes in Lagos are meant for the eastern ports. And yet, the shipper chose Lagos.
“If the owner says I want my goods in Lagos, you cannot force him to go to Warri or Onitsha.
That’s why we are having the Apapa traffic gridlock. If we rely on road which is 95 per cent, we will be having issues. Rail is cheaper than road.
“It costs $1,500 to ship a 20-ft container from China to Lagos. It is $3,000 to the eastern ports. Cargo bound for Nigeria is slammed with costly insurance. It is important that the cooperation between Nigerian Navy and NIMASA has helped. Some of these attacks are foiled.”
But for the President of Shippers Owners Association of Nigeria, Dr. MacGeorge Onyon and the Chairman, Technical Committee of the Association, Dr. Lucky Akhiwu, the issues surrounding the workability of the eastern ports are being politicized by government.
Akhiwu said: “My reservations are that the issue is being politicised. They are dancing around the real truth, which is that it is a deliberate attempt and policy by government to kill the eastern ports.
“When I listened to the representative of the NPA, he said they are making an investment in Lekki deep port which for me is unnecessary at this time. Why not channel that money to the eastern ports to dredge the Calabar river?
“You have the AGG equipment and the pipeline from the Benin River. So, for me, it is a deliberate attempt to just make Lagos work and it is not good for government and for us who have invested so much millions of dollars. I give you an example. If I have an office in Warri, I have no business in Lagos.”
Similarly, traditional rulers from Warri Kingdom, represented by Chief Brown Mene, the Ogwa of Warri, said the hearing shouldn’t end at diagnosing the problems but proffering solutions.
Mene, who said he was not happy with the current state of Warri port, stated: “The ports have been serving this country. They are made to generate employments and economic activities from which various segments of the country will benefit.
“As long as they are not working, we lose those benefits. And our gathering today shouldn’t just be to highlight why they are not working and stop there. We should proffer solutions to them.
“We are proposing solutions to say that the places where they say it is the importer who determines …the importers will only chose from the existing, functioning ports, not those that are not working.
“So, if government will make them work, they would find an advantage to use them. We should not use the excuse that it is the importer that determines it. We should make the ports workable. That will give good reason the importer should chose them.”
On the state of Warri Port, he said: “I am not satisfied but I know the issue is being addressed because dredging had been done to make access easier and also the concessionaire has been appointed, which is work in progress
“But we should do more than that. We also want the rail line to get there so that the goods meant for up north and some parts of the east will be evacuated from there and the country will benefit from it.”
While declaring the hearing open, speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, who was represented by the Deputy Majority Leader, Peter Akpatason, regretted that the ports have not been performing optimally for economic benefits of the country.
“This Ad-hoc Committee has been constituted with a very specific mandate to investigate the reasons these ports are not being used to maximum effect, especially at this time that Apapa and Tin Can Ports are so overwhelmed and are at their breaking points.
“Following from that, it is the responsibility of this committee to deliver a policy framework and make substantive proposals for legislative and executive action to drive the increased utilisation at these ports for the socio-economic benefit of Nigerians.
“The Nigerian maritime sector regrettably remains one of our great untapped economic reserves. Operating and maintaining efficient and functional ports in the country will help to develop the economic potential of the communities where these ports are located, and even farther afield.’’
Earlier in his welcome address, chairman of the adhoc committee and member representing Gombi/Hong Federal Constituency of Adamawa State, Yusuf Yakub said the state of Lagos ports has resulted to wastage of man hours and gridlock on the city’s roads.
He said: “This exercise is organized to query and determine why some of our port complexes have continued to operate below their capacities. It, also, seeks to question why, in spite of the many efforts of government over the years, which have come by way of building more port complexes, concessioning and complete involvement of the private sector in some aspects of operation in our nation’s maritime sub-sector, the congestion in the Lagos Port Complexes in Apapa and Tin Can Island still persists.
“What this means is that about five inland port complexes in Warri, Delta State, Calabar, Cross River State, Onitsha, Anambra State; and Port Harcourt as well as in Onne, Rivers State, have all failed to provide alternative or even consummate services to aid the decongestion of the two Lagos port complexes.
“Faced with the grim reality of the above and worried by the increasing loss of man-hours and the untold hardship, with its resultant loss of revenue, business owners, commuters, shipping and haulage companies suffer in some parts of Lagos as a result of the hydra-headed monster called traffic gridlock arising from congestion in the two port complexes, the House of Representatives via the Votes and Proceedings of Thursday, July 18, 2019, resolved to set up this ad Hoc committee.”
The committee also mandated the Nigerian Customs Service, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, the Bureau of Public Enterprise, BPE who had no representatives to appear before it on Monday.
The chairman regretted that the agencies were absent at a hearing he referred to as all-important to find solutions to the challenges in maritime sector, describing it as a slap on the institution of legislature.
Hearing continues next Monday.