By Godfrey Bivbere &
SHIP Owners Association of Nigeria, SOAN, have said that most of the excuses by maritime authorities on reasons for the lull in business activities at the Eastern ports were not tenable. They said that more than 90 per cent of the excuses includes shallow port channels, security, the presence of oil pipelines, etc.
Speaking on behalf of the SOAN, it’s Technical Committee chairman, Lucky Akhiwu, said the government lacks the political will to make the ports work, noting that the Koko Port has two problems, which were those of dredging and security. He said that the port had low tides and as such dredging has become impossible.
Akhiwu said: “They said the draught is low so they cannot dredge further because you have all the pipelines laid across the kilometre lines that span across the open river via the Atlantic and it is a problem. I am an engineer by profession and insist that there is a solution to that. The government should take all the pipelines and re-route them. We have HDG equipment, they are in Warri, they are in Port Harcourt and they are in Lagos.
“NNPC is their baby and I would tell you that according to the Petroleum Act, it is important that after every 25 years you must replace those lines. NNPC has ever defaulted, these pipelines have been there for 55 years, before the civil war. Now, to get economic value for the country, they are giving excuses. They also mentioned security challenges where we have Mobil, Shell, Chevron and Total operating, they have not relocated, and we are producing two million barrels per day from this region which is more or less the GDP. We know there are security challenges but that is not enough.
“So for me, the Eastern ports can work. It would create a lot of revenue for the government, it is going to create a lot of employment and it is going to help decongest Lagos, you and I would walk freely. It does not drop its revenue. If, for example, I have an office in Warri, I have no business bringing my vessel to Calabar or Lagos. I would just take it to Warri and in fifteen to thirty minutes I am done there.”
Speaking in Lagos, the first vice president of the Ship Owners Association of Nigeria, Enoh Williams stated: “The challenge is that the Koko Port would now need to be constantly dredged. Knowing what it is with our clime here, it is difficult for you to run that as a maintenance measure. But if you look at Onne Port in the Port Harcourt axis, they do not have much of that problem.
“The other problem that is making people come to Lagos is basically incentives. What is it that they would be able to do in Lagos that they would not be able to do in the East? What the ministry has done now and thanks to God that the minister has come back, is that they have now started giving incentives for the Eastern ports.
“For instance, if I brought in a container and I have to pay x amount of money but if I drop that container in the East, I would pay x minus one. The previous mentality of people was that the Customs in the East would rip you off as compared to their Lagos counterparts who are more lenient. It is that ease of doing business that we are saying should apply in the East. Look at the quagmire we have in Lagos, man-hours are lost because containers are everywhere including trucks and so on. We would have been making money from all of these, had it been so easy to evacuate them.
“Government has now come up with a way of incentivizing those ports so that if you take your containers there you would get better services maybe a little better in terms of cost than Lagos. So that is in place now, it is new but we would see the effect.”