It should not be a surprise that the volume of inward and outward cargo via the Nigeria's sea ports has reduced as reported the other day. It lends credence, to some extent, that some government policies in reality impact, hopefully, favourably or otherwise on the polity and economy. While what should always be of concern is the reasonableness of the intended objectives to be achieved by government policies, surprises should be when performance results are at significant negative variation with the set objectives.
That the tonnage of goods that passed through the ports from 2014 to 2016 had declined is obviously a combination of both deliberate policies and gaps or weaknesses in the system. According to the report, inward cargo (that is, imported goods) which rose from the 2013 level of 78.2 million tonnes to 84.9 million tonnes in 2014 declined to 77.3 and 53.2 million tonnes in 2015 and 2016, respectively. In a similar manner, outward cargo (exported goods, excluding crude oil) which stood at 28.3 million tonnes in 2013 increased to 31.1 million in 2014 but thereafter declined to 29 and 26.9 million tonnes in 2015 and 2016, respectively.
These developments, according to the report, are signs of "an ailing economy where manufacturing and business struggle to survive", pointing out that terminal operators at the ports "decried the negative impacts" as almost 80 per cent of the clearing agents have closed shop with attendant job loss" of almost 30,000 workers. The Seaports Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN) had noted that most of the terminals were operating at half their capacities because of some anti-trade policies of the government such as imposition of 70 per cent tariff on imported vehicles, hike in import duty on rice and CBN's barring of certain items from accessing official foreign exchange. It was also indicated that some importers pass their cargo through other countries' ports to avoid high costs in Nigeria's ports and to beat government policies through smuggling.
At another level, Lucky Amiwero, president of the National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA) was reported to have fingered infrastructure decay, dilapidated access roads and closure of many SMEs that hitherto imported some raw materials as contributors to the declines.
The reality from the referenced data on cargo tonnage through the Nigerian sea ports is that they represent what should be expected given the present state of things in the Nigerian economy. The country is faced with economic recession, declined output and revenue, adverse foreign reserves and exchange rates. No well informed and indeed, patriotic Nigerian will expect that the rate at which importations were being done in the past would continue especially as the policies of the government were aimed at reducing non-essential imports and encouraging exports. Such policy directions are necessary not only to facilitate the country's recovery but also to point to the path of stability and sustainable growth.
It is in these regards that if the cargo volumes experienced in the last three years are assessed objectively, the outcome of implementing government policies and other extenuating situations will suggest some improvement has been made despite the downward trends being witnessed. For example, the rate at which imports declined from 2013 to 2016 was about 31.53 per cent compared with 4.1 per cent decline in exports within the same period. This suggests that less amount of foreign exchange was expended on imports by the country during the period. If the situation had been otherwise, the country would have experienced more adverse foreign exchange reserve balance and rate than it had in the period.
Although individuals and companies that depend on the volume of import and export cargo for livelihood must have suffered some business downturn as a result and are entitled to raising alarm but the truth is that government policies should be directed towards national as opposed to individual or group interests. As it were, the interest of a larger percentage of the citizens is far more important than that of individuals and companies operating at the sea ports. Consequently, it is expected that given the present economic situation in the country, government should even emplace and strictly implement more efficacious policies that will, on one hand, further de-accelerate importations and on the other, accelerate exportations, especially of non-oil value-added products and services. If the volume and value of exports increase and imports decline, the reality is that the country will manifest better economic gains for the citizenry.
Thus, the terminal operators at the sea ports should appreciate the intentions of government and the policies meant to catalyse national economic recovery, stability, growth and sustainability.
On its part, the government should remedy situations that adversely affect its well-intended purposes. For example, it should address high cost of doing business at the ports that drives importers and exporters to neighbouring countries' ports.