By Kenneth Jukpor
Dr. Obiora Madu is the Director- General of Multimix Academy. In this interview with MMS Plus, he explains how the recent executive order on port operations could be realized. Dr. Obiora also highlights the place of a freight forwarder in creating awareness of the Cargo Defence Fund, proffers solutions to securing the nations ports and more. This interview was conducted when the Secretary of Cargo Defence Fund paid a courtesy visit to Multimix Academy.
How realistic is the executive directive on port operations, which stipulates 24 hours port operation and 24 hours cargo clearance?
Is it possible to achieve 24 hours port operations in Nigeria? Yes! How realistic is this presidential directive as stipulated to take effect 30 days? I can’t answer that because the Nigerian environment is in such a state where things that works in other climes doesn’t work here.
However, given the amount of revenue that the Federal Government gets from the two major ports in Lagos, that is Tin Can port and Apapa port, we should never have gotten to the level we are at, in terms of accessibility to the ports.
The logistics performance index of the World Bank shows that Nigeria is retrogressing on the ease of doing business. Accessibility is a major thing when you talk about the ease of doing business in Nigerian ports as it enhances the ease of the imports and exports. How do you talk about timeliness when it is practically impossible to access the port? It is achievable but things have to be done differently. This isn’t the first time that we have heard orders from the government on 24 hours operation of the port or 24 hours cargo clearance time. Several books have been written on how to make this work but the fact is that it would take a radical position from the government to achieve this.
For example, it only takes the Federal Government the will and funding to call a construction company and give them specific timelines to fix the Apapa port access road. It only took six weeks to complete the Abuja Airport runaway repairs because the government was willing to fix it. The onus rests on the Federal Government to prove that it has the will to get the job done. The government only requires the same determination it used to sign the executive order to effect the needed changes and the nation’s port sector could be on its way to complete transformation.
We have already started the count-down to the 30 days and twenty days have passed. We need to see changes even if we don’t complete the transformation in 30 days. Port stakeholders can take solace in the fact that the government has genuine intentions to develop the port sector when we see developments. Is the Federal Government genuinely interested in the realization of the executive order? Nigeria is running a wholly government driven economy when it should be the private sector driving the economy. The state of the economy is not healthy because the private sector is almost dead.
The secretary of Cargo Defence Fund has highlighted several benefits of the fund to importers/ exporters. What role can the freight forwarders play in this?
Freight forwarders can be very crucial to the dissemination and creating awareness of the Cargo Defense Fund. Without freight forwarders international trade cannot happen and this puts them in a good position to advise their clients to patronize the Cargo Defence Fund. In my opinion, I would say that a good freight forwarder should decide to include the fees for the registration of Cargo Defence Fund in his charges because it ensures that their clients would never be out of business.
One of the major challenges facing the Cargo Defence Fund is lack of publicity. We were talking to bankers few minutes ago and many of them were just hearing about the Cargo Defence Fund for the first time. Nevertheless, the Fund has enormous benefits for importers and exporters. I can’t count the number of exporters I know that have burnt their fingers in the business of exporting. Nigeria is always bargaining from a weak position and foreigners always going exploit this disadvantage.
The Cargo Defence Fund should be made compulsory by the government for those who engage in import and export because it can be very crucial to providing some form of stability for these people. The registration fee is also minimal when compared to the charges by most insurance companies. So, the Fund can help keep businesses afloat, thereby stabilizing the nation’s economy.
How would you appraise the Nigerian Maritime industry at the moment?
The Nigerian maritime industry is a gold mine that the nation is yet to fully exploit because of its over-dependence on the oil and gas sector. However, without the maritime industry, oil and gas products cannot be exported. Everybody is focusing on the oil and gas sector despite the numerous potentials of the maritime sector.
Nigeria needs to turn around and invest in the maritime sector to be able to reap the inherent enormous potentials. Geographically, Nigeria is strategically located to be a logistics hub in Africa but we aren’t taking advantage of this. While other nations survive on the activities of their ports, Nigeria has no regard for the ports and this explains the dilapidated state of the port roads and other port infrastructure.
The draft of Nigerian ports is low and this results to extra cost as ships have to berth at the high-sea for transshipment someone may argue that this creates business for those who have batches but the truth is that it adds to the cost of the product.
We need to strategic on how we want to develop the maritime industry. This is not something that could happen in a twinkle of an eye but we should work towards achieving this. The nation is earning revenue from maritime activities at the moment but it could be much better when we harness the sector.
Should Nigeria concentrate on dredging the existing ports to obtaining deeper draft or focus on developing new deep seaports?
The first question is whether the existing ports have the capacity to attain deeper draft. However, I think Nigeria has to start planning. Ports in Calabar, Delta, Rivers States are underutilized and we are not making provision to move cargoes from Lagos ports to these ports via the waterways. One begins to wonder why we have such ports. This has been part of the challenges in the Nigerian maritime sector as it is difficult to get goods outside Lagos. Why should someone in or around Calabar have to use the Lagos and hire trucks to convey containers from Lagos when there are ports in Calabar? The cost of trucking in Nigeria is such that it could be more expensive to transport the container from Lagos to Calabar than to bring the container from Europe to Nigeria.
The nation’s economy isn’t competitive and the government needs to invest in infrastructure so that private sector can thrive. It is not the responsibility of private sector individuals to provide the infrastructure. This leads to the issue of policy inconsistencies. When you agree with the government on certain issues and another government comes in to change everything, discarding previous agreement. People lose their investment as a result of such policy instability.
Nigeria is planning to get into the Category “C” of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Council. How significant is this to the nation’s maritime sector?
For a nation with vast resources in maritime, Nigeria has to be at the IMO council. However, it is not because of the size of the nation, Nigeria has to partner with other nations. We have to be strategic in developing maritime activities in the country and contribute to the development of the sector in the African region.
In the last three months, two containers loaded with pump- action rifles have been seized at Tin- Can and Apapa ports highlighting the porosity of Nigerian ports. What is your appraisal of the security of the nation’s ports?
People engage in such activities because they know that it may be possible to escape. If we had a system where these containers are scanned properly at the port of origin and destination, these activities would be curbed. The utilization of the Pre- Arrival –Assessment –Report (PAAR) could also eliminate these practices but it is unfortunate that the challenge of greed, the zeal of dubious politicians have led to the influx of such ammunition.
If people keep attempting to import these, it means so many have been able to escape unnoticed. I think this means we need to improve on the nation’s scanning technology and be uptight about security at the ports. Once people know that such things won’t pass, the practice would come to an end.
As a training institution in the Transport sector and logistics and supply chain, how has Multimix Academy fared in spite of the tough economic times?
The economy has been tough but if you have a good outlook and you continue to restructure you would be able to live through the hard times to see the good times when they come. Multimix has made efforts to initiate several new programmes which continue to give us the edge as a training institution.