A common feature of international conferences is the breakout session where hosts take participants on guided tours of facilities related to the theme under discussion. When Nigeria spent hundreds of millions of naira to host two international conferences on maritime, they were held in Abuja, the administrative capital, away from Lagos, the commercial and maritime capital. Izuchukw Ozoemena reports on the unusual decision to ignore the former capital city.
In September 2018, Nigeria government acted like the proverbial family head who, while his homestead was on fire, launched out trying to find solutions to problems plaguing other households in the neighbourhood in the spirit of playing ‘a big brother’. Instead of seeking pragmatic solutions to the shameful delapidated roads leading to the Lagos seaports and accompanying excruciating traffic gridlock that had made cargo evacuation hellish, Nigerian authorities, through Nigerian Ports Authority and Nigeria Shippers’s Council, were out in the month to demonstrate concern for the need to promote inter-modalism and interconnectivity in maritime transportation system at a regional and global level.
In this context, events recently hosted by two strategic parastatals in the Transportation Ministry are placed in perspective. As the world was made to believe, the regional and international conferences were designed to fashion out ways and means of achieving efficient operations at seaports using interconnectivity of various transportation modes to move cargo into the hinterland.
But one question quickly comes to mind. Is Nigeria really justified in spearheading regional or global inter-modalism in maritime transportation when the federal government is unwilling to resolve the horror movement into and out of Apapa and Tin can ports in Lagos have become over the years? Can Nigeria explain a situation where, for inexplicable reasons, sea ports in other parts of Nigeria cannot be made functional at least to relieve Lagos ports from congestion? On what pedestal can the country stand to pontificate on the need for other maritime nations to adopt interconnectivity when, despite the resources available in the country, she has not been able to practicalize same within her shores? These are nagging questions Nigeria must give answers to before convincing anybody that she qualifies to urge other maritime nations to adopt interconnectivity or inter-modalism.
First, it was the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) which September 17 – 19, hosted the first regional conference of the International Association of Ports and Harbours (IAPH) in Abuja on the theme African Ports and Hinterland Connectivity. The IAPH was formed to promote the global interests of ports worldwide and build strong member relationships where ideas on international best practices would be shared. As Hadiza Bala Usman, NPA Managing Director and vice president (African Region), of the body noted during a pre-event press interaction to herald the conference, “from discussions and programmes of the IAPH which one has been part of in the past one year, we have come to see the need for maritime stakeholders on the African continent to come together and chart a course for the collective development of our ports.”
Development of ports in what angle? For ports in the region to attend their potentials, Usman stressed, the deployment of multi-modal means of transportation which ensures that cargoes are moved without delay and to the satisfaction of clients has become a compulsory factor. To what extent does Nigeria interpret the ‘compulsory factor’ here especially when it has become obvious that the federal government is not interested in rectifying the logistics woes Lagos ports are suffering?
Among others, critical stakeholders who participated in the three- day conference were port administrations and maritime agencies including the Lagos – Abuja, Walvis Bay Corridor Group, Antwerp Port Authority, Guangzhou Port Authority (from China) and administrators from African ports such as Transnet National Port Authority of South Africa, Kenya Ports Authority, Douala Port Authority (Cameroon) and, of course, the Nigerian Ports Authority.
Others were Cotonou Port Authority (Benin), Abidjan Port Authority (Cote d’Ivoire), Dakar Port Authority (Senegal), Tanger Med Port of Morocco and Port of Alexandria (Egypt). They were expected to share experiences and insights on how to improve port operations and attain better efficiency. It is expected that at the end of the parley, the visitors made practicable suggestions on how Nigeria can come out of the numerous problems of ports logistics she has suffered for years. But until a communiqué in this direction is made available, it cannot be ascertained that such recommendations were ever made particularly on how to improve cargo movement in and out of Lagos ports.
September 25 and 26, the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), took its turn to host the Union of African Shippers’ Councils (UASC) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in a two-day regional workshop on port concessioning in West and Central African region. The workshop was equally held in Abuja. In addition to dwelling on the theme “Port Concession in West and Central Africa: Impact on Economies of Member states of the Sub-region”, the conference participants also appraised the state of maritime transportation in West, Central Africa and other regions of the world. Of course this included issues of logistics within the port environment.
Even as the communiqué of the respective conferences are still being awaited many days thereafter, there are concerns as to reasons the respective parleys did not hold in Lagos which serves as the maritime capital of Nigeria. Of course, this thinking is without prejudice to other diplomatic advantages the country would have earned by hosting them in Abuja. If the place was Lagos, conference attendees would have been afforded ample opportunity to tour Apapa and Tin can and observe how interconnectivity and inter-modalism (if they ever existed) work in Nigerian ports. An opportunity would have been created for delegates from other climes to observe traffic into and out of Apapa and Tin can ports to be in a position to compare the scenario with what obtains in other countries. They would then be in a position to advise Nigeria on the way forward and how to fashion out a workable system that fits her peculiar situation and experience.
Before Nigeria spearheads moves to reposition African or even global seaports for hinterland interconnectivity, she must first of all sort out (in practical terms) the shameful state of Lagos port access roads. She must convince the world that she has overcome critical issues inhibiting port operations in her territory. What is the condition of her ports access routes? How many of her seaports are effectively linked with the rail as an alternative means of cargo evacuation?
It is no longer news that despite pretensions to the contrary and irrespective of the huge resources at her disposal, the federal government is demonstrating lack of interest to confront and overcome the ports access gridlock that has lingered for years. This is speaking particularly about the Apapa-Tin can- Mile 2 stretch along which the two major sea ports in Lagos are located. Preaching about inter-modalism is one thing, putting action in place to realize it is another. About two months ago, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo flew into Apapa and dished out marching orders on the decongestion of traffic. What has happened since then? Is the matter not getting worse?
At one of the conferences in Abuja, according to reports, President Muhammadu Buhari directed that all sea ports be linked with rail lines. In practical terms, what is the workability? Days after the order was given, have Nigerians been acquainted with details of the arrangement being made to make it work in the nearest future?
Before Nigeria launches out to play the global policeman especially in matters relating to maritime logistics and trade, she must first of all put her house in order. It is the only way to avoid being mocked by other countries who are obviously jealous of her natural potentials that are not being put into use.