Eromosele Abiodun writes that Nigerians will soon begin to reap the benefits as the federal government will next month begin to evacuate cargoes by rail to the hinterland
Late last year, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) hosted the International Association of Ports and Harbours (IAPH) Africa Regional Conference in Abuja, with the aim of finding lasting solution to the problem of hinterland connectivity in member countries.
The IAPH Africa conference, which was declared open by President Muhammadu Buhari assembled key experts and stakeholders in the port logistics and transport industry. The conference provided a deeper understanding of the concept of port hinterland connectivity, assessed the present landscape of Africa's port sector and the challenges faced in hinterland connectivity.
Also, the conference discussed the experiences of port hinterland connectivity in other parts of the world compared to Africa, explored possible critical solutions, and recommend best home-grown models that would enable Africa to improve on its port hinterland connectivity and intraregional trade.
The IAPH was formed in 1955 and over the last 60 years it has grown into a global alliance representing 180 Members Ports and 140 Port related businesses in 90 countries. The IAPH was established to promote interest of ports worldwide, build strong member relationship and share international best practices.
Nigeria was awarded the hosting right last year when the Managing Director of the NPA, Hadiza Bala-Usman was elected Vice president representing Africa on the IAPH Governing Board. This was a testament of the recognition of Nigeria's effort in building a virile maritime industry locally and cooperating with other nations to do same.
In a communiqué issued at the end of the conference, stakeholders agreed that Ports are strategic national assets.
They also agreed that for economies to grow in the right direction there is need for investments in port and evacuation infrastructure to facilitate hinterland connectivity.
The communiqué read: "Connectivity for economic growth, expansion and integration should be viewed from the perspective of domestic, sub-regional, continental and international trade domain; There is need to develop sustainable multi-modal transport linkages with emphasis on rail, inland waterways and pipeline infrastructure.
"To overcome the cumbersome and difficult experiences on intra-Africa trade route occasioned by heavy infrastructural deficit and unfriendly border post procedures, there is need for Ministerial/ inter-Government collaborations across sub and regional levels. African countries need to leverage on the support platforms provided by international bodies such as the IMO, WTO, UNCTAD, ACMA and others to build technical, financial and operational competence and capacity to raise standards and efficiency levels. To encourage funding, they said port service providers are encouraged to form viable consortiums to provide the required size for credit guarantees.
They encouraged the promotion of the use of Inland Container Deport (ICDs) and off-dock facilities as a measure of promoting hinterland connectivity.
African ports were encouraged to develop the right capacity to take investment opportunities in landlocked countries adding that there is a need for African ports to adopt best practices in terms of human capacity and expertise.
One of the major resolutions of the conference was the call for the promotion of the use of Inland Container Deport (ICDs) and off-dock facilities as a measure of promoting hinterland connectivity. The federal government appears to be taken steps to implement some of the resolutions as it has emerged that the government will begin cargo evacuation by rail to the hinterland next month.
Barring any last minute change, the evacuation of cargoes by rail from Apapa seaport in Lagos to the Kaduna Inland Container Dry port will commence in April, 16 months after it was inaugurated by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Shippers' Council (NSC), Mr. Hassan Bello, said the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) has designated 24 flatbed wagons for evacuation and transportation of cargoes from the dry port.
Bello, stated that the rail evacuation of cargoes is another stage for the actualisation of the Kaduna dry port.
He also explained that the flatbed wagons are already on ground and would be deployed in April.
Specifically, he said: "We just held a meeting now with NRC and they have so far been involved in the dry port that we now have about 24 flatbed wagons designated for Kaduna dry port. The wagons are on ground now and by April, movement of cargoes will begin from the seaports to Kaduna and that will be another stage for the actualisation of the Kaduna dry port."
The NSC boss, however, frowned on reports that Togo and Ghana are taking over as hub in West and Central Africa sub-region.
He disclosed that Nigerian ports have become efficient and effective with 80 per cent of cargoes coming to West and Central Africa from around the world destined for Nigeria seaports.
"For cargoes coming into West and Central Africa sub-region, Nigeria has 80 per cent of the cargoes while other countries distribute 20 percent among themselves. So, how can they be a hub when Nigeria ports are becoming efficient by the day? We are attracting cargoes from other ports and the moment we get our infrastructure and our connectivity right, importers will patronise the eastern ports.
"The government is tackling insecurity, once that is done, and then we will see the real hub. We have the Lekki deep seaport with its huge capacity and when the Lekki deep seaport comes on board, we will get bigger ships and send the smaller ones to other countries," he said.
Bello, who also spoke on the registration policy initiated by the council, noted that it is a step towards automating the port and cutting human interface that breeds corruption.
According to him, there are lots of benefits inherent in the policy which includes easy payment at the ports.
Buhari had said he directed that all nation's seaports be connected by rail for improved evacuation of cargoes to the hinterland.
Buhari said his administration was committed to rebuilding infrastructure that supports multimodal means of transportation from the ports to the hinterland.
According to him, "This administration that I am privileged to lead is committed to rebuilding infrastructure that supports multimodal means of transportation from the ports to the hinterland. We understand that this interconnectivity will improve the country's economic competitiveness as targeted under the Economic Recovery and Growth. So for starters, I have directed that every port must have the complement of rail infrastructure. Our projections are that by the end of 2021, we will have standard gauge railway across the main North-South trading route.
"We have insisted on the stimulation activities on our inland waterways. Major inland river channels are being dredged with adequate channel markings for ease of navigation all the way through the Eastern and, Northern parts of the country."
Buhari, who disclosed that factor deciding the competitiveness of ports is the efficiency with which cargoes are evacuated to and from the ports, said connectivity is an area in which port operations in Africa needs a lot of intervention.
He, however, expressed confidence that the conference would collectively seek lasting solutions to the challenges that port operations face on the continent.
He also disclosed that even though Africa is divided by physical national boundaries, they are all connected by water which is a natural source of connectivity.
He said: "The waters are a natural source of connectivity and they seem like a subtle message that we must work together for the good of all our countries. This, in a sense, seems to be a divine ordination of our desire for continental integration. Even though we have physical national boundaries that separate us, the waters are a natural source of connectivity and they seem like a subtle message that we must work together for the good of all our countries. This is why there could be no better time than now to hold this conference."
Bala-Usman said there is no doubt that Africa holds a special place in the global maritime space, with 39 of the 54 countries on the continent endowed with littoral assets, the development of the continent is to a large extent tied to the optimal exploitation of its vast maritime resources.
"There is no doubt that one of the determinant factors for the relevance of ports is the speed and seamlessness with which owners of cargo are able to move their consignments out of the ports and that Africa really does still have a lot of work to do in this area," she stated.
Efficient Port Operation
The NPA had as part of its effort to ensure efficient port operation on behalf of the federal government signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Guangzhou Port Authority, the largest comprehensive hub Port in Southern China.
The MoU which was signed on the sideline of the conference would strengthen communication and cooperation thereby enabling synergy and collaboration amongst the two ports authorities. Guangzhou is the main transit Port of raw materials, energy supplies and Foreign Trade as well as the key support chain in Southern Region of China.
The agreement would also deepen infrastructural and port scientific technological developments including matters bordering on capacity building, efficient customer service delivery, administrative excellence and greater operational efficiency.
Other subjects captured in the MoU would comprise joint promotion of effective logistics in trade facilitation in order to enhance port capacity for the service of regional economic growth on non -committal basis with information sharing being the main pivot and foundation of all consultations.
Furthermore, the MoU would prioritise the advancement of green Port development and environmental protection such as energy saving and emission reduction.
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