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Stakeholders call for viable ports operations

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By Usman Oladimeji

Number of inland dry ports planned to be expanded to ease congestion.

During a National Discourse with Distinguished Maritime Personalities (DMP) in Lagos, stakeholders expressed their concern about Nigerian approach to building ports. They highlighted the importance of considering the viability and competitiveness of these ports in terms of infrastructure and connectivity to the multimodal transport mode on a global scale. The Federal Government has given the green light for the development of several new ones across the country. These include the Badagry Deep Seaport in Lagos, Ondo Deep Seaport, Ibom Deep Seaport in Akwa Ibom, Bonny Deep Seaport in Rivers State, the Bayelsa Deep Seaport project, and the Benin River Port in Edo State.

The Minister of Marine and Blue Economy, Adegboyega Oyetola, discussed the ministry’s plans for the development of new ports and deep seaports during a retreat with other ministers. These initiatives will complement the existing Lekki deep seaport. Oyetola emphasized that the ministry is committed to ensuring the timely completion of the Funtua Dry Port and Bonny Island Jetties by 2024. Additionally, the Lokoja River Port and Jos Inland Dry Port are scheduled to be completed by 2025. The ministry also plans to expand the number of inland dry ports throughout the country in order to ease congestion at Apapa and Tin Can ports.

Ports should be built as commercially viable, competitive projects.

Former Executive Secretary/Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Hassan Bello, has expressed support for the development projects in Nigeria but cautioned that these facilities should not be built without a clear function. Ports, according to Bello, shouldn’t be built by the government just to appease citizens, but rather as commercially viable, internationally competitive infrastructure projects. He cited that since three or four years ago that the Baro River Port was officially commissioned by the previous administration, no single cargo has been loaded there due to the lack of an adequate access road. We need competitive and efficient ports, he emphasized.

Bello argued that healthy competition is essential for the growth of any nation’s ports, adding that in order for them to meet the standard that is required of them, they must be well-run, sufficient and not relying solely on imports. He explained that Nigerian ports are designed to continue importing and that any nation focused solely on receiving will collapse. Bello further urged the Federal Government to provide necessary infrastructure for an efficient port, while also suggesting that the private sector should be responsible for its management in order to achieve the desired outcome.

Government is investing $1 billion to rehabilitate the six seaports.

Oyetola, speaking at the ministers’ retreat, noted that the major ports’ infrastructure are virtually collapsing due to negligence over the years, and that the droughts are too shallow, at 9 to 13 meters, to accept colossal vessels. He stated that the drought levels in Ghana and Cameroon are 15.8 and 16.2 respectively, and that these countries are receiving shipments that were originally destined for Nigeria due to their deep drought levels. The minister announced that the government is investing a whopping $1 billion to implement a comprehensive rehabilitation of the country’s six seaports.

He also mentioned that extensive dredging would be implemented to ensure navigability and possibly raise the drought level. With many state governments showing interest in the development of deep seaports, Kelvin Kagbare, Convener of the National Discourse, said there should be deliberate effort towards attaining a swift break in redeveloping the nation’s ports and maritime transport economy. Kagbare noted that once these deep sea ports are finished, Nigeria will become an even more important hub for the West African region and its landlocked countries like Mali, Chad, and Niger Republic.

Essential nexus of railway connection had been pushed aside.

Building deep seaports, he said, is probably the least difficult of the tasks, but those pushing the proposals should make sure they are economically sustainable as well as helping Nigerian regional political standing. He said ever since January 2023 when former President Muhammadu Buhari inaugurated the Lekki deep seaport for commercial operations, the essential nexus of railway connection had been pushed aside in favour of more trivial and inferior circumstances that only satisfy the desires of politicians.

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