by Sylvanus Ekpo
These are not the best of times for the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA. It is no longer news that the port access roads at Apapa and Tin Can Island ports are in a terrible state of disrepair. According to the Port Act of 1954 as amended, section 32 mandates the NPA to regulate traffic that is moving in and the one which is approaching but over the years, due to executive recklessness, the access roads were allowed to decay and today they have become an embarrassment to everybody, a congenital eyesore in the face of our port concession.
Before the ports were concessioned in 2006 to private terminal operators by government, the NPA had a yearly throughput of 35million tons of cargo, a figure that could hardly be managed then. But, after the concession in March 2006, the volume of cargo being handled by the concessionaires has quadrupled to the extent that, in the last 11years, the throughput has moved up to 80million tons. In spite of the infrastructure put in place by government, it has become virtually impossible to cater to the vast expansion that has taken place. So, while government, in its wisdom decided to bring reforms to the ports, it forgot to reform the roads to meet the current burgeoning needs and aspirations.
The significance of roads in the maritime sector cannot be over-emphasised given the place of haulage of goods and heavy equipment from and to the port. Roads are the life-wire of the logistics business and until we get it right, it will continue to create world-class disasters for our eco-system. With the current efforts at ameliorating the situation, AG Dangote Construction has taken on the responsibility of putting the Wharf road back in shape but the work appears to be moving rather slowly. Considering the urgency and importance attached to this issue, more construction giants like Julius Berger and RCC should have been engaged to speed up the work.
Because of the state of the port access roads and its implication for ease of doing business, there have been calls for stronger measures to be taken to cut the life-blood of the congestion. According to the Chairman of Integrated Oil and Gas Ltd and former minister of Internal Affairs, Capt. Emmanuel Iheaacho, government should completely knock down all the old residential buildings standing on the Apapa, Tin Can Island access roads, pay off the owners of the buildings and bring some relief to the road users.
Another suggestion from the former Senior Special Assistant to President Goodluck Jonathan, Mr. Leke Oyewole, is that the Tank Farms should be relocated to Kwara State. Yet another suggestion is that government should stop issuing out licenses to new tank farm operators until the problem at hand is solved.
While all these views are being articulated, we must commend the Hadiza-led management for putting this problem on the front burner. Recently, she led a midnight team to inspect work at the site and urged the construction company to expedite action on the job. It is yet morning in NPA as we continue to engage them to deliver on their mandate. If we are truly serious about the on-going reforms at the ports, much attention should be paid to greenfield development across the Apapa and Tin Can Island axis.
It has been muted that Hadiza’s team is working with the Dubai Port World (DP World) to build a world class Greenfield project in Lagos. Besides, while all this is going on, the ports of convenience in the Eastern parts of the country are begging for attention. The right incentives and tariffs must be given to importers to want to use these ports. Sometime in 2002 or thereabout, importers were given a 30% reduction if they took their consignments to the port of Calabar, Cross River State.