Trade takes backseat as seaports operations falter
• ‘Why economy won’t recover soon’
• Clearing agents, LCCI blame exchange rate, high duties
Efforts at job creation and price stabilisation are proving very little in the face of dwindling seaport operations. Statistics from the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) showed nine-month low of import and export estimates. The third quarter report, obtained by The Guardian showed that the ports recorded the lowest number of vessels in September this year, while the cargo throughput also saw its lowest numbers.
Lower import-export operations will starve the economy of the much-needed productive activity to create jobs, sustain high prices for consumer goods and keep the country much longer in recession than anticipated.
Nigeria’s economy entered into recession following sustained negative growth that has lasted nearly one year. With low oil revenues, the country looks up to the seaports for revenue, which grew from N57 billion in 2005 to N184 billion in 2015, according to Ms Hadiza Bala Usman, the Managing Director of the NPA.
“Nigeria is import-dependent, and in this era of low oil prices which is affecting the way government does its business, there is a heavy revenue burden of expectation on the NPA to efficiently manage the ports and generate alternative revenue for the government,” Usman said last month.
She spoke when NPA signed a Memorandum of Understanding with BudgIT Information Technology Network to develop an open budget system platform and implement a public data dissemination programme.
When seaports that contribute large chunks of Nigeria’s non-oil revenue become inactive, it leaves government financially stranded. It means less capacity to invest in infrastructure, create jobs, address security, including fighting insurgency, and fund other activities that define good governance.
Concerned by the relative inactivity and acknowledging the need to beef up operations at the ports, government has banned importation of vehicles through the borders. The ban three days ago followed a similar ban on rice importation through the seaports of neighbouring countries.
Customs Area Comptroller at the Tincan Island Port, Bashar Yusuf, while lamenting the dwindling fortunes from ports operations, said that the Command would continue to explore avenues to maximise revenue collection. He admitted that the downturn has placed more responsibility on the Service.
Records at the NPA showed that about 341 vessels called Nigeria in September, the lowest in nine months and a fall from 400 recorded in August.Cargo throughput also dropped from 6.3 million metric tonnes recorded in January this year to 5.6 million in September, which is also the year’s lowest.
The statistics also showed that a total of 3,347 ocean-going vessels have called Nigeria so far this year, estimated at about 100,152,274 metric tons.The breakdown showed that Apapa Ports received 318 vessels in the third quarter against 301 in second quarter; TinCan Island Ports recorded 406 vessels in third quarter, against 368 in the last quarter; Rivers Ports recorded 80 ships against 84 in the previous quarter; Onne received 152 vessels against 163; Calabar recorded 51 against 52; Delta received 132 ships in the third quarter while 109 was received in the last quarter.
Although, the total ongoing ships traffic increased from 1,077 in the second quarter to 1,139 in the third quarter, the coastal vessel traffic dropped from total 3,178 in the last quarter to 3,038 in the third quarter.
The Guardian gathered that importation of raw materials has dropped just as fewer vehicles are being shipped into the country. Vehicle dealers have at various times argued that lack of access to foreign exchange and low patronage were killing their business.
Amid the gloom, the NPA boss has promised to boost capacity by providing infrastructure and technologically up-to-date equipment at the ports.The Federal Government through the NPA, Usman said, would reposition the ports industry to play its key role as the gateway to the nation’s economy.
Usman directed terminal operators to invest more in up-to-date equipment that will make the nation’s seaports competitive and efficient.Growth in trade volumes, she said, was a strong factor in the need for port investment to boost efficiency, build robust, responsive and competitive port economy in tune with global best practices.
National President of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Prince Olayiwola Shittu, said: “The exchange rate factor is highly instrumental to the vessel traffic plunge. People are no longer travelling, orders have dropped drastically and when there is no cargo, there will be no vessel.”
The Director-General Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Muda Yusuf, linked the sharp drop in importation to the foreign exchange scarcity and high exchange rate.
“For you to even import those materials that are not on the prohibition list (the Central Bank of Nigeria has placed ban on importation of 41 items), you cannot get the forex. So, if you don’t have the forex, how will you import?”
He therefore urged government to review the liquidity of the foreign exchange market so that businesses would be able to buy and sell at any time irrespective of the rate.
Besides, he said the government should look into the import duties that are paid on raw materials and review it downward, adding that the currency depreciation is a huge burden on them. “So, if we have a high currency and have a high import duty, the cost will be completely unbearable,” he said.