The Executive Secretary, Nigerian Shippers’ Council, Hassan Bello, speaks on the challenges confronting ports and how to make their operations seamless in this interview with Okechukwu Nnodim
How would you describe the export chain in Nigeria?
The export logistic chain in Nigeria is weak. We need the Central Bank of Nigeria to look at the whole gamut of our logistic chain and build export centres all around the dry ports. Kaduna State, for example, is an area for the production of ginger. Many metic tonnes have been exported from the Kaduna Dry Port, but the rail capacity is not much and we need the rail system to run efficiently there..
So I want the central bank to look at the logistic chain and the infrastructure in order to see where it can intervene directly. It should look at the dry ports and make them centres for export. It should enhance them, provide consolidation centres and processing companies, because we should not be exporting raw commodities, we should add value.
We know that value addition creates jobs and that means packaging. For every packing or processing company we may get close to a hundred jobs in the value chain up till when such commodities are exported. And with this, you will see that we will not care much about the volatility in global oil prices.
Are there other agro produce, aside from ginger, that could be considered as well?
We can enhance cocoa, cashew nuts, turmeric, sesame seeds. They are so many that I cannot name now and this is based on research. I’m just talking about non-oil exports, particularly agro-based products.
We need to be a producing nation, rather than a consuming one. We need to have factories running. Our people should not just be selling mangoes but should be working in mango factories, producing juice and so on.
So that is what the Nigerian Shippers’ Council is trying to do. We are trying to stimulate the economy because when it is stimulated, you will have adequate infrastructure such as roads, rail, barges, etc, to allow us translate and transform our products to be compliant for export.
Nigerian ports are not configured for exports because they have for so long depended on imports. They have been dreaming that the oil will be there as our major commodity. But the oil will dry up. And for the sea, will it dry up? Yes, it will dry up, of course, because the Sahara Desert was once a sea but that was thousands of years ago.
We have to wake up and we hope this COVID-19 situation will make us wake up. At the shippers’ council, what we have been trying to do is to get to the centre of the economy of shipping transportation and see how this can contribute to the country’s Gross Domestic Product, both in terms of infrastructure, employment and revenue
The Nigerian government is currently suffering from revenue loss from the oil and maritime sectors because we have drop in imports. There is unemployment and people don’t have money to buy things, meaning the purchasing power to even import has dropped. And for one year, we may suffer this situation. That is why we are pleading with the CBN to intervene.
How has some of the dry ports fared so far?
The Kaduna Dry Port has done well despite the challenges. We are very proud of what has been done there. For the container traffic, from January to May 2020, we had 1,826 units, hitherto it was about 800. We had imports of about 398 and, of course, it was 318 for the month of May and this is probably because of COVID-19. But the port is facing challenges, one of which is the lack of support from shipping companies.
The shipping companies have refused to issue true bill of laden because they don’t know what is there. They are being cautious.
Also, low rail capacity and poor load infrastructure are other challenges. So we are looking at this. But we thank the governor and government of Kaduna State for the support they are giving to the dry port.
That port will solve a lot of problem because right now, many people are getting their goods from there and they are trying to expand. The CBN has Kaduna Dry Port, it is there in Form-M. The Customs service has integrated the port in its system and other agencies are now within the port.
The next stage now is to make it as international as possible so that we can have true bill of laden and track cargo to avert diversion of cargo. So it is important that we do this and I must tell you that the Kano State Government is also interested. We hope that by March next year, we will be having the Kano Dry Port up to 60 per cent completed.
The same thing in Jos, where we have change in ownership now. The Funtua port is also coming up, but our problem is the Isiala-Ngwa port. But we are meeting with the concessionaires to find solutions.
We have given time for people to do certain things and the time is around March. If they are not done, we may have no choice but to cancel the concession. So what is happening in Funtua, Kano and Jos is because of the threat that we are going to cancel the concessions and so all the concessionaires are bringing new partners.
What level of support is your agency getting from government?
It is an issue of policy and law. We want the government to give support to the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, political support, without which we cannot do much. We want, for example, all costs to be negotiated with the council.
Nobody should add a kobo without negotiating with the council and that include the private and public sectors.
So NIMASA, NPA, SON, should not add a kobo to their operational costs without negotiating with the shippers council. And we hope a pronouncement will be made in this regard. We have to also look at our competitive advantage with all our ports in the region. One of the issues is cost. We cannot decree that Nigeria should be the hub, whether you are a hub or not is a function of economics. How competitive are your ports in terms of cost? It is not only about the ease of doing business. The cost of doing business has to be brought down. That is why nobody has increased fees because we are mindful of that.
We meet with shipping companies, but for COVID-19, we would have reduced fees by about 30 per cent. We were about to sign some of these before the pandemic hit our country. So we are mindful of cost because it is important.
Also there must be competition between the terminals. There is no much competition in shipping. There should be intra and inter ports competition. Based on this, we are also glad that two new important ports will operate in 2021. The Lekki Deep Sea Port and the Ibom Deep Sea Port. These are very important contributions of government through public private partnerships. Lekki, for example, will create about 180,000 jobs. The same thing with Ibom and I want to congratulate the government of Akwa Ibom and the Federal Government in all these PPPs.
So we are looking forward to their coming but the shippers’ council is always alert on what type of ports are we going to have. I say this because there are conventional ports and there are modern ports.
Can you explain what this means?
We cannot make the mistake of Apapa and Tin Can. We should banish that and that is why we are very critical. We welcome the idea the time we had the deep sea port because of the advantages, where larger ships will bring in cargo. So the cost of bringing containers will reduce. We have to make it a port that has enough characteristics. We have to make it a port of vision and ambition because we want to dominate the region. We should not be ashamed of dominating the region, especially now.
So the type of port we build should represent us well, not just building a port for the sake of it, no! It has to be one that will ensure that you have no business examining containers at the ports. Cargoes should be able to leave the ports as soon as they arrive in order to make things easy. The government, terminal owners and shipping companies will make more money when it happens like this.
There must be hinterland connection and this is very important. So are you building a local, regional or an international port? I think we should have regional dominance and we should not be ashamed of doing that. We are keen of seeing that our new ports will not become Apapa 2, just like they say in Nigerian movies. No, we are not going to have another Apapa and Tin Can. Rather, we will leave all the troubles of both of them there. We must have multi-modal access and thank God we have been able to prevail on the Federal Ministry of Transportation and now it is in the budget to connect the Lekki port with rail. And this was because we insisted.
We must also have modern electronic traffic management. And that port at Lekki should not be a storage port. It must be a transit port. There should not be a situation where containers are stacked in the ports.
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