The efforts to develop the nation's ports industry gained ground last week with members of the Senate Committee on Marine Transport and a team of officials of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) travelling to Singapore, Asia, to carry out a study of the port model, which is described as one of the best in the world, reports Francis Ugwoke, who was part of the visit.
With emphasis on Greenfield port development in the country apparently because of the congestion being suffered at the Lagos ports, the Senate Committee on Marine Transport and the management of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) last week set out in search of a model as a guide for the country. The search for the best model in port system took members of the committee and NPA officials to Singapore which is operating one of the best models in the world. Like Nigeria, Singaporean ports are under concession to private investors. The current move to have three new deep seaports, including Lekki Deep Seaport, Ibaka and Badagry deep seaports was responsible for the visit. The Committee wanted to find out how the ports in Singapore are working and how the system can be domesticated in Nigeria. Singapore is known as one of the best countries where contributions from maritime activities have brought about immense development.
Apart from the Senate Committee members led by the Chairman, Senator Zaynab Kure, NPA team was led by the Executive Director, Marine and Operations, Engr David Omonibeke. The executive director was on hand to provide answers to questions from the senators who wanted to compare the Singaporean model and that of the Nigerian ports. NPA is championing the development of the three deep seaports, which according to Omonibeke will position Nigeria as a hub in West and Central Africa.
He said that the Board of NPA is currently working on giving Nigerians the best in terms of ports efficiency. With the visit, he said the law makers will have first hand information on developments in other shipping nations. Senator Kure told THISDAY that Nigeria must make every effort to ensure that Lagos becomes a load centre in Africa.
Noting that this will bring a lot of transformation in the economy, Kure said knowledge gained from the visit will guide the Committee in its contribution for the best in the country's maritime development.
The level of economic development in Singapore is very high and this thrilled the visiting senators who also promised that the agenda for transformation in Nigeria must be realised. Seated on the 40th floor of its building, PSA International is described as one of the leading global port groups in the world. With flagship operations in PSA Singapore Terminals and PSA Antwerp, it is involved in 29 port projects in 17 countries across Asia, Europe and the Americas. A senior Manager, Group Business Development, Ong SeowLeong told the visiting Senators that the company had participated in the concessioning programme in Nigeria but was not successful. He said that the company was ready to participate in another exercise if the opportunity comes again. But he did not express interest in going into Greenfield projects.
With a global staff strength of 28,000, the company handled 60.06 million 20ft teus of containers at its port projects around the world last year. In Singapore alone, the figure was 31.26million teus, with a target for 35millionteus this year. Just like NPA, the company is currently developing new deep seaports in 250 hectares close to its headquarters. The deep seaports are natural with draught of 18meters as against 13 meters expected draught in Lekki Port Lagos. With such draught, the Singaporean seaport will be able to take any vessel size, Members of the Senate Committee wanted to know the cost of the development of the new seaport which the company was not ready to give.
Senator Kabiru Gaya, a member of the Committee had requested for an idea of the amount repeatedly, but Leong laughed this away, claiming that he did not know.
One remarkable observation during the tour of the terminal by members of the Committee was the level of automation in the system. Unlike the system in Nigeria where the ports remain a near market place, the Senators lamented that they could not see anybody in the large terminal and around as the legislators were being taken round. No security staff, no agent, no customs officer was noticed. It was like everybody had deserted the ports. But that was the high level of automation in the system. Senator Professor Ben Ayade on noticing this said such system should not be introduced in Nigeria. Other Senators, including Senator Paul Akume and Gaya joined him.
Visit to Owners of Lekki Port, Lagos
A visit to the Toloram Corporation, the company that is building the Lekki Port in Lagos, was exciting as the Senators questioned the 45 years agreement entered with Nigeria in a $1.53billion project. This was however defended by officials of the company, Messrs Vishal Tulscian and NavinNahaya. They argued that the project will offer so many jobs to Nigerians during construction. They also said that the project offers multiplier effect of more than 30 times the total cost, adding that revenue to state and federal agencies from taxes, royalties and duties will amount to approximately $201billion.
The group also said that the port will have an aggressive impact of approximately $361bn in the Nigerian economy over the term of concession. Vishal Tulscian disclosed that a consortium of banks, including the Standard Bank, ADB, AFC European International Bank and FirstRand through Merchant Bank was involved in the project financing.
How Nigeria, Africa Can Develop Maritime, by Singaporean
At a lecture, a maritime lawyer and member of the Board of PSA, MrDato'Jude Benny, challenged Africans and Nigeria in particular to revolutionise shipping in the continent. Benny said that the success story of Singpapore, a country of 5million population and without natural resources like Nigeria, include honesty, transparency and hard work. He told the Senators that Nigeria should invest in long term project as well as in capacity building and public relations to draw the world to its development agenda.
Arbitration and P&I Club
He advocated for African Protection and Indemnity Club(P&I Club) as Singapore has done instead of relying on London P&I , arguing that this is possible and can contribute immensely to the continent's economic growth. Similarly, he called for an Arbitration Centre in Africa that will have headquarters in Nigeria instead of running to London for this. This, according to him, has its own economic benefits for the country.
Resolve to Succeed, by Senators
Members of the Senate Committee who were glaringly marveled at the level of port development in Singapore, expressed optimism that this will work in Nigeria. They said they will give their support to promote capacity building. "If Singapore could be transformed into a major hub within the Asian/Pacific region, Nigeria can also be a hub within the Africa region. It is not a matter of geography, but that of putting down viable infrastructure on ground, enabling legislations and an economic or business environment that would be attractive to other African nations", Kure affirmed during the visit. She promised to reach out to all the stakeholders, NPA and NIMASA and synergize on how to make things happen positively in the shipping industry.