How can Nigeria become a hub of maritime in West and Central Africa? It is by getting modern port facilities for the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to make it better than others in the sub-region.
Importers and clearing agents, who spoke with The Nation, at the weekend made this suggestion.
According to their spokesperson, Olukorede Ajala, it is imperative for the government to promote the maritime industry to benefit from increasing cargo traffic across the globe.
“Few days ago, heads of the Nigerian maritime agencies presented a plan to transform the country into a maritime power and embark on 24 hours port operation. The plan is generating much excitement in the shipping and port industries. But as far as some of us are concerned, it has been a recurring decimal at many meetings of government agencies.
“At the meeting of heads of the agencies held at the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), its Director-General Jamoh announced aggressive development plans for the nation’s sea and river ports. NPA as the landlord must ensure steady investments in port upgrades and expansions,” he said.
A clearing agent, Mr. Kayode Ogunsanu, said the seaports were suffering from long years of under-investment in infrastructure.
“With nearly 90 per cent of international trade being seaborne, it is still not too late to pursue an intensive course of infrastructure development so as to maintain economic growth, productivity and competitiveness. In fact, trade and economic growth here has strained port infrastructure in Lagos to the point where the two ports in the city cannot accommodate further expansion without serious investments. In short, it is now ‘boom or bust,” he said.
Based on the discussions among the heads of the agencies and investigation conducted among operators, port users, shipping and logistics firms, the consensus is less about whether new port developments are needed but more on ‘when’ is the country going to have deep sea port.
New facilities, Ogunsanu said, should be designed by the Ministry of Transport to meet the logistics needs of the industry in anticipation of future development.
He called on the government to fund maritime researches, saying the sector lacked in-depth investigation due to poor funding.
”The maritime industry has experienced an appreciable development in recent years. That development is set to stay. World trade continues to shift global markets and production lines, make new demands on transport systems and on ports in particular.
”Ports serve the national interest, supporting the competitiveness of national and regional economies. It is in the nation’s interest that our ports remain able to handle cargo trade and its potential development efficiently and sustainably,” he said.
The industry, according to a motor vehicle importer, Mr. Abolarinwa Yusuf, is in dire need of reforms. “New port facilities would help to bring the industry to international standards. The importers lamented that previous administrations, like most practitioners in the maritime industry, did not live by the rules guiding the profession, which they said has resulted in a number of problems in the sector.
“The maritime industry requires reforms; reform by way of standardising, educating, informing, sanitising the practice and making it global because the mere mention of the words import and export trade means we are not doing it locally, but across borders. Therefore, there are set rules, information and knowledge that operators must possess,” he said.
The Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) Vice President, Dr Kayode Farinto, said the industry has project for rapid and sustainable growth.
“Based on this development and the strategic position Nigeria occupies in the industry and the sub-region for the development of human capital for an enhanced economy, it is expected of the government to train our youth to develop interest in maritime education,” Farinto said.
To meet the manpower requirement for the nation’s fleet, Farinto also canvassed for robust, consistent, versatile and dynamic maritime policies, which are in tandem with global issues to ensure efficiency.
He lamented that the country, despite its huge population, has no standard maritime institute compared to the Philippines which, he said, has over 40 maritime academies with half of Nigeria’s population.
The Philippines, a maritime lawyer, Mr. Dipo Alaka, said supplies over 30 per cent of the world’s seafarers’ requirement. He noted that the Philippines earns over $1.6 billion as reparation from seafarers. He emphasised the need for a training school to develop competent manpower for the sector, adding that the industry would grow if the government co-opted the private sector into its manpower development strategy.
A stakeholder, Mr. Benson Adegboyega, called on the Federal Government to formulate a new policy that would promote business at the ports. This, according to him, requires strengthening regional commitment to eradicating sub-standard shipping and ensure the rapid development of the industry.
“Ports have always been a large direct employer, as well as generating significant indirect work. But the former has been changing. Where oil used to be loaded and unloaded in individual barrels, we now have customised oil tankers with specialised storage terminals that require limited numbers of staff to operate. Break-bulk cargo has also been going down this route since the introduction of the container, but crane operators, truckers and other personnel are still required. Many modern terminals have been automated to such a degree that they are largely the domain of computer algorithms and autonomous vehicles.
“Specialist commercial terminal operators often take up the investment in the bespoke infrastructure needed for their operations, ranging from the tanks and cranes to the quays and jetties. Long-term returns of the port assets have however been stable and in today’s market. This means there is an increasing interest from institutional investors, private infrastructure funds and others in investing in these terminal operations and individual ports.
“Together with increasing interest in PPP investment arrangements, it would seem that capital for development is the lesser problem, where government policies are not stable,” Alaka said.