By Kenneth Jukpor
Rotimi Amaechi is a man who divides opinion in the Nigerian political arena. He made some landmark achievements during his stint as the governor of Rivers state, but he triggered a national political realignment when he walked out of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in November 2013. His new party, All Progressives Congress (APC) got into power, and the former Governor has been saddled with the management of the nation’s transport sector as Minister of Transportation in the last four years.
Amaechi has been outspoken, bold and brash. He has also brought his passion and punctuality to the Ministry. What has he achieved for the transport sector in the last few years? If one is to judge him by what he should have done, or based on the many promises he made in the early weeks and months as Minister; what would he score? MMS Plus takes a look!
Under Amaechi’s leadership the pursuit of the Railway Revitalization Agenda was prioritized by the Federal Government. There are results to show for intensified efforts by the government as cargo evacuation now takes place via the rail from Apapa to other locations and most recently to Kaduna Dry Port. However, Amaechi’s dream of establishing a railway facility that interconnects the entire nation is still far from the reality.
Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) which was almost moribund in the past, now has about 15 functional locomotive engines used in operating passenger and goods train services throughout the narrow gauge railway line. The engines are used to operate the Lagos to Kano passenger train service and the Lagos Mass Transit Train (LMTT) service as well as goods train service for clients like Lafarge, Flower Mills, WAPCO amongst others. NRC also evacuates containers from the Apapa port to depots at Ajuba in Ebute-Metta Junction, Ijoko in Ogun state and Omiadio in Oyo state.
While the demands for both passengers and freight services are still beyond the delivery of NRC, Amaechi’s promises on the completion of the Lagos-Ibadan railway hasn’t been kept. He said it would be completed in 2018; only to say last week that the project would be completed by December 2019.
National Carrier (Ships)
In his first few weeks as Minister, Amaechi proclaimed that in one year, he would return the nation to its glorious historic days of owning vessels. The Minister wasn’t bluffing as he made the assertion brimming with passion and excitement with the level of development the shipping sector could record with the availability of a national carrier. The problem he didn’t envisage was that ship finance had to be private sector driven and the fiscal policies in the sector would stifle such investments.
The move to actualize a national carrier seemingly reached the peak when the Minister led a delegation to sign an agreement with Singaporean shipping firm, Pacific International Lines (PIL). PIL reportedly pulled out because the Nigerian fiscal policy does not make an establishment where fleet of that nature will be competitive in global trade. However, Amaechi continues to lament that indigenous ship-owners have been unable to source 60% of the finance required to acquire vessels, despite his efforts to get PIL agree to provide the other 40%.
Cabotage & CVFF
Despite having several meetings with ship-owners and getting them to have a common front known as ‘Nigerian Ship-owners Forum’, indigenous shipping hasn’t really thrived to commensurate with the volume of engagements the operators have had with the government. Cabotage trade is barely surviving as few indigenous operators manage to stay above waters.
On the aspect of disbursing the Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund (CVFF), the Minister has threaded cautiously to the extent that his caution has become annoying to ship-owners. He has been unable to develop a template to allow ship-owners access to the fund. CVFF has been inaccessible under Amaechi’s leadership.
While the Minister and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) have allegedly been engaging with government at the highest level to push for special intervention fund, special interest rate and other incentives that will drive optimal performance in the sector, the inaccessibility of the fund means that few Nigerians will get involved in shipping, especially, in shipping operations. Fewer Nigerian cadets would have access to seatime training onboard vessels which is crucial for their Certificate of Competency (CoC).
Ship-owners are not happy that the CVFF disbursement has suffered undue delays as they continue to demand for the fund disbursement. Some operators claim that the government is playing an unacceptable politics with the CVFF, which is a dedicated fund for fleet development.
Port Access Roads
When the Minister paid his maiden visit to maritime agencies in Lagos as Transport Minister, MMS Plus published a lead article titled: Apapa Gridlock: “Arrest Amaechi”. The traffic situation at the port was so appalling that the article was published to draw his attention to the problem. Interestingly, when Amaechi received this publication he quickly told our correspondent that the Minister of Works should be held liable for the state of the roads.
At that time, the House of Representatives led by Hon. Yakubu Dogara was working on getting the buy in of the Presidency to declare a State of Emergency on Apapa port access roads. Dogara believed that such development would see the executive arm of the government accord Apapa access roads the deserving national attention given its deplorable and inaccessible state.
Nearly four years after, and just last week, the presidency issued a directive that the port access roads be cleared in two weeks as the problem remains just as bad. However, there are ongoing constructions of the Tin Can – Mile 2 stretch, while the Apapa-Wharf road has been reconstructed.
The 8th National Assembly comes to end in few days, precisely on June 8, 2019, with over 500 pending Bills in the National Assembly. For the transport sector, there is nothing of note to celebrate as several crucial transport sector bills are set to evade passage despite assurances by the Minister, Senate Committees and the colossal sums spent by the regulatory agencies to engage and enlighten the legislature on the importance of these bills.
Crucial bills like the Ports and Harbours bill, National Transport Commission bill, Anti-Piracy bill, Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) bill, the Chartered Institute of Shipping of Nigeria (CISN) bill; the Bill Establishing the Economic Regulator (shipping sector); the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) bill; the Maritime Security Agency bill; and Nigeria Railway bill, the Maritime Zones bill, among others are yet to be signed into law.
The passage of some of these bills such as NTC, Ports and Habours and Anti-piracy bill could usher-in significant changes in the transport sector that could have been sufficient to give Amaechi bragging rights as an achiever in the sector.
Nigeria has an inland waterway that is more than 10,000 km. It is also instructive that these principal navigable waterways link Apapa, Tin Can, Warri, Port Harcourt, Onne, and Calabar seaports and the numerous river ports and jetties.
Amaechi tasked NIWA on delivery of its mandate, specifically on some projects within the purview of the inland waterways authority. He prodded the Authority to ensure the completion of projects including: the dredging of the River Niger, concession of Onitsha River Port, and the construction of new river ports across the country. He also urged NIWA to ensure the completion of work on the river ports in Baro, Lokoja and Oguta before the end of President Mohammadu Buhari’s administration.
The commissioning of Baro Port was achieved earlier this year and it has huge economic benefits for the host community, Niger State and the nation at large. The movement of goods, passengers and services would definitely be enhanced with this facility. However, Onitsha and Lokoja river ports haven’t recorded such success. Only the disaster of the Apapa port access roads rather than the viability of the waterways forced few companies to utilize barges.
The transport of people via waterways is still relatively low while several cases of boat mishaps continue to be recorded across the nation. Although NIWA has been preaching safety even as the Authority has lofty plans for the industry, they are at best – still birth plans. This explains Amaechi’s tenure, loads of passion, good intentions, plans and strategies, numerous meetings and activities but few results and less impact on the sector.