The erstwhile Executive Secretary, Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Mr. Hassan Bello has dissected the concession of the nation’s seaports since the exercise was concluded over a decade ago.
He hinged his review of the concession programme on the need for re-alignment of port concession agreement especially in the light of international trade and commerce.
A lawyer by profession, Bello who is the immediate past helmsman of NSC maintained that Nigeria cannot stop or even pause as reforms must be continuous exercise in order to attain set goals and objectives.
He stated this recently at the 34th anniversary and awards of the Maritime Reporters Association of Nigeria (MARAN) in Lagos with the theme “16 Years of Port Concession: The Pains and the Gains.”
Bello who is regarded as a technocrat in the maritime industry due to his long years of exposure and experience argued that while the challenges are vast and varied, the prospects maritime sector of the economy are enticing.
According to him, the maritime industry must be comprehensively executed and strategically run as a fundamental economic factor with the target of contributing massively to the economic growth of the country. The port reform in Nigeria was necessary but crammed without regard to other sectors.
Continuing, he said: “The reform is critical but not comprehensive and stands the risk of being de-railed, curtailed, distorted or even reversed. This is because the legal framework is not dynamic and wholesome. Government must perform its part as a major driver of the reform. Government must build and enhance critical infrastructure in which the port reform is anchored. These critical infrastructures must be deliberately sited to make for co-ordination and linkages, especially inland connectivity. Transport infrastructure cannot be located haphazardly or anyhow.
“Federal Government must provide conducive operating procedure, ease cost of doing business and fight corruption that threatens to a put brake on reforms. The regulatory institutions must be assigned specific roles. Concessioning is give and take. The involvement of stakeholders is necessary not only in drafting agreements but in monitoring the tenets of the agreement.”
Apparently please that MARAN has been able to hold its acts together for over three decades, the Minister of Transportation, Engr. Muazu Jaji Sambo described the association as one of the best group of friends he has had during his working life in the maritime industry.
Sambo who was the special guest of honour at the occasion also revealed why rail connectivity to the Apapa port is delayed.
According to him, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has failed to remove the radioactive building (scanner house) sitting on the path of the rail tracks.
His words: “The other day I went to visit my brother, the Comptroller General of Customs to specifically to appeal to him to help in removing the scanner house located at Apapa. That room is an obstruction to the rail traffic moving into the port.
“The reason he told me was that, we were supposed to have made payments to decontaminate the place and after some time, they would come and remove the structure”
“I came back to the ministry and made enquires and I was told that the ministry has made that payment a long time ago. So, my intention is to go back with evidence and show the CG that we have made the payment a long time ago, and there is no reason why that structure should still be standing. I do not understand why in this age and times, we should still be moving cargoes by road.”
He revealed that there are two projects dear to his heart right from when he was still Lagos Area Manager of National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA).
“The first among the plan is the development of the inland waterways at Marina into a hub in West and Central Africa. When I was working with NIWA, it used to pain me that the inland waterways transportation mode was never developed, and now I found myself on the driving seat. There are two projects there that are very dear to my heart as the Minister of Transportation.
“First is the hub creation at Marina, such that when the ships come into the harbour, they would do trans-shipment into barges or specialized vessels that can travel a maximum of 3-meter draft all the way through inter-coastal routes to Warri, Onitsha.
“The other one is the channel management. There is a company with Chinese investors that are willing and have the capacity to manage that channel. I have told my people in the ministry that if I don’t have this two projects off the ground, some people are going to cry. I would make examples of some people if these projects don’t take off by next year” Sambo added.
Goodwill messages were presented by several stakeholders at the occasion which attracted many guests from far and near.
The Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN) in its goodwill message said that the pains of the concession were the fact that people lost their jobs.
The Chairperson of STOAN, Princess Victoria Haastrup noted that the pains should be ameliorated by the Federal Government, whatever that is due to them should be given to them.
Haastrup who was represented by STOAN spokesman, Dr. Bolaji Akinola noted that the gains in human angel as before the concession dockworkers were casual workers and they go home with N1,500 but this has changed.
According to him, to reap the benefits of the concession, ancillary challenges such as clearing processes, infrastructure issues should be addressed.
The former Director General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) gave MARAN a pat on the back for its contributions in the maritime industry over the years.
While calling for the training and re-training of journalists so as to get the best out of them, he enjoined the association not to rest on its oars.
While Haastrup was given award as the Face of Port Concession in Nigeria, the Chairman of Sifax Group, Dr. Taiwo Afolabi clinched the Maritime Person of the Decade award, among several other awardees.