By Levinus Nwabughiogu
Literally, Lagos as a city is full. The population is huge. The infrastructures are overstretched. The traffic is usually serpentine and frustrating. Man hours are wasted and life is made unbearable and unlivable.
From the airports to the seaports, commercial activities of national and international significance surge. That is the circle on daily basis.
But while the activities at the airports fizzle out within hours to reboot with little of no physical strains, those of the sea ports sap real-time energies in an attempt to evacuate good and merchandise delivered by berthed ships from countries abroad.
The consequence has always been the emergence of an immovable, serpentine queue of trailers and other heavy earth-moving equipment on the long stretch of the roads leading to the ports. Many a time, their snail speed give way for a complete stop and park on the road. To this end, motorists, pedestrians, in fact, everyone is trapped in the quagmires and economic activities paralyzed. And this goes on for days, weeks and even months.
Not once, not twice that the Nigerian presidency has issued ultimatum for the evacuation of the trailers to free the roads. But the directive has never worked successfully. And so, the impasse continues.
It was in the light of this sorry situation of the city that the House of Representatives became jolted to finding out why it has persisted. The result was the ports: Apapa and Tin Can Island ports are congested and overstretched. Any alternative? Yes, the eastern ports. But are they functional? This is the big question the House got interested in.
And so, in the quest to ascertain the functionality of the ports which included Warri Port in Delta State, Port Harcourt port in Rivers State, Calabar Port in Cross River State, Onne and Onitsha in Anambra State, the House after entertaining a motion on the issue raised at the plenary on Thursday, July 18, 2019 by Hon. Ifeanyi Ibezi representing Idemili Federal Constituency of Anambra State constituted an adhoc committee for thorough investigation.
Hon. Yusuf Buba Yakub from Hong/Gombi Federal Constituency of Adamawa who incidentally is the House Committee Chairman on Foreign Affairs is the chairman of the adhoc panel.
At its public hearing last week to “Determine Why the Warri, Port Harcourt, Calabar, Onne, and Onitsha Inland Ports Complexes are not being Put to Maximal Use”, stakeholders in the maritime sector said that the best way to speedily decongest Lagos ports is to make eastern ports operational in their full capacity.
They however urged that the federal government to dredge the rivers, beef up security and put appropriate infrastructures in place.
The stakeholders also acknowledged that lack of synergy and cooperation amongst the relevant agencies of government in the sector was a major challenge hindering the optimal use of the sea ports in Nigeria.
The major stakeholders 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, Nigerian Customs Service, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, the Department of State Service, DSS amongst others in the private sector.
The Chairman, Yakub however told Sunday Vanguard that all the relevant information needed to make the ports work has been harnessed from the stakeholders.
He said: “We have met and what we did was organise a public hearing to execute that assignment. The assignment was just straight: why are the ports not working optimally. That’s the assignment. To investigate and then see how we will make them work.
“So, we organized our first public hearing where we invited over 100 stakeholders from that industry, both the regulators from the government side and the private sector in the maritime and we engaged all the stakeholders.
“We have gotten the information we need and we will work on the information we have gotten. Every stakeholder gives us information. We have engaged the stakeholders and we are OK now. We will continue with the assignment.
“We will visits the ports and we will have other public hearings at the zonal levels: one in Lagos, one in Port Harcourt and one in Onitsha. We will now come back and write our report. Our target is to make sure all the ports in the eastern part and the south south work and they will work by the grace of God.
“So many factors are responsible for why our eastern ports are not working. That’s what we are investigating. So many factors like the dredging of the ports without which large vessels cannot access those ports because of the depths of the water. So you have to dredge to make sure you get the required depth if not large vessels will not go. So, the solution is to dredge. And government after government have given contract for the dredging. So, we want to know what has happened to the dredging contract. Why are some of the ports still not dredged? That’s the problems and we will know the solutions. If government has been giving money for the dredging. That means the government wants the ports to work.
“Secondly, you talk about insecurity. That’s another major factor. Vessels don’t want to go these ports because of piracy, restiveness, militancy, robbery on the water and so on. That’s insecurity. We have identified the problems. We will see how we can put heads together to improve security in that area so that vessels can move in without fear of being intimidated. Another one is infrastructure. Where you have ports and you don’t have roads to evacuate the goods, it is a factor. When ships bring in goods into a country, they want to go out with another load of goods. If not they will be discouraged. So, we have to see how do we reactive business, exports to those areas. We need good roads, railways and so on.”