Reps’ concerns over state of Nigeria’s seaports

Last Thursday, an Ad hoc committee of the House of Representatives, set up to investigate non-optimal utilisation of Nigeria’s inland ports, conducted a public hearing on the issues facing the sector. JOSHUA EGBODO writes on experts’ perspectives on the economic losses to the nation.

Panel’s anger against agencies

At the end of its public hearing last week, the ad hoc committee charged with the specific mandate to “determine why the Warri, Port Harcourt, Calabar, Onne, and Onitsha inland ports are not being put to maximal use”, wielded its big stick against some heads of government agencies, which it deemed critical to providing needed information, but shunned the investigative hearing session.

The committee chairman, Hon Buba Yakub, on behalf of his colleagues followed with a summon to the Group Managing Director of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mele Kolo Kyari, the Director Department of the State Security Service (DSS), Yusuf Bichi, the

Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Mr Godwin Emefiele, and the Comptroller General of Customs, Mr Ali Hameed, were equally summoned. 

The chairman, in his submissions, described the agencies’ attitude as demonstration of not being in tandem with the House of Representatives’ efforts at addressing the challenges in the sector. He said their failure to attend the hearing was a clear indication that “they are not in line with the house on how to resolve the ports problems”.

Also, the committee blamed the Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMSA) and the Nigeria Navy of failing to discharge their mandates of securing the waterways across Nigeria, even in the face of huge annual budgetary allocations for that purpose.

Taking on the two agencies specifically, a member of the committee Hon Ossy Prestige asked; “what roles have you played in the year under review to curb the challenges of piracy and insecurity?  We know that NIMASA has been collecting billions of dollars to secure our waterways and the Navy is also paid several billions to secure our waterways as well. Nigerians pay billions of naira to private security (companies) to accompany their ships whereas billions of naira is spent on these security agencies to secure the waterways”.

Similarly, another member, HonVictor Kolade said the insecurity in the nation’s waterways was due largely to interagency rivalry. “Inter agency cooperation is also an issue”, he said noting that himself and his colleagues wanted to know “why agencies of government have not been cooperating with each other to secure our waterways”.

Stakeholders’ stances

The Ministry of Transport Permanent Secretary, Mr Salihu Zakary, in his submissions said he was in total agreement with the suggestion of the committee on cooperation amongst the various agencies saddled with the responsibilities of securing Nigeria’s waterways.

“We cannot say we agree with one and we don’t agree with the other. The ministry is supposed to be a clearing agent to all the agencies but unfortunately that’s not the case. However, the issue of interagency rivalry in this case has to be addressed through legislation.

“Most of these issues cannot be resolved just here, again we need the National Assembly to also step in and address these issues. The ministry has its own limitations. Another question is, is the Navy under the ministry? No. Though, the ministry would try to bring these agencies together because of the overlap in the acts.”

The representative of the Chief of Naval Staff, Ibrahim Adaji, on his part explained that they have secured six surveillance boats, but need more sophisticated surveillance boats in other to tackle the insecurity of the waterways, especially at the eastern zone.

“The Global Safety Maritime System helps in securing our ships that have issues of fire outbreak and other systems have contributed immensely in the securing and safety of our waterways. The Nigeria Navy, we must say is living up to its responsibility”, he stated.

The chairman of the Technical Committee of Ship Owners Association, Mr Lucky Akhiwu, however, argued that lack of political will and corruption were the primary reasons why eastern ports were not functional, and not security as being projected by the regulatory agencies.

Gbajabiamila also worried

Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila was also full of concern on the state of Nigeria’s ports. The speaker was worried because they are not being used to the full. Little wonder he sought to know why they are not being used to maximum effect “especially at this time when the Apapa and Tin Can Ports are so overwhelmed and are verily at their breaking points”.

He, therefore, charged the committee to, in the course of discharging its mandate, “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 the Nigerian people”.

According to the speaker, “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. Also, as importantly, getting these ports working at capacity says to the world; to potential investors and trading partners that we are open and ready for business”.

Experts’ perspectives

Though the inland ports were a creation to leverage on the pressure on regular ports, failure of their optimal utilisation has been of great consequence to the nation’s economy. 

Experts in the sector are of the opinion that most of Nigeria’s economic losses are self-inflicted, and that the country has failed to adopt option of a “private capital-led business model that is proving successful around the world”, but rather involved in many of the economic sectors, and several of such sectors operating under poor management. 

According to pundits, the operational template of the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), for instance, has among other things, rendered the nation’s seaports “an embarrassing relic. They said Nigeria is gradually losing ground in the sector to her counterparts in West Africa, who are embarking on modernisation of their seaports.

Also worrisome, according to experts, is the bid by Benin Republic to undercut Nigeria’s maritime trade, by diverting cargo vessels to Cotonou. The country was reported to have recently entered a contract with Belgium, with a view to expanding and managing its port. The deal, according to reports, was to modernise the obsolete infrastructure and expand the freight capacity of the Cotonou port beyond its current status, which was put at about 12 million tonnes annually.

It is, therefore, suggested that the move by Nigeria’s immediate neighbour should be of great insight to the current administration. They said it is time to move swiftly, if our maritime sector would remain. It is not clear on what would be outcome of the House of Representatives investigating panel, but a stitch in time, they say, saves nine. So it is up to the legislature to empower relevant agencies through alteration of laws widely considered obsolete, and approve enough funds to bring our seaports at par with global standards.

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