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Task before Buhari in maritime sector

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Containers at the terminal

Containers at the terminal

THE incoming administration’s policy thrust in the maritime sector will determine to a large extent Nigeria’s economic outlook in the next four years.

General Mohammadu Buhari of the All Progressive Congress (APC) was elected in the March 28th 2015 Presidential election to pilot the affairs of the nation from May 29, 2015. Next to oil and gas sector in terms of revenue generation, the maritime sector if well harnessed, according to experts is capable of generating numerous jobs and huge resources for the federal government.

However, over the years, the sector has been characterised by alleged fraudulent practices, underutilisation, leadership challenges, inconsistent policies among others thereby depriving the nation of needed income and the desired employment opportunities.

Indeed, one of the issues that might be of interest to the incoming administration is the nation’s inability to operate a National Shipping Line.
Established by the federal government in 1959, the Nigeria National Shipping Line (NNSL) was liquidated in 1995 and all her 21 vessels sold, making it almost impossible to train fresh hands to meet future challenges.

Apart from depriving Nigeria the opportunity to participate in the lucrative business of lifting crude oil, the country is also at a disadvantage in terms of capacity building. To reverse the trend, stakeholders have challenged the incoming administration to put in place a national carrier and disburse without further delay the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF) presently in the coffers of four banks.

The Director-General of Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Patrick Akpobolokemi had in 2014 announced plans by the federal government to float a national carrier.

An economist, Matthew R. Otoide, in a chat with The Guardian on Wednesday, advised Buhari to establish a national carrier in collaboration with the private sector.

He said: “What is required at this point in time is the political will to get the job done. A national carrier will create jobs and also give cadets opportunity for sea time training.

In his presentation at a workshop on Public Private Partnership (PPP) strategy for infrastructural development and modernization in the Nigerian maritime industry, Akpobolokemi explained that the proposed national carrier would be floated with the aim of ensuring that the nation’s crude oil and other vital cargoes were lifted by Nigerians.

He said: “In the next few months, we will work with the private sector to get our national shipping line back because it is important for our development. The government will have minimal participation.

“It is a huge economic waste that most of our hydro carbon is being transported by people other than Nigerians and I don’t think the agency can have the patience or keep waiting, drastic measure must be taken.” In terms of capacity building, the incoming government is also expected to tackle the challenges confronting maritime institutions such as Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN).

According to experts, human capital development in the maritime sector is another viable avenue through which the government can generate numerous jobs for Nigerians within and outside the country on a sustainable basis.

Worried by the development, the outgoing administration through the management of MAN had pledged to embark on large scale infrastructural development coupled with collaboration with world acclaimed international institutions.

Besides, the concessioning agenda for the nation’s ports and the ongoing dispute between terminal operators and Nigeria Shippers’ Council (NSC) over charges is expected to attract the attention of the government.

Though presently in court, parties in the dispute are expected to play important functions in repositioning the nation’s economy. How to make Nigeria’s seaport competitive in the West Africa sub-region is another issue the incoming administration is expected to tackle adequately.

The federal government through the NSC had recently reiterated its resolve to make Nigerian ports attractive for business activities. Executive Secretary of NSC, Hassan Bello said: “Port Reform no doubt has brought in tremendous benefits to the national economy.

However, there is still the need to harness other potential areas of the Port Sector with a view to bring down the cost of doing business and enthrone efficiency”.

He said a new port has been designed to “eliminate all the wastages in the system so that the cost of doing business is reduced.” He added: “The owner of the cargo should know when his cargo is due to arrive so that he can prepare well in advance to make arrangements to clear his goods in good time.

“As the ship is discharging, the cargo is also being scanned, and the image is used by the Customs Service to commence clearing process in terms of segregating the cargo for whatever line of inspection in line with customs’ procedures introduced for security measures”, said Bello.

The NSC boss identified Nigeria’s competitors as Cotonou, Ghana, Cameroun, among others, adding that Nigeria is suffering cargo loss to these countries due to diversion by some importers.

According to him, with improved efficiency and cost effectiveness, Nigerian importers who use neighbouring ports from where they smuggle their goods into the country would find Nigerian ports attractive.

In a related development, the incoming administration is expected to fast track the concessioning of the nation’s river ports. Stakeholders at a forum put together by National Inland Water Authority (NIWA) had urged the federal government to come up with legal and administrative frame work that will help bring to light the enabling environment that will encourage businesses to thrive.

The forum also urged the federal government to hasten the setting-up of the administrative delivery team with members drawn from various related organisations for the quick takeoff of operations at the River Port.

The Buhari administration is expected to make a pronouncement on the synergy between the federal government and the private sector under a Public Private Partnership (PPP).

The NIWA forum also adopted the following resolutions: · Commended the federal government for the huge investment expended on the dredging of the Lower River Niger and the successful completion of the Onitsha River port to facilitate inter-modal transport system for evacuation of both cargoes and passengers in view of the economic advantages;

· Urged the federal government to guarantee safety through an effective round-the-clock patrol by joint Military Personnel and application of other safety measures to safeguard lives and property;.
·Recommended that the federal government come up with legal and administrative frame work that will help bring to light the enabling environment that will encourage businesses to thrive at the Onitsha River Port;
·Urged the Federal Government to hasten the setting-up of the administrative delivery team with members drawn from various related organisations for the quick takeoff of operations at the River Port;
· Noted the importance of synergy between the federal government and the Private Sector under a Public Private Partnership (PPP) and encourage re-doubling of efforts at concessioning of the River Port.
· Emphasised the need for constant upgrading of Maritime and Port infrastructure to enable the investors take optimal advantage of Anambra State’s expansive coastline in areas of shipbuilding, Dockyard Operations, Metal fabrication, dock labour, warehousing and recycling plants, among others.

The incoming administration is also expected to come up with policies to tackle reported smuggling activities across the border. The Nigeria Custom Service (NCS) in 2014 procured Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC) and fine-tuned its security strategy as part of measures to successfully tackle rice smuggling and nefarious activities.

Under the new approach, the NCS has put in place intelligence gathering, security of its personnel and “take the battle to the door steps of smugglers”.

In a chat with The Guardian during a raid on some   smuggling route in Igbesa, Ogun State recently, the Controller, Federal Operations Units (FOU), zone ‘A’, Ikeja, Usman Turaki reiterated the resolve of NCS to curtail smuggling inline with the policy thrust of the  Federal Government. Turaki, who led the operations comprising of  the  Army,  Nigerian Navy (NN), Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDS)  and use of  about 48 pick-up,   two  newly acquired Armoured Personal Carrier (APC) described smuggling as “economic crime” that must be tackled in the interest of the nation’s economy.

During the operation, the unit uncovered smugglers hideout in a Creek at Igbesan, Ogun State which according to NCS is notorious for rice smuggling. At the end of the clampdown, which lasted for more than seven hours, 11,264 bags of imported 50kg foreign parboiled rice smuggled into the country through unapproved routes were seized.


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