By Stephen Ubanna
More facts have emerged how All the Heads the ministry of Transportation agencies, have helped to sanitise the nation’s maritime domain by coming out with bold initiatives in their monthly meetings over the last four months which had helped the growth of the sector.
One of such bold initiatives that was said to have been agreed by All the Heads of the maritime agencies in one of their meetings was the use of barges to transfer overtime cargoes from the Lagos ports of Apapa and Tin-can Island to the Onitsha River port in the south east, Baro River, north central Nigeria and other Inland Container Terminals, ICT, scattered all over the country.
Note that one of the major problems of the Lagos ports environment over the years had been congestion. The situation was so bad that Hajia Hadiza Bala Usman, the NPA, Managing Director, had approved the engagement of about 40 Barge Operating firms to help in the evacuation of cargoes from the Lagos ports of Apapa and Tin Can Island to the River ports and ICTs to reduce the pressure on the existing port facilities.
Bashir Jamoh, who incidentally is the President of the Chartered Institute of Transport Administration, CITA, may have taken advantage of the monthly meetings of the All the Heads of the Maritime Agencies to discuss the problems affecting the industry and proffer solution to drum support for the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA in order to continue the use of barges to move Containers from the Lagos ports environment to the Onitsha and Baro River ports including the ICTs because of the frequent falling of Containers along the oshodi-Apapa Express way and loss of live. He had his way.
Rotimi Amaechi a former governor of Rivers state and now, minister of Transportation who broke the cheery news at the last World Maritime Day celebration said ‘’it would go a long way to decongest the Lagos ports environment.
The minister may have gladdened the heart Babajide Sanwo- Olu, the Lagos state governor, who was represented at the event by Obafemi Hamzat, a Medical Doctor and the state Deputy governor, as he gave kudos to President Muhammadu Buhari for the approval .The governor’s happiness was informed by the fact that it would reduce the pressure on the state roads forestall , frequent falling of Containers and loss of lives due to trucks laden Container accidents that were not prperly lapped.
M, using bargsembers of the Onitsha Chambers of Commerce,Industry, Mines and Agriculture, ONICCIMA were also elated over the government plans to move cargoes by barges to the Onitsha River port. The ONICCIMA leadership, had been pushing over the years for such approval to be given but that was how far they could go.
An Onitsha based businessman, who had benefited from the $100 million Tony Elumelu Foundation, popular, TEF, founded by Tony Elumelu, Group Chairman, United Bank For Africa, UBA, plc, a Pan African Bank, , in giving out soft loan to Small and Medium Scale Enterprises , SMEs, Entrepreneures, had observed that if the government had acceded to their demand before now to facilitate the take-off of the Onitsha River port, the nation could not have lost the billions of naira in overtime cargo.
The country may have lost the billions of naira due to the problems of Congestion at the Lagos ports environment which was made worse by the Apapa gridlock and the ongoing rehabilitation of the Lagos Railway network which had made it impossible for the trains to run, let alone move Containers to the ICTs.
Signs that the government may have finally given the nod To NPA, to transfer overtime cargoes to the Onitsha River port emerged when George Moghalu,an indigene of Anambra state and Managing Director, Nigerian Inland Water ways Authority, NIMWA, gave an insight that a preferred Concessionaire would soon emerge for the River port.
Moghalu, was said to have told a selected group that a strategic process is ongoing to select the preferred Concessionaire for the River port. It is instructive to note that the process to select the preferred bidder for the Onitsha River port had been stalled since 2015, due to the build up to the general elections which saw former President Goodluck Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, losing the election to Buhari of the ruling All Progressive Congress., APC.
Given the strategic importance of the Onitsha River port to the south east economy, the ONITCCIMA, members , at the end of their Annual General Meeting, last July were said have called on the Katsina state born Nigeria President to revive the Onitsha River port, which Infrastructural facilities were said to have been developed with Tax payers money but wasting.
Many believe that the ONICCIMA, call may have informed why Moghalu , the Managing Director of NIMWA, took up the matter at the ministerial and inter-agency level in order to facilitate the dredging of the Onitsha River port.
The Onitsha River port had remained a drawback to the take-off of the Baro River port in Niger, home state of a former Military President, General Ibrahim Babandida,rtd and Abdulsalami Abubabakar, also a retired Army General and former Head of State . The seriousness of the government in selecting a credible Concessionaire for the Onitsha River ports became pronounced as the NIWA Officials plan of travelling to the port of Atwerp in Netherland for due Intelligence as a model for the River port.
Jamoh, the NIMASA , Director General, who is happy at the turn of events regarding the government’s approval for barges to be used to transfer cargoes from the Lagos ports environment to the Ontitsha and Baro River ports, said ‘’it is a confirmation of the Nigerian President unwavering Commitment to he security of the nation’s marine environment through the Deep Blue Sea project or Integrated National Security and Water Ways Protection Infrastructure’’.
The NIMASA, boss had said that 85 percent of the Assets needed for the Deep Bluse Sea Project’s full takeoff had been delivered by HLSI Security Systems and Technologies Limited, an Israeli security firm which won the $195 million security Contract. The Contract also gave the Israeli Company a total control of the country’s maritime security, which includes the security of all secure anchorage areas in the nation’s maritime domain , where all vessels berth. The NIMASA, helmsman believes that the takeoff of the Deep Blue Sea Project would reduce the cost of shipping of cargoes into the country seaports including the Ontsha and Baro River ports.
The NMASA boss , may have gladdened the heart of Nigerians, particular, ONICCIMA, members , when he said that ‘’the training process for Officers that would operate the various equipment that had been delivered by the Israeli firm had been concluded. At present the ONICCIMA members are in a hurry to see the first Consignment of overtime cargoes being transferred to the Onitsha River port, which may believe will call Celebration in the entire south east geopolitical region.
He had expressed the ‘determination of the Maritime Regulatory Agency,’’to ensure the sustainable use of the seas and oceans to move cargoes in Nigeria waters which is clearly demonstrated by the agency establishment in 2008 of a Specialised department to oversee the nation’s marine management’’
He is optimistic that with the current Collaboration between the agency, and other sister gencie, Navy, Air Force, Nigeria Police, Nigerian Immigration Service, NIS and Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, ‘’ the future of maritime security is very bright’’.
In a related development, Jamoh , the NIMASA, Director General, had confirmed that the agency had deployed the $50 million floatingdock which was idling away at the Naval dockyard Victoria Island and transferred it to the Continental Dockyard, Apapa , owned by NPA, where it has been put into operation. The inter-agency monthly meetinsg may have opened the doorway for Jamoh to initiate discussions with Hajia Hadiza Bala Usman, the NPA Managing Director to move the floating dock from the Naval storage berthing place where operation could not be undertaken to the sister agency Continental dockyard facility at Apapa.‘’We have been discussing with the Managing Director of the NPA , to move out the NIMASA floating dock from the Naval dockyard to Continental dockyard AT Apapa owned by NPA ’’, he had said.
Until his removal as the Director General of the Maritime Regulatory agency last March, by the retired Army Gneral, Dakuku Peterside had said that as the time multi-million dollar arrived the country in June 2018, the agency was spending close to $10,000 daily to keep it in a private Jetty. He had stated that when it was moved to the Naval dockyard at Victoria Island, Lagos, it was gulping a whopping $30,000 daily as Wharfage . The Whrfage charge, according to sources, excluded the billions of naira that was said to have been spent on the floating dock as running cost and payment of the array of Consultants and experts servicing the facility.
There are indications that but for his removal after the expiration of his first four years in office in what was described as a political Conspiracy by the President, the agency under the former NIMASA boss had concluded arrangement to deploy the floating dock into operations in an undisclosed permanent location before the end of 2020 fiscal year. It was therefore not very surprising that Jamoh, his successor, followed it up to its logical conclusion as a Chip of the old block.
Many believe that there was no basis for the agency to have acquired the floating dock by Patrick Akpobolokemi, he a one-time Director General as he was said to have been warned by Industry operators and experts against giving the nod to the Foreign Shipyard for the building of the dock. He was said to have ignored the expert advice and awarded the Contract a few months before he was sacked in 2015, by the incumbent President.
Given that the agency had deployed the floating dock into operations at the NPA facility at Apapa, it had been projected a monthly revenue generation of N1 billion. This is good news for the nation’s maritime Industry if the Foreign shipping Lines would agree to patronise the NIMASA facility without taking their vessel to Ghana or other countries in the West African sub-region to dry dock.
Maritime analysts said the NIMASA officials may have step up their marketing of the services offered at the floating dock to win Customers to it as there are other dock yard both within and outside the country Competing for the same market.