Mr Mohammed Bello-Koko, Acting Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), has said that the massive investment that had revitalised the Nigerian Railway Corporation was a “game changer” in the maritime sector.
“I must commend President Muhammadu Buhari for investing so much into reviving Railway transportation. It is really exciting that he has focused on that key sector of the economy.
“I want to particularly thank him for the recent completion of the rail system into Apapa port. We believe it is a game changer.
“We have been working with the Nigerian Railway Corporation to see how Cargo can be evacuated. The interest is to see how cargo can get all the way to the inland dry port.
“There are meetings taking place between the West African Container Capital in Onne and APMT; this is to assist those inland containers to ensure that it reduces double charges once the cargo comes in.
“The one in APMT, we are hoping to start moving cargo inland by train. This has started but we are working with Nigerian Railway Corporation to give the right window so that once the train comes, the cargo is loaded into the right train without delay.
“There are discussions going on as well to see that railway system gets into Tin can eventually. That is the responsibility of the Nigerian Railway Corporation. They have taken some trains to a few terminals for test run.
“The fact that the railway is already in the port has made the problem half solved. But they need to do a survey to find out what buildings need to come down to create space for the train. The ports are very old, they were not planned for a train going round all the terminals,” he said.
Bello-Koko expressed optimism that a functional rail system would ease the haulage of items and enhance a lot of other activities.
He also spoke on measures NPA was adopting to encourage the usage of other ports in Nigeria.
“What we did first was to provide pegs for shipping lines for ports at Calabar, Warri and Rivers.
“We gave most to Calabar and Delta. The idea here was to take in their vessels into those locations. That has worked a bit, we also specified the kind of vessels that would come in and get those discounts.
“We had stakeholders’ engagement to encourage importers to take their vessels to those locations. We provided more marine services to those locations.
“But the usage of those ports depends on the importer. You cannot force an importer to take his goods to Calabar or Warri.
“For instance, a lot of the cargo coming in, the usage of the cargo is in Lagos, so there must be enough incentives for the importer to take his cargo to Warri and then bring it back to his factory in Lagos.
Some of the issues revolve around the roads also; one cannot import to Calabar and bringing it back to Lagos becomes difficult. We had to write to the Ministry of Works concerning Ikom bridge to encourage people to use Calabar Port.
“Calabar Port is the nearest to the Northeast of the country. So, if we encourage the use of that port, it means that all imports going to the Northeast pass through Calabar.
“The problem there is that it has the longest channel and passing through the channel is very expensive. We are encouraging the use of those ports and we are giving incentives to the shipping companies to bring in their goods to those ports.”
On alleged corruption in the maritime operations, he said the NPA had always strived toward keeping its books clean.
“The NPA has always ensured that the issue of corruption is addressed strictly.
“We are one of the first agencies to have an open budget system overtime. We have also signed in with the Action Group Against corruption.
“We have a department responsible for addressing issues concerned with corruption. We are more open.
“As acting MD, the best I will do is to ensure openness and ensure strict compliance to rules and regulations and policies of government.
“If we find any of our workers engaged in corruption practices, we have penalties and sanctions spelt out.”
On his vision for the ports industry, Bello-Koko said that he was working toward a renewed NPA with better automation and more marine equipment.
“I look forward to an NPA with newer Port facilities which I believe will be achieved.
“We believe that the new Lekki Deep-sea Port will come on stream by the second quarter of next year. The proponents of Badagry Sea Port are more serious and have seen the urgency to move forward.
“We have a 25-year port master plan which will soon be completed. The essence of it is to make the nation take decisions on the best locations for ports.
“In five years, we are going to have an NPA with better facilities, more Marine equipment providing 24 hours service, a more robust infrastructure and less human interference.
“In the next five years, we will be getting back some of the cargo traffic we have lost to other countries because of inefficiency.
The Lekki deep sea will be able to take bigger vessels, so this idea of mother vessel staying somewhere in Lome will stop because those big vessels can now come and berth in Nigeria.
“Imagine if Badagry comes in, and that is just the first phase of Lekki I’m talking about. By the time they conclude it, we would have bigger vessels coming into the country.
“We are modernising the ports; discussions have begun, so we are left now with the issue of funding and business models and viable options to take.
“What that means is that here in Tincan and Apapa, there would be improved ports in the next five years.
“The minister (of transportation) keeps asking about Lekki deep sea and the kick-off of Badagry deep sea port. He is also pushing for the finalisation of discussions and plans for the construction of all the terminals in Apapa and Tincan.
“He shares our visions and is working closely with us. Our collaboration with the Federal Govermnent will yield a lot. The Maritime industry is getting all the support it needs to soar high,” he said. (NAN).