As the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, described the two Lagos Port Complexes of Apapa and Tin Can Island as “overwhelmed and attained breaking points”, last week, it brings to fore the growing need to dissipate the woes of both ports.
Gbajabiamila made this known during the opening session of a public hearing to determine why the Warri, Port-Harcourt, Calabar, Onne and Onitsha River Port Complexes are not being put to maximal use.
One of the immediate options to decongest the Nigerian ports is the utilization of the Eastern ports in Port-Harcourt, Calabar, Onitsha, Onne and Warri.
The speaker who was represented by Deputy House Leader, Peter Akpatason had observed rightly that the Lagos ports are overstretched beyond their capacities and needs support of other ports for ease of doing business and improved economy.
Therefore, it should be welcoming news that the Chairman of the Ports Public Hearing Committee, Hon Yusuf Buba Yakub said that his committee is out to query and determine why some of the ports have been operating below expected capacities.
The committee, he further said, seeks to also question why the port situation has remained unpleasant in spite of the many efforts of government over the years at making the Nigerian ports virile. Such efforts he noted to be by way of building more port complexes, granting more concessions, including encouraging active involvement of the private sector in some aspects of operations in the maritime sector.
“What this means is that about five inland port complexes in Warri, Calabar, Onitsha, Port Harcourt and Onne have all failed to provide alternative or even consummate services to aid decongestion of two Lagos Ports Complexes,” he regretted.
In his contributions at the event, Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Transportation, Sabiu Zakari blamed the problems on security, lack of cooperation among agencies of government, multiple taxes, levies by some state government and depths of channels.
Zakari blamed the Cross Rivers State government and Local Government authorities for imposing levies that tend to discourage maritime operators.
As part of efforts to spur patronage at the Eastern ports, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) recently introduced 10% waiver in harbour dues for vessels heading to these ports, however, operators countinue to lament that the cost of hiring private security far outweighs the NPA discount. Are there measures the legislature could deploy to aid businesses at the Eastern ports? Would the recent tranquility in the region allow for improved patronage? How soon will we see a sizeable chunk of cargoes causing congestion in Lagos divert to other ports?