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Chamber of commerce laments ‘exorbitant charges’ at seaports


Dr Emi Membere-Otaji

Dr Emi Membere-Otaji

The Port Harcourt Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines & Agriculture (PHCCIMA) has appealed to the Federal Government to prevail on relevant agencies to review downwards alleged ‘exorbitant charges’ at Port Harcourt and Onne Ports as part of measures to encourage business concerns in the South South and South East geo-political zones.

In a chat with The Guardian on Monday, President of PHCCIMA, Dr Emi Membere-Otaji, explained that business owners now prefer to route their import and export consignments through either Lagos or Cotonu Port in Benin Republic as a result of the alleged high charges at the ports.

He advised the Federal Government to first review downwards its own charges, before engaging private operators at the ports.
He said nearly all non-oil imports and exports in and around Rivers State are done through Lagos ports, “with the attendant risks of delay in time, damages and overcrowding of the Lagos Ports”.

According to Membere-Ota, the only way to successfully diversify the economy is for the Government to facilitate and remove all impediments to business transactions especially export of agricultural products.

He advised the Government to return Port Harcourt to its original concept, adding that the Port was created principally to “principally to evacuate agricultural produce and coal from the then Eastern Nigeria to Europe mainly”.

Explaining further he said: “From then onwards, it became a major economic hub in Nigeria especially in shipping, agriculture and the support services, accessible by roads, rail line and inland waterways. With its planned layouts and beautiful environs, the city was aptly called the “Garden City”. Port Harcourt was a Mecca for many, young, old, black and whites alike”.

In a position paper forwarded to The Guardian on Monday, Membere-Ota said with the discovery of crude oil in commercial quantity in 1957 in nearby Oloibiri, “things initially started changing gradually and then dramatically after the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970).

“From then on, the economic dynamics of the city and indeed Nigeria changed from a net exporter of multiple agricultural produce and coal, among others to a literal sole exporter of crude oil. Crude oil accounting for over 95 per cent  of the nation’s foreign exchange and over 75 per cent  of her exports”, he said.

Going down memory lane, Membere-Ota, who is also a governing council member of Nigerian Chamber of Shipping (NCS) said: “With time, the Port Harcourt main seaport was largely abandoned and the new Onne port became mainly a port for oil and gas related cargo, with its concession to INTELS.

“While a lot of development has taken place at the Onne port, the current reality of failing global crude oil prices and its attendant grueling socio economic challenges to the country, Port Harcourt and businesses around, has brought to the front burner the need to revert the Rivers Ports to the initial dream of the founding fathers.

“This is buttressed by the goal of actual diversification of the economy by President Buhari Buhari; especially in the areas of agriculture and solid minerals with the mantra of import substitution (promoting in-country trade) and non-oil export promotion. These cannot be fully realised especially in the Rivers Ports if certain hindrances are not removed.

“The current fall in crude oil prices should be a wakeup call not only for government to review some of the exorbitant charges like port charge, but INTELS be engaged to realistically review their rates to accommodate all cargos. The rates applicable when crude oil was over $100.00 (Hundred Dollars) per barrel cannot work with oil trading around $30.00 (Thirty Dollars) per barrel and obviously unattainable in this era of promoting non-oil exports, in country inland waterways transportation and imports of essential machinery and spare parts for manufacturing, solid materials and the agro allied industries.

“Coastal and inland waterways transportation uses mainly barges. Instances where a small inland 300tons gross tonnage (GRT) barge pushed by a 30tons gross tonnage (GRT) tugboat entering and leaving a Rivers Port commands about $20,000 (Twenty Thousand Dollars) port charges per call and a  3,500 gross tonnage (GRT) barge towed by about 300 gross tonnage (GRT) tugboat commanding about $140,000 (One Hundred & Forty Thousand Dollars) per call, in both cases without cargo, calls for change of policy, if non-oil exportation and in country trade promotion will thrive.

“Even for the oil related cargos, through the Joint Venture Partnership, with the International Oil Companies (IOCs), the Federal Government owns about 60 per cent holding, and so government is actually paying itself, as they pay the exorbitant port charges and other rates.

“The Port Harcourt Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines & Agriculture (PHCCIMA), also mindful of some national issues affecting shipping/ports viz-a-viz security, activities of multiple agents at the ports, corruption, among others do pledge to work with the State and Federal governments to make the Port Harcourt and Onne ports busy and accessible again.

“In so doing, not only will our businesses be impacted positively, but socio-economic activities will boom again and thus contributing immensely in curbing youth restiveness in the oil rich Niger Delta”.

However, sources at Port Harcourt and Onne Ports have denied allegation of exorbitant charges.Contacted on Monday, a source at Intels denied all allegations of exorbitant charges, adding that the Government regulates the company’s activities.

The source blamed allegation of exorbitant charges on some private jetties, noting that activities at the seaports are guided by laid down rules and regulations.

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