Stakeholders in the maritime sector have advised the Federal Government not to litter the country with many ports without a specific purpose.
Speaking at a National Discourse with Distinguished Maritime Personalities (DMPs) in Lagos recently, they said Nigeria is only interested in building ports like constituency projects without considering their viability and ability to compete with other global ports in terms of infrastructure and linkage to the multimodal transport mode.
Already, the Federal Government has approved the construction of the Badagry Deep Seaport in Lagos, Ondo Deep Seaport in Ondo State, Ibom Deep Seaport in Akwa Ibom, Bonny Deep Seaport in Rivers State, the Bayelsa Deep Seaport project and the Benin River Port in Edo State, in addition to the seaports and dry ports in the country.
The Minister of Marine and Blue Economy, Adegboyega Oyetola, during a retreat with other ministers, said the ministry is embarking on the development of new ports and deep seaports in addition to the Lekki deep seaport.
He listed them to include Badagry, Ondo, Snake Island, Akwa Ibom, Bonny, and Burutu seaports. Oyetola said the ministry will also ensure the completion of Funtua Dry Port and Bonny Island Jetties by 2024, while Lokoja River Port and Jos Inland Dry Port will be completed by 2025.He disclosed that the ministry also intends to develop more inland dry ports across the country to decongest Apapa and Tin Can ports.
The former Executive Secretary/Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Hassan Bello, while appreciating that more ports are being established in the country, advised that ports should not be made to litter the country without a specific purpose.
Bello said the government should not be building ports like constituency projects but for their viability and ability to compete with other global ports.
“Ports are as good as the cargoes that they can attract, otherwise, we will have white elephant projects. We build infrastructure without that connection. The Baro River Port was commissioned by President Muhammadu Buhari about three or four years back, but not a container loaded there. This is because there is no access road.
“The cargoes that the port attracts make it what it should be. It should have integration. We should not just build ports because we have water. Our ports must be efficient and competitive,” he said.
He said competition is critical to port development of any nation, maintaining that for the ports to assume that expected standard, they must be smart, efficient and not be import dependent. Bello said Nigeria’s ports are built to keep receiving, noting that any nation that does that alone will die.
“We should build ports that will emphasise export. All our ports are not configured for export. They are just there to receive. When are we going to start exporting? We either export or we perish. How do we address the foreign exchange? How do we diversify the economy?” he stated.
Speaking further, Bello called on the Federal Government to provide requisite infrastructure for an efficient port, but admonished that it should be left to the private sector to run for a desired goal.
Also at the ministers’ retreat, Oyetola said the structures of the major ports are almost collapsing, having been neglected over the years, while the droughts are too shallow between nine and 13 metres, thereby making it impossible to accommodate bigger vessels.
He said the port of Lome is 16.5m, Ghana is 15.8m and Cameroon 16. 2m, adding that cargoes meant for Nigeria are taken to these ports because of their drought levels and are transshipped to Nigeria, saying the reverse should have been the case.
The minister said the ministry is embarking on massive rehabilitation of the ports, which is expected to cost $1 billion for the six seaports, while also carrying out massive dredging of the ports to ensure navigability and perhaps increase the drought level.
The Convener of the National Discourse, Kelvin Kagbare, in his opening remarks, said with many state governments showing interests in the development of deep seaports, there should be purposeful engagement towards achieving a quick break in reinventing the nation’s ports and maritime transport economy.
Kagbare said the completion of these deep sea ports will raise Nigeria’s hub status and actualise the dream of providing the needed logistics linkages for the West African corridor and its landlocked countries such as Mali, Chad and Niger Republic.
According to him, building deep sea ports is perhaps the easiest of the tasks, noting that those driving the ideas should also ensure to make them function optimally as viable ventures, aside conferring some measure of regional political power on Nigeria.
“Our infrastructure, the rail, roads, electricity, water, drainages, training institutions that will make our ports efficient and competitive and hence attractive to ports users within the sub region without the required capacities, will be like winking in the dark,” he said.
He said since January 2023 when former President, Muhammadu Buhari, commissioned the Lekki deep seaport for commercial operations, the railway connectivity as a critical nexus has been subsumed under trite and inferior contingencies that wet the appetites of political office holders.