When Security operatives at Malam Aminu Kano International Airport seized a plane loaded with arms bound for N’djamena, capital of the Republic of Chad at about 2am on the 7th of December 2014 the Nigerian Federal government said it was in no hurry to released the aircraft which departed from Bangui in Central African Republic, and was alleged to have landed in Kano after a technical problem it encountered while airborne.
Reports had it that a top military personnel said the government’s action includes using diplomatic means to unravel the mission of the impounded suspicious Russian-made Antonov aircraft, its origin and destination to ascertain those behind the impounded aircraft that was loaded with various types of arms including AK- 47 rifles, military hardware and two helicopters inside the plane.
Barely a week later, on the 9th, the Nigerian government ordered the release of the cargo plane carrying assorted military hardware, along with two French officers and 18 Russian crew members, after a statement from French Ambassador Jacques Champagne de Labriolle who claimed the cargo plane rerouted because of heavy air traffic at N’Djamena, the Chad capital. The French Embassy in Nigeria said the aircraft had received diplomatic clearance to stop in Kano. From indications, earlier reports that the cargo plane had in-flight technical problems which caused the plane to make a forced landing were apparently false.
The destination of the aircraft has raised concerns amid increasing worries in Nigeria over Chad’s alleged role in the Boko Haram insurgency plaguing Nigeria’s northwest. Even as a former governor of Borno State, Modu Sheriff, visited and inspected the plane late that night with no clear reason but there were suggestions he might have lobbied for the release of the plane and according to media reports, this is the third time since 2009 that planes loaded with arms would be arrested in Kano.
Now that Kano has been made the Inland Container Depot (ICD) for transit cargo to land locked countries of Niger and Chad the security implications remains to be considered. Legal adviser to the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Barr. Fred Akokia said, “Especially now, with the CTN, there are no implications, transit cargos to land locked countries are usually allowed under the International Maritime Organization (IMO) convention to use the ports of adjourning countries to move their cargo. Since the final use of the goods will not be in that port country.”
He noted, “The cargo passes through a corridor called the LAKAJI corridor that is Lagos, Kano, Jibia, and from Jibia they are moved to the final destination which is Niger republic as the case may be in the case of Kano transit cargo. So if they are passing through this corridor there are laid down custom procedures under the Niger – Nigeria joint trade commission. This agreement is supposed to facilitate this kind of movement of goods because they are not supposed to be inspected here; they go through a corridor that is well defined. Before now they used trucks but now they use rails to move these cargo from Lagos to Kano and then with trucks they are exited through Jibia border and then to Niger. Any cargo that is of use anywhere in Nigeria of course will be examined at the ports but this cargos are special because they are transit cargo.”
On the management of zonal ports by the state as a solution to inefficiency in Nigeria port management system Fred said, “The management of the port is a federal responsibility but if on a state level, a state is building a port, the people will manage it on behalf of the Federal Government, they cannot operate in isolation because there has always been a port in authority in operation at the Calabar port, but the fact is that the state government is the one building the deep sea port, so they have a stake and therefore will be involved in the management.
“For instance, the concessionaires at the port here are managing the aspect that is concessioned to them while NPA is still the land lord that still overseas their activities in accordance with the policies of government law so that they are not left alone to just do what they like. In the same way that is what is happening in Calabar port. They are building it themselves but management of ports in Nigerian territory is the exclusive responsibility of NPA.”
A renowned shipping industry practitioner who prefers anonymity said, “ Outside of the draft limitations, the Calabar ports is central to ICDs that are established in strategic places in the north that can serve the landlocked countries of Niger and Chad, it is also a shuttle distance from Cameroun. If we have ICDs with customs operations in these locations, this means that the man in Kano does not need to come to Calabar to clear his cargo he goes to one of the ICDs in Kano to clear his goods all we need is very efficient evacuation plan.
“When cargo for the north comes through the rail it can be taken to the north to those ICDs. With this Lagos will be decongested. A lot of cargo is designed for the eastern zone but because there is lack of an efficient port system in the eastern zone, these cargos are moved by road exposing them to lots of risks and causing wear and tear to the roads itself. But if we have an efficient capital and maintenance dredging system, vessels can come directly from Asia to Calabar and from Calabar it will be easier to reach ICDs in close proximity by rail.
“It will be a very effective process; if possible the channel should be dredged to a minimum of 13metres depth, so that the port can actually take in bigger vessels.
The government really needs to look at this because Calabar has the prospect of becoming a trans-shipment hub for Niger because it is closer, the critical limiting factor is the draft, Calabar has the potential for a transshipment port for land locked countries like Niger and chad but not with the current draft. Today no container line goes to Calabar not because there is no market but because of the draft, the trend now in shipping is the use of bigger vessels. So the government really needs to look at ports outside Lagos, develop their infrastructure to the level that can support an efficient and effective ports operations system to build the economy and enhance safety and security. He said.
Yet, this would not be the first time seizure of arms shipments would cause controversy in Nigeria. The most recent was the sentencing of an alleged member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard alongside a Nigerian accomplice to five years in prison in May last year over an illegal shipment of mortars and rockets seized in the main port of Lagos in 2010.
Also, Nigeria’s decaying railway system has witnessed several attempts to revive its operations. However, years of neglect of the rolling stock and the right-of-way have seriously reduced the capacity and utility of the system and in line with its plan to revive the sector, the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) commenced the movement of container freights from APM Terminals in Apapa, Lagos to Inland Container Nigeria Depots (ICDs) in Kaduna and Kano. The operation was expected to help in de-congesting transportation as well as facilitate the establishment and use of Inland Container Depots (ICD) along the track corridors.
Meanwhile, if the Calabar deep sea port project succeeds it will serve as a milestone in the development of maritime in the country and not only will it open up new trade channels it will help to check the security challenges of the country through a more controlled mechanism for trans shipment to other countries.