*As Bello-Koko speaks on ports rehabilitation, concession, digitization
*Harps on inclusive ports industry
By Eguono Odjegba
The Management of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) have alerted on the possible revocation of the licenses of about five terminal operators within the Lagos Ports whose critical infrastructures like quay walls are believed to have collapsed and are presently undermining ports efficiency.
Addressing maritime journalists in Lagos, the NPA Managing Director, Mohammed Bello-Koko, expressed concern that though the Authority was in a position to get the required funds to fix some of the broken down infrastructure, it was mindful of allowing the terminal operators to take responsibility for the facilities under their custody, following which NPA can deploy for urgent repairs if they fail to address the problems urgently, a situation which may also lead to re-concessioning of the facilities.
Bello-Koko also informed that his strongest desire and commitment is to leave a fully automated port system that will integrate all port operations and provide stakeholders with the highest possible satisfaction in service delivery.
Days earlier, Bello-Koko had also announced that the Delta Port has been undergoing channel enhancement to rejuvenate ports activities outside Lagos as a deliberate policy to raise its inclusive port administration nationwide.
He cited the Tin Can Port Lagos as one of the ports already experiencing some degree of distress, hinting that the World Bank and other global financial institutions are willing to provide NPA with funding to revamp some of its operational assets if affected concessionaires are not ready to fix the dilapidated components.
He stated: “Tin-Can Island Port, we all know what is happening there; the port is practically collapsing. We need to focus our budget towards the rehabilitation of those quay walls at the Tin-Can port. We have taken a holistic review of decaying infrastructures at our ports and have decided that it is very important that we rehabilitate Tin-Can and Apapa ports.
“We are asking the terminal operators, you people have operated these port terminals for about 10years and 15years; how much money are you going to invest in these port terminals? We are asking some of them that their leases have expired, how much will they be investing in the ports?
“For us to renew these concession agreements that have expired, about five of them, we need to have categorical commitment from the affected terminal operators on the development of these port terminals. If the terminal operators cannot give us such commitment, then we either give the terminals to someone else or go and borrow money to rehabilitate those ports. However, if we go and borrow money to rehabilitate those ports, then what the terminal operators are paying will have to change. The rates will have to go up.
“If we don’t do that, these terminal operators will keep managing those places, and the ports will keep collapsing. Because of their financial interest, these terminal operators don’t want us to re-construct the affected port terminals because that will mean stopping them from operating.
“We have had interest from the World Bank, IFC, Afri-Exim Bank and others. Incidentally, it was the World Bank that actually gave money to the NPA to construct part of Apapa port so many years ago. The World Bank has come again to tell us that if we need funding, they will give it to us.”
He disclosed that in the future the Infrastructure Concession and Regulatory Commission, ICRC, will be involved in all contract bids and licenses renewal, to firm up the process and raise the standard of professionalism in contractual execution and obligations.
“At the point of expiration of any concession agreement, the legal agreement says that the terminal operators can apply for renewal and we will renew. It was after the concession agreement that the ICRC Act came onboard. The ICRC Act requires that there should be a new owner, a new bid and so on and so forth.
“The affected terminal operators have been given temporary extension of six months. The essence is to ensure that the right thing is done at the ports. The essence is that we have value for money. If today, we revoke the current concession agreement and bring new people on board, the new bidders will naturally pay the NPA far higher than what the current terminal operators are paying.
“We know this, but we are not yet saying that. What we are saying is that lets sit on the table and create a concession agreement that is fair. We need an agreement that holds the terminal operators responsible for their actions.
“Before, if I or any of my colleagues wants to go into the port terminals, we have to give the terminal operators two weeks’ notice even when such visits are for inspection purposes. We have to have an agreement that is fair and adds value for money.”
On the dredging of the Warri Port Channel which, according to Bello-Koko was 50percent completed, he said the objective is to ensure smooth berthing of cargo vessels and a deeper draft to accommodate bigger vessels.
“In the past few weeks, a contract was awarded for remedial dredging of the channel. We all know that the break waters collapsed about ten years ago, and there has been high siltation, resulting in reduction of the draft from the seven meters to three meters in some places.
“The dredging has started and is about halfway done, and we believe that once it is completed, we will have a better draft, bigger vessels and less incidences of vessels running aground. Also, we have started the mapping and charging of the channel, which has not been done for over a decade or more, starting from the fairway buoy down to Koko Port. The essence here is for us to be able to know the draft along the way and also ensure that the navigational aids are properly placed.
“There are some decisions that can only be taken after you know that the channel has been properly mapped and surveyed.
“We are beginning to pay attention to the ports outside Lagos. We have special interest in ensuring that Warri and other ports are more active. We have been holding stakeholders meetings, there was one in Port Harcourt recently, and we are going to be engaging the importers and exporters for them to know that these ports are available for their use.’’
Speaking on his plan to fully automate ports operations, the NPA helmsman said that automated port community will enhance government revenue collection, enhance security and promote transparency amongst stakeholders.
“We are working to get our ports fully automated. Automation will be the backbone of efficiency in our ports. It will improve revenue; it will propel a lot of the things we want to achieve.
“I am really interested in getting this done and done rightly. We have many automation done but they are all in silos. We need to integrate them, we need to also put something that everyone will log into like the shipping lines, terminal operators etc. So whatever we do, it shouldn’t be just about us in NPA.
“We need to copy something that is being used in ports in other parts of the world. Something that will add value, that you can really say this is it. And that is it for the port community system and harbour automation.
“I am looking forward to a legacy of rehabilitated port infrastructure with the right marine equipment and that is something we have started working on already. The discussions have started in terms of design. We have already got in the full design of Tin Can and the design is being done to see how it can be reconstructed.”