Are the nation’s seaports, particularly the Tin Can Island Port (TCIP) Apapa-Lagos, in dire need of infrastructure development and allied facilities upgrade to make them more attractive for business as well as give ports users commensurate service for their money? “Yes!”
Is the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) currently under the watch of Mallam Mohammed Bello-Koko rising to the challenge of doing the needful to meet the yearnings and aspirations of Nigerians who wish to see the ports rising to occupy their pride of place as the leading ports of destination in the sub-region? The answer yet again, is a resounding “yes!”
These two cogent arguments and counter-arguments formed the fulcrum of discussion at a ‘Breakfast Meeting’ of eminent stockholders who responded to the call of the Maritime Reporters’ Association of Nigeria (MARAN), in an event which held on Thursday, July 6, 2023, at the prestigious Rockview Hotel in Apapa, Lagos.
With a theme, “Rehabilitation of Tin Can Island Port: Proffering Workable Solutions”, the occasion was chaired by prominent Maritime scholar and former president of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Dr. Eugene Nweke, who urged successive speakers to focus on the way forward, and not to just dwell on the all-too-well-known deplorable state of the seaports.
Participants at the event were drawn from the various service providers, ports approved government agencies such as; Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), to the NPA top management representatives and their Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) counterparts, Road Haulage and Barge Operators, to mention a few, launched into a long but decent diatribe in their quest to realize enhanced seaports operations in the country.
Throwing the gates open for the ensuing flurry deliberations, Chief Host of the meeting and MARAN President, Mr. Godfrey Bivbere, in his opening address said being the foremost industry based journalists association, his members were concerned about the gradual descent of some facilities at the TCIP, just as replicated in most other ports in the country,
He lamented that being a major stakeholder in the industry which had operated under the protective roof of NPA for over three decades, his association was naturally worried about the challenges facing the ports in terms of infrastructure, hence it has become imperative to be part of the search for solutions rather than continue to limit its scope of activities to the traditional role reporting happenings in the industry.
“By and large, the entire ports community is affected one way or the other beginning with the terminal operators who have to worry about production gap to the authority, that will most likely not be able to collect its projected dues, same for the Customs Service that can only collect dues and associated taxes on imported goods only on the reduced number of cargo ships that berth, with a cumulative negatives on projections as well indeed on the capacity of the federal government to perform optimally across board”, he said.
While admitting that it was not out of place for the critical public to point accusing fingers at NPA being the regulatory body, for allowing such critical infrastructures to deteriorate, it is nonetheless imperative to note that “being a government parastatal, fortunately and unfortunately, the Authority’s capital expenditure must have to pass through the procurement processes” with all the bureaucratic tendencies.
Not left out of the participating audience was the President-General of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN), Comrade Adewale Adeyanju, who declared that all was not well with the nations seaports, as it were, with particular reference to the private terminals, notably the Five Stars Logistics Terminal.
He said the worrisome situation was not limited to the overstretched Lagos seaports, but also extends to the Eastern ports of Port Hacourt, Onne, Calabar and Warri in Delta state, that are now struggling to stay afloat owing to bad access roads, collapsing quay walls and sundry critical infrastructures.
“Our roads are now like what you see at Oluwole market in Lagos, taken over by miscreants. Some terminal operators are busy destroying the ports in the name of doing business. Besides the Five Stars Logistics in Lagos, we have also notified NPA management about the unacceptable situation at Bua Terminal in Port-Harcourt…and waiting for the ports management’s response”, Adeyanju said.
Foremost ship owner and pioneer president of the Nigeria Shipowners Association (NISA), Chief Isaac Jolapamo, opined that the focus should be on the larger picture of maritime development generally rather than merely lamenting infrastructural decay at the seaports and terminals.
He said while the current management of NPA should not be singled out for blame game in the current situation, as the gradual rot had persisted over the years, focus should be directed at the three-prongs of maritime development, namely, ports development, training of seafarers, and fleet development, adding that, “unfortunately, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) which is statutorily responsible for the latter two development areas, have since abdicated its core responsibility.
“It is a sad irony that NIMASA which should perform the last two functions have since adjusted itself to more of revenue generation at the expense of the core responsibilities of Fleet Development and Seafarers Training. The creation of NIMASA has left the ports system in Nigeria worse than it used to be, particularly in recent years, and this is quite unfortunate”.
In his intervention, Otunba Olubunmi Olumekun who is President of Barge Operators Association of Nigeria (BOAN) said his association’s operation is not left out of the adverse impacts of the declining infrastructural facilities at the ports, with the additional weight of duplication of charges by the various regulatory agencies such as NPA, NIMASA and the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC).
Also on the list of prominent participants at the event was Mr. Temisan Omatseye, a former Director-General of NIMASA who made a case for shift of attention from the Lagos seaports to the riverine areas in other states in a bid to create time and space for the development of critical infrastructural facilities in the Lagos axis, in particular.
While calling attention to the economic advantages of functional riverine water transportation, the ex-NIMASA boss said a workable Riverine transport development was capable of taking the heat off the seaports, particularly those in Lagos that are currently witnessing overstretched facilities.
He, however, cautioned that the current focus on the development of Lekki deep seaport which is seen as the only solution was a misplaced judgment owing to the fact that “Lekki would soon go the ways of TCIP and Apapa ports, if its operations are not complemented with a fast approach to riverine transport development”.
Rising up to the occasion, NPA General Manager in the office of the Managing Director, Mr. Ayo Durowaiye, who represented the NPA Managing Director, Mohammed Bello-Koko, lauded the initiative of MARAN in coming up with the event whose theme was in sync with the renewed drive of the current management of the ports to evolve a new phase of infrastructural development at the nation’s seaports generally.
While pointing out that revamping the collapsing quay walls at the TCIP was top on the management’s development agenda, he noted that the situation was made more manifest owing to the successive neglect of the maintenance for decades with the multiplier effect of the cost implication for fixing the infrastructure deficit now outweighing the budgetary provision at the disposal of the current management.
He said as a panacea to the current situation, the management was exploring “sustainable Public-Private-Partnership Funding (PPP-F) options which we have put forward to government for necessary approval.”
“I am glad to inform this distinguished gathering that we are at conclusive stages of discussions with local and international partners with requisite financial and technical competence to fund the Tin Can Ports reconstruction project”.
Findings have also indicated that as a stop-gap between the current situation and when the PPP projects are expected to take off, the management has commenced action in fixing what is within its scope, such as a recent commissioning of state-of-the-art control tower at the TCIP, as well as embarking on what is seen as ‘forestalling a future reoccurrence of ports infrastructure decay before intervention” by ensuring that all parties in the new Concession Agreement are made to be more alive to their responsibilities, especially in the areas of infrastructures maintenance”.
Available records have further indicated the quest of ports maintenance activities of the Bello Koko-led management of NPA to include the fact that sequel to the kick off of commercial operations by the new Lekki Deep Seaport, and the various reforms that have been engendered by the current NPA management, the MD had ensured that some countries in the West and Central African sub region are set to start using Nigerian seaports , particularly Lekki Port, as a transshipment base for their imports.
Similarly, it is on record that since Bello-Koko became the Acting Managing Director of NPA, in May 2022, his primary focus has been his quest to achieve the type of seaports which infrastructure will be standard and modern and which operations would be highly information technology (ICT) driven.
Thus, it was resolved that the NPA management would requires a total sum of $800 million to fund the total rehabilitation and automation of some of the Ports specifically for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the infrastructure of the Tin Can berths 4 to 14 in Apapa, Calabar , Onne Ports ,the Warri Port Jetties, rehabilitation of the Escravos breakwaters, as well as the upgrade of the digitalization of the processes and operations of the seaports.
It was learnt that among other international lending institutions which the NPA management is considering for the loan facility, it seemed to have opted for the African Export- Import Bank (AFREXIM) with a pleasant hope of achieving success in securing the loan.
Additionally, the management has recently concluded the installation of Marine Fenders on all Quays Authority Wide for safe berthing; Installation of Buoys at Ijegun/Kirikiri water channel and licensing and Upgrading of Pilots across the four Pilotage District.
This is aside the management’s recent acquisition of several Harbor Crafts (Tugboats, Pilot Cutters) to boost its physical operations. For instance, as part of its enhancement of the capacity and efficiency of the Lekki Deep Seaport, and the Ports in Lagos, the management had only recently procured state of the art 80 ton Bollard Pull Tugboats to complement its existing fleet of tugs.
Thus, the all-day-long event which technically shifted from its set target of breakfast meet to becoming a brunch gathering of a sort, however ended with participants aligning in a unanimous submission that the current management of NPA the watch of Bello-Koko has done and yet poised to do all it takes to evolve back to the good old days when Nigerian ports were generally seen as favorably competitive alongside their allies in the Western world.