By Elder Asu Beks (President Maritime Media Ltd)
Congratulations on your nomination by President Muhammadu Buhari as a Minister and the subsequent ratification by the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
There is no doubt that your choice as the Minister of Transportation at this critical time of our nationhood is an attestation to the confidence Mr President reposes in you to reposition this sector.
As a critical stakeholder in the maritime subsector and given the myriad of problems facing the Maritime Industry, I expect you to hit the ground running as soon as you take your Oath of Office.
Your predecessor left no one in doubt about his preparedness to rewrite the history of the Transport sector. He engaged all critical stakeholders to acquaint himself with firsthand details of the teeming problems facing the sector and how best to tackle them. He was ready to learn and one who was widely regarded as a good listener. However, a vocal minority felt he spoke too much and did too little.
Dear Sir, as you assume duty as the Minister of Transportation, I will employ you to build on the foundation or the successes recorded by your predecessor. Let me therefore list some areas that require your urgent attention and intervention.
- RAIL TRANSPORT DEVELOPMENT: We must all agree that Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi made Mr President and Nigerians in entirety proud in opening up the rail sector as a reliable and secure mode of transportation. When it became a near impossibility for commuters to ply the volatile Abuja/Kaduna highway due to activities of kidnappers, the railway corridor became a ready option for majority of Nigerians.
Nigerians expect the incoming Minister of Transportation to open new rail corridors between Lagos and Maiduguri as well as the Lagos/Sokoto route.
While the incoming Minister must consolidate on the Lagos/Ibadan route , efforts should be made to open the Lagos/SouthEast and the Lagos/SouthSouth corridors.
The Apapa gridlock and subsequent hardship encountered daily by importers is a clear pointer that haulage of goods by road is no longer in vogue.
Dear Sir, I therefore urge you to set up a committee to arrange modalities for an enduring intermodal system of transportation. The Committee should come up with a timeline for all seaports to be linked by rail.
We want to commend efforts of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council to establish dry ports and inland container depots in strategic locations and commercial hubs to aid speedy evacuation of goods from the seaports.
Besides, the National Inland Waterways [NIWA] should be given the necessary support to ensure the commencement of commercial activities at the Baro Port and Onitsha River Ports.
As a short term measure, please consider the construction of a suspended bridge accros the Tin Can Island Port. No ammount of Presidential fiat can solve the lingering crisis occasioned by the Apapa gridlock. Concessionaires who have partitioned all available spaces inside the Apapa and Tin Can have made access to the ports terminals difficult.
- NATIONAL TRANSPORT COMMISSION BILL: The refusal of Mr President to assent to this very important bill has come as rude shock to the Transport sector. The Bill which is the brainchild of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council aims at fusing agencies under the Aviation, Rail, Road Transport and the Maritime sectors. Stakeholders are at a loss as to how the bill which went through a public hearing at both Chambers of the National Assembly could suffer such a fate.
Hon. Minister Sir, I have on good authority that your predecessor was worried by this development and had set up an intra-ministerial committee to look at the grey areas which Mr President took exception to.
We expect you Sir, to study the observations for a possible presentation of a revised Bill to the 9th Assembly.
- NIGERIAN MARITIME UNIVERSITY, OKERENKOKO AND THE MARITIME ACADEMY OF NIGERIA, ORON BILLS: Hon. Minister Sir, Nigerians were shocked that the Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko Bill was not also assented to by Mr President.
Sir, we were reliably informed that Mr President was uncomfortable with the mode of funding for the University and asked proponents of the Bill to rework it. Of serious worry to Mr President were the numerous sources of its funding especially at a time when various interventions are needed in several sectors of our economy.
- MARITIME SECURITY: Hon. Minister Sir, there has been a growing concern by the International Maritime Organization [IMO] at developments in the Gulf of Guinea.
The time has come for Nigeria to play its leadership role. Perhaps, this is the time to take a second look at the contract entered into between NIMASA and an Isreali firm. The incoming Minister should take a second look at the contract or any other option (s) open to government. This will undoubtedly send a strong signal to the international maritime community.
- CVFF FUND AND SEATIME TRAINING: Dear Sir, it is totally unacceptable that NIMASA is still foot-dragging on the imperatives of putting modalities in place to commence the disbursement to qualified shipowners.
We cannot continue to deny prospective shipowners access to the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund. We also require concerted effort to ensure our cadets have their seatime training.
Since it is becoming increasingly difficult to get external assistance, why cant we encourage our local shipowners to develop their capacity. Or should charity not begin at home?
Sir, I want to congratulate you on your appointment and wish you the wisdom of Solomon to carry out this onerous assignment.
Welcome on Board Sir.
NB: The general consensus among industry stakeholders is that the erstwhile Minister of Transportation,Rt Hon Rotimi Amaech, be reappointed to ensure continuity and sustainance of the ongoing projects initiated in the previous dispensation.