Over the years, there has been the agitation for which country is best suitable for the onerous responsibility of serving as the maritime hub station for the West African sub region. In this questhas been the popular choice of Nigeria, with Cote d’Ivoire, Angola and lately- Ghana trailing in the contest.
Ideally, the choice of Nigeria for this regional role in port operations, both in maritime and Oil &Gas affairs should be considered a foregone conclusion, if only successive government policies had been adequately harnessed and implemented to make this dream a reality.
This is so considering the vast potentials inherent in the country which confers on it, an avalanche of comparative advantages in natural endowments, ranging from geographical spread and population for a market-driven economy.
With a population of over 180 million people and no less than 853 square kilometers of coastline,Nigeria is obviously the largest market in sub Saharan Africa with reasonably skilled and potential manpower for the efficient and effective management of investment projects within the country.
That brings us to the role of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) in evolving the much needed change that aims to modify the ports in the areas of infrastructural facilities, policy direction and implementation as well as institutional organization that will guarantee a level playing ground forall operators to strive.
Aside from the natural geographical strength of being the largest coastal country in the sub-region, Nigeria’s potentials as the preferred hub both in maritime as well as oil& gas sectors hinges on:
- Her control of over 25% of Africa’s entire population
- Nigeria additionally controls 25% of the market share of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) ports activities
- It ranks second position in container traffic in West Africa, on the scale of Abidjan
- 75% of Trans- shipments to West African countries come to Nigeria
- It is also a documented fact that Nigeria takes the lead in Oil & Gas production and exploration with a stronghold of 37.2% of billion barrels per-day prospect, while Namibia and Angola are trailing behind on a scale of 16% and 13.5%, respectively.
It goes without saying therefore, that as the most populous and busiest port nation in West Africa, Nigeria cannot afford to be dependent on its neighbor for ports services.
NPA, as the landlord of the ports, has had to grapple with notable challenges that have the potential to threaten the very viability of the Nigerian Ports, Nigeria’s ability to serve as the regional hub and also protecting against damage caused to national economy due to lost revenue.Some of such identifiable challenges include, but not limited to:
- Monopolistic and corrupt practices
- Lack of infrastructure
- Port and Road congestion
- High costs of patronizing Nigerian Ports
- Long absence of deep water terminals, until recent emergence of indigenous private sector initiatives
- Lack of affordable distribution system
- The militating impact of foreign currency restriction.
The maritime sector is all too aware of the decade long struggle that has taken place between oneconcessionaire, MessersIntels and all other concessionaires and maritime stakeholders. After the onset of concessioning in 2006, the Federal Government has been committed to requiring private investment to develop the Ports. Many stakeholders and concessionaires have risen to the challenge, but the maritime sector was recently stunned by revelations that all MessersIntels developments have in fact been paid for by the NPA, to the tune of USD 3 billion. This revelation made it clear why Intels was so keen to maintain its monopoly and thereby maintain a shroud of secrecy over its billion dollar transactions with NPA.
It is the daunting task of the NPA to overcome these challenges and rescue the Nigerian economy. MsHadizaBala-Usman, Managing Director of the NPA is a renowned and successfuladministrator, who has mobilized a movement that reverberated around the world. She has also brought strict discipline to the NPA. Following her tour of all the Ports and the restructuring of her Management team the MD is now properly armed to address these challenges.
Despite the current global downturn Nigeria is still a country of interest for tens of billions of dollars of private investment. Nigeria’s global economic importance has never been greater, as global growth is down dependent on the growth of key emerging markets. Nigeria’s economy can drive the economy throughout the entire West African and sub-Saharan region, bringing hundreds of millions of people out of poverty.
Experts have posited that if the Federal Government fully encourages private indigenous development of infrastructures within the nation’s ports, a whopping USSD$20 billion could be pumped into the system within the next few years, and this will create the 100,000 jobs and makeNPA the primary foreign currency revenue earner in Nigeria, ahead of NNPC.
To achieve this, deliberate measures must be embarked upon by the current Management of NPA led by Mrs. HadizaBala-Usman, to:
- To urgently commence the process of enforcing all existing enabling laws and policies that is aimed at seeing to the emergence of Nigeria as the acclaimed hub for the sub region in ports operations
- Execution of an inclusive master plan that takes advantage of the fact that we have the longest coastline in West Africa to make us the hub, and thereafter engage all stakeholders in a round table, wherein the need for all stakeholders to key into the master plan would be stressed.
- Local collaboration as a sine-qua-none to industrial harmony must be brought to bear in the industry through the NPA in order to fully access the huge regional market that is being frittered away owing to internal squabbles amongst operators. The watchword should be the provision and nurturing of a level playing ground for operators to engage inhealthy competition that would bring out the best in them.
- Infrastructure development and private investments in government infrastructure such as LADOL’s USD 500 million success story in Apapa port and Dangote’s USD 10 billion refineries in Lagos Free Trade Zone must be encouraged, as the way forward in boosting job creation as well as enhancing technological transfer.
- Competitiveness and deliberate efforts to lower costs of doing business must urgently be embarked upon by the NPA management as part of the overall policy of government to make the ports competitive in order to attract investment and business activity.
Change in the maritime sector is long overdue and never more urgent – as its stakeholders have been stating for years this sector alone can make up for the losses we have suffered due to the down turn in the price of oil, lifting up our currency and economy, making made in Nigeria a common and proud label. It is important to note that stakeholders in the sector are now looking up to the new Management who have brought new hope and with whom the industry is ready to help build Nigeria into a global maritime power house.