With only a few days into 2017, maritime operators including seaport operators, clearing agents and all stakeholders are unanimous in their assessment that the outgoing year has been the most challenging and one that will linger in their mind for a long time to come.
They attributed these challenges to many of what they described as Federal Government’s unfavourable policies, a development that saw the seaports, which used to contribute a large chunk of Nigeria’s non-oil revenue becoming less active.
This left government almost financially stranded, with less capacity to invest in infrastructure, create more jobs, address security, including fighting insurgency, and funding other activities that define good governance.
Recent statistics from Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), which governs and operates the nation’s ports showed that container traffic inward Nigerian ports (import) dropped to 6,831,348 tonnage as at September 2016, from 9,419,672 in 2015. Besides, the outward container (export) also dropped drastically from 2,263,594 tonnage in 2015 to 1,485,338 in September 2016.
Also, the number of vessels dropped to 11year lows and stood at 3,347 against 5,014 in 2015 and 5,333 in 2014.
Reduce tariffs to bolster ports activities, urges STOAN
The Spokesperson for Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN), Bolaji Akinola, while declaring that Year 2016 has been a very difficult year for port operations, told The Guardian that government needs to reduce tariffs to boost activities.
According to him, “The ports have dried up. Usually at this time of the year (December), it will be difficult to get into Apapa or come out of it. But go to Apapa now, the whole place is as free as ever. This is the peak season, yet there is no traffic. No cargo movement. Everywhere is dried up and the main reason like we have said severally is government’s unfavourable policies.”
Such unfavourable policy is also seen in the National Automotive Policy, which he said has wiped out vehicle cargo traffic at the ports completely and almost decimated the roll-on, roll-off, RORO terminals in the country.
Akinola said: “The hike in import duty of vehicles; hike in rice duty has take away the rice cargo traffic, that is why you have some terminals like ENL Terminal drying up overnight. It’s a terminal that used to be very boisterous and very active, providing jobs for many people.”
He argued that although the ban on importation of vehicles through the land borders will take effect from January 1, 2017, but it will not be effective, as it will lead to increase in smuggling.
He insisted, “The ban will not be effective without a corresponding slash in vehicles tariffs. I am not trying to scare anyone, but that is the truth of the matter. It will only lead to high rate of smuggling. The only way to check smuggling right now is to accompany that ban with a slash in tariff so that you bring it to the same level as what obtains in the ports of Cotonou and other countries in the sub-region. Otherwise smuggling will be heightened.
“I will give you a practical illustration. Look at rice, importation of rice through the land border has been banned, yet there is no scarcity of imported rice in Nigeria today. Those imported rice you see in the market did not come in through the ports. You can go to the ports and check; you will not see rice vessel there. So how do they come in? They are smuggled in. The same thing will happen to the vehicles, so that is why the only way out is to slash the tariff to 10 per cent that it was, so that it will be at par with other ports in the sub-region,” he said
For Akinola, the final nail on the coffin is the “ill-advised” Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the lender of last resort, restriction of 41 items from the official forex window.
As the New Year is ushered in, he urged the government to look into these policies and reverse them, especially the CBN’s policy and the hike in tariff of imported vehicles.
Ports upgrade is a necessity
For Master Mariner, Captain Adamu Audu Biu, the upgrade of the nation’s ports must take a centre stage in the coming year, saying that Nigeria must rise up and develop its ports facilities. He said this will enable the country to accommodate very large crude carriers (VLCCs) and ultra large crude carriers (ULCCs), which are the latest trend in the global market now, if its desire of becoming the maritime hub in West Africa would be realistic.
Biu said: “Our ports and their approaches were last upgraded in the late seventies and early eighties. One must commend the efforts of some of the terminal operators since the concessioning of the ports. The depth of water available in all our port approaches, jetties and berths need to be significantly improved. Same is the case with the structural integrity of our quay aprons,” he said.