Nigerian Minister of Transportation to make sea ports in Eastern gateway more attractive for importers

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By Joy Odor

As part of efforts to make the sea ports more attractive and ultimately decongest activities at the Apapa port, the Federal Government is considering some incentives that will make importers to patronized Eastern ports.

The Minister of Transportation, Mr Chibuike Amaechi stated this in a Ministerial Press Briefing on the Programmes, Policies, Projects and Initiatives of the Ministry and its Agencies for 2021 in Abuja on Thursday.

Represented by the Minister of State for Transportation, Ms Gbemisola Ruqoayyah Saraki, Mr Amaechi affirmed that the Ministry is putting incentives in place to make sea ports in the Eastern gateway including the ports in Onne, Warri Calabar and Onitsha more attractive to importers.

The Minister, who asserted that security is the fundamental to an effective and efficient transport system in the country noted that the physical infrastructure as well as security architecture is critical to a safe and sustainable transport system.

According to the Minister, “There have been series of canalization and theft of railway assets and equipment. The latest is the attack on the Abuja-Kaduna rail corridor.

“Within the period under review -6 High-Tech Toyota Hilux Patrol vehicles were donated by the Ministry to the Nigerian Railway Corporation, NRC to safeguard the Abuja-Kaduna Rail corridor. There are further interventions being proposed for rail security awaiting cabinet approval”

Mr Amaechi noted that despite myriad of challenges ranging from insecurity, operational challenges, inadequate funding, among others, the Ministry has recorded significant achievements in the rail subsector with the habilitation, construction and expansion of railway line within Nigeria and neighbouring countries.

Speaking with journalists at the end of the briefing, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, Dr. Magdalene Ajani said the Federal Government is not in a position to force importers to use the ports in the Eastern part of the country.

She opined that as part of efforts to make those ports more attractive and ultimately decongest activities at the Apapa port, the federal government is consideration some incentives which will make importers to patronize those Eastern ports.

“We are speaking with other agencies with presence in the port to see what they can also do to encourage importers to use the Eastern ports. So the desire of this administration and one of the things we’re working on as a ministry is to make sure that we have functional ports virtually all over the country. And in the places where we do not have ports, the inland dry ports are there and you can sit where you are and ship your goods and receive your goods to the closest inland dry port with the rail lines coming on now integrating water land transportation. This is very possible and doable” she said.

Throwing more light on the some of the constrains militating more patronage of the Eastern ports, the Managing Director or Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), Alhaji Mohammed Bello-Koko informed that the traffic at the Port Harcourt Onne port has tremendously improved while an oil pipeline buried 8 feet below the Warri port makes it difficult to properly dredge it.

He said, “We cannot tell importers which port to use to bring their goods. Recently the Federal Ministry of Transport, working with Nigerian ports authority went for sensitization to tell importers, that you have ports just near you, for instance, in Port Hacourt, or Calabar which is barely 60 or 66 kilometers away from those in the Northeast and for those in other parts of the country Delta port. Now we understand the limitations and problems with those ports and we are working on the limitations.

“For instance, in Delta port, the breakwater had collapsed for over 10 years ago. The breakwater is an engineering structure above sea that is supposed to stop siltation, migration of silt into the main channel and it collapsed over 10 years ago. What we have done is doing the study and we hope that after that, we will start working on the procurement of that structure. But that structure is extremely expensive, it is one of the most expensive structures, it runs into estimated cost of over some hundreds of millions of dollars, so it would be probably a national project.

“The other issue in the Delta Port, there’s an active NNPC pipe that is buried on that ground. That channel is about 7.5 meters if I’m right, let’s call it eight meters. So it means you cannot dredge it lower than eight meters or less. Either NNPC removes the pipe or something happens and that has brought limitations in the size of vessels that comes into that location”.

“The third problem is the length of the channel from the fairway to Warri is over 100 kilometers. So it means that when the vessel comes offshore from the beginning of the tunnel to the end is far and probably that had made the cost of bringing vessels into that place very difficult” he noted.

The NPA boss explained that the length of the channel has made the dredging of the Calabar port very expensive for closer berthing of vessels.

“Calabar port has the longest channel of over 110 to 119 kilometers from the fairway to the port itself. So that means the cost of dredging the location is extremely high. Currently, there’s litigation that has stopped us from dredging that and the Ministry of Transport and NPA are working to resolve that. And like I had mentioned initially, the ministry is driving the process of rehabilitation of the infrastructure from Lagos port to Calabar.

“Moving to the east, we have seen in the past few months, let’s say nine months to one year, a tremendous increase in activity in Onne container terminal. NPA actually expanded the size of the parking bays and so on and so forth. What it means is more businesses coming in, businesses have started coming back also because of the reputation there. So we encourage Nigerians importers and exporters to please utilize the locations.

“There was a time we had given rebates to shipping lines to encourage them to use flat bottom vessels to come into Calabar but that rebate did not trickle down to the importers. So we will work with the ministry to come up with something that will encourage them, we’ll get their input in terms of reduction in cost or whatever it is. We are working on that, we will get the necessary approvals if we can come up with something and probably that will endear the importers and also the exporters to use them” he stressed.

Contributing, the Head of other agencies in the Transportation Sector took time to present their score card.

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