Recently, the Federal Ministry of Transport in collaboration with the Union of African Shippers’ Council(UASC) held a sub-regional interactive forum on infrastructure development and maintenance; funding options and trade policies in Abuja, Nigeria. Alhaji Ahmed Rabiu, Chairman of Dala Inland Dry Port Nigeria Limited, Kano was in attendance. He spoke with MMS Plus and talks on why some of the nation’s dry port projects are yet to take off. He rates Dala dry port as the best so far. Excerpt:
What is your assessment of what has happened?
It was an awesome and inspiring event. What is important at all times is reviewing how circumstances in Africa and coming up with strategies that will help us exploit adequately the resources that abound within our continent. We are lucky that we have seen Europe increasingly coming together, though lately, there have been the exit of Britain from the euro-zone, the Brexit, but we also know the politics behind it and despite this development, we have seen that Europe remains more united. We need the unity in Africa just as it is in Europe.
I attended the very first Union of African Shippers’ Council (UASC) meeting which held at Ghana, and I have attended so many others since then. I always appreciate the kind of concern that is shown by the delegates from each country recognizing that one of our major challenges is transportation and that is why I must commend the management and staff of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council for keeping the flag flying. Transportation issues are key and fundamental. Trade policies no matter how encouraging they are, if the goods can’t be delivered or the individual can’t access them, they cannot reach the ultimate destination where the final consumer will pay for them; definitely they will be useless and no benefit would be derived.
There are about five to six transportation channels- the land comprising truck and motor vehicles, the railways, airways, sea transport and piping. In Africa, we could pipe certain products that are liquid from one end of Africa to the other end of the continent because I am aware of certain pipelines that traverse the United States which covers much more than the entire African continent. I trust if we have the right commitment, we can lay such pipes so, refined crude products anywhere in Africa can hit a target in another country with minimum efforts and we can do that. Even neighboring countries don’t have such kind of leakages. I believe that the earlier we begin to exploit all these transportation facilities the better for us. So, we must appreciate the Nigerian Shippers’ Council for keeping the dates and the Nigerian flag flying.
What is the situation on ground in the area of funding and development in the Dala dry port project?
There is virtually nothing that we do not have. When we did a feasibility some years back, I happened to be among the steering committee members, then, I was the Group Financial Controller of Dantata Organizations. Then, there were so many new generation banks and we have the African Development Bank(ADB) and so many other financing agencies across the continent. The major issues are that of capacity. One of the points I always keep making is that we need to educate, in a very big way, our key stakeholders in all sectors for them to have the requisite capacity and for them to appreciate what we used to do before, like getting experts from abroad. Now, we have experts from within our own country. Just look, if you cannot get in your immediate environment, look around Nigeria and also Nigerians in the diaspora. Go into partnership and you will be able to grow your enterprise in a way that it will have a strong management that can access any facility and even to support the government in terms of making policy recommendations.
What area of capacity are you talking about; is it human capacity or is it the capacity to manage the project?
We are talking about the capacity to access funds! For instance, President Mohammadu Buhari’s government came in with about five special financing support vehicles and all of them require one form of capacity or the other by the stakeholders before the individual can access it. Anybody, though a Nigerian is entitled to it, if he does not have the capacity he cannot access it. So far, a company that is going to access those resources is required to have an accountant, an engineer and meet several other criteria and appear to be safe for hosting that investment or money. Only then, can he be allowed to access the money. That is what I’m talking about. You find somebody who claims to be the Chief Executive or Chairman and he holds everything, like a small business. How can you give that kind of person the money? He will ask a million times, they will not give.
The ICDs have taken a new look from what it used to be many years back and I must say congratulations for that. From the point of view of DALA, what are the developments?
I can tell you with all humility that DALA is the most attractive of all the projects because we have all the reasons to be the most successful by virtue of our location and we are already far ahead of the others. We have gotten everything we need. The only limitation we have to get started has been the issue of declaration and we have not gotten that declaration because of policy summersault, majorly as a result of instability such as the frequent changes in the head of the Ministry of Transport. There has been reasonable stability in the Nigerian Shippers’ Council because since Adebayo Sarumi left, the Council has only been headed by Captain Adamu Biu and presently, Hassan Bello. Hassan is an in-house person and luckily, he was part of all the major things that happened. He has always been committed to the drive of projects and now that he is Chief Executive, he has also shown much more commitment to the acceleration of projects and we are happy with that.
However, at the level of the ministry there have been a lot of changes. As a result of this, there has been an alarming degree of loss of knowledgeable workers. The Minister, who is a friend of mine, doesn’t seem to appreciate why our declaration has to happen. He has forgotten this project did not just start yesterday. It has been in existence for more than fifteen (15) years which is a very long time ago. If we speak to him that this is what we need, he must oblige to what we need if he is interested in the project.
On the issue of landlocked countries in Africa, we are talking about bringing Niger and Chad back to the system. When that happens, how does it affect your own corridor at that end?
We are already part of the skyview corridor and therefore we are definitely beneficiaries of all the arrangements. We are the people that lost when they were diverted to Benin. We have been canvassing for them to come back to Nigeria and we believe that by the time they resume bringing their cargo to Nigeria everything will be better for all of us; and we will get all the benefits. Already, quite a lot of goods in those landlocked countries are from us, they come to Kano to buy and so if the other imported cargo comes through Kano, it makes life easier for all to them.
In your place now, DALA has been designated a port of destination…
We have been waiting for the Minister of Transport to declare the port as port of origin and destination, but that declaration, the current Minister does not seems to understand because he is new. He has been misinformed and by virtue of that he’s delaying and we’re putting pressure on him to understand that long before he came this thing has been in existence and the story cannot change with his arrival and he cannot also come with his opinion and insist that it is his opinion that will apply now because we signed the concession agreement more than ten (10) years ago and those legal documents have been in operation since that time and it has been acknowledged that the declaration was going to be done. It was done earlier on, there was a declaration of place in ICDs but it was supposed to have been declared the port of destination and port of origin and we have been on it for the past ten (10) years and we believe he will soon see reason and do the right thing.
How would that add value to the project?
Well, once it is declared, the project is home and dry. That has been the hindrance; because once it is not recognized at the port of destination and origin, you cannot ship cargo to it, you cannot also originate export from it and that is how it has been holding us back. So it has been a long outstanding issue which should be resolved speedily.
How about the rail angle to it?
We are along the rail line.
What about other ICDs that don’t have the advantage of the rail line?
Other ICDs are much behind us in terms of preparedness. We are very ready unlike them. It is one of the reasons why we are here and we are definitely putting pressure on the Minister to get to do the right thing.