The international trade between Nigeria and the West and Central African countries has virtually grinded to a halt following the closure of borders by Cameroun and other countries to stem the spread of the dreaded Ebola Virus Disease(EVD) and to as well check the insecurity posed by the Boko Haram sect in their territories.
In Calabar, Cross River State, while no casualty from the dreaded Ebola and the Boko Haram scourge has been recorded yet, the virus has exerted enormous toll on the economic life of the people.
Maritime operations at the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) jetty that handles the West Coast vessels that ships goods and passengers to and from the West and Central African countries have become a ghost-town, without any economic activities.
A visit by our South-south Correspondent to NIWA jetty along Marina, Calabar, and Uyo saw activities at the usually busy port throughout weeks at zero level with almost all the warehouses and transit sheds under lock and keys with no one in sight. The transporters who use to mill around conveying departing and arriving passengers and goods now seek other means of livelihood.
One of the shipping agents, who identified himself as Ekpenyong, lamented the hardship they were facing to get transport to and from the office as no transporter plies the route within the period. The security agencies from the Nigeria Immigration Service, the Nigeria Police and the Nigeria Customs Service officials attached to the jetty were left with little to do in absence of cargoes and passengers following the border closure.
In an interaction with a Customs officer at the jetty, who craved anonymity, he confirmed that ‘even smugglers are affected as we have not made any arrest or seizures within the one month period the border closure has lasted.’ For the eatery operators, only the civil servants remain as their clients without sales.
At one of the transit sheds, a man who simply gave his name as Ada, pointed out that they are facing losses of some of the perishable goods they would have exported within this period have perished and blamed it on Ebola scare and the Boko Haram insurgency which have forced Cameroun and other countries they transact business with to close their borders. Ada, however expressed the hope that it might not take long again for the borders to re-open. Outside this, operations at the main port of Calabar and other oil jetties were not seen to be affected as tankers were busy queuing for normal business.
Attempt to speak with the Calabar Area Manager of NIWA failed as he was not around and could not be contacted on phone at the time of filing this report.
Ebola Virus is a dreaded disease formerly called Ebola Haemorrhagic Fever (EHF) is a severe, often fatal illness in humans with high risk of death, killing between 50 per cent and 90 per cent with the virus. At the moment it is without cure. But recent research shows the hope that drugs that have been identified will soon be available in the public before the end of 2014 for experiment. Meanwhile, it has killed 2,300 victims within West Africa countries of Liberia, Guinea, Sierra- Leone and Nigeria.
It has also led to the closure of border closures, and restriction of movement by air, sea and land among the countries with afflicted people.
There has also been a growing concern about the increase in freight rates and insurance premium on vessels coming into Nigeria by foreign shipping lines because the countries affected have been classified as high risk zone.
For maritime sector, EVD and Boko Haram insurgency are ill- winds that blow maritime activities no good.
In another development, transport sector in Akwa Ibom State is to undergo serious reforms to comply with international best practices given the wind of uncommon transformation that has swept across the state.
This hint was dropped by the Commissioner for Transport, Prince Godwin Ntukudeh, during a meeting with the Proprietors of Driving Schools in the State recently, in which the proprietors were urged to register their schools with the government and upgrade their curriculum to train drivers to cope with modern developments in traffic rules and regulations. He announced the plan to make it statutorily mandatory for drivers to pass through government approved driving school for Federal Road Safety Corps(FRSC) to issue driver’s licence.
As part of the plans to chart the way forward for the driving sub-sector, the Commissioner disclosed plans to host tourism seminar and to flood the streets with branded buses that will ply the Willington Bassey Way to ease commuter movement.
Prince Ntukudeh decried the reckless driving on the roads due to drivers who never had proper training from approved driving schools and pointed out sight impairment, age and state of health of the drivers as some of the problems which must be taken into consideration before anyone is admitted for training.
The Commissioner also called on the proprietors to employ qualified professionals to teach morals and ethics that will guide the drivers to nip in the bud every observable unwholesome practices.
Speaking further, the Commissioner described the proprietors of driving schools as ‘linking chain in the wheel of progress and the meeting as a synergy between the proprietors and the Ministry of Transport aimed at fighting the virus of road mishaps to make ours roads safe and comfortable for all users’.
Earlier, the State Ministry of Transport has ordered a biometric data capturing of all operators of means of transport in the state on land and waterways for purposes of security and to create a level playing field for tourism, travelers and investors to feel at home and make the state a destination of choice.
Commissioner Ntukudeh also announced the formation of a six-man committee, comprising three members from the proprietors, two from the Ministry of Transport and one representative from the Federal Road Safety Corps. The committee has as a responsibility to fashion out rules and regulations to ensure safety on roads and to draw up plans for acceptable mode of transport operation in the state and called for cooperation of all in the sector.
Earlier in his address, the president of Proprietors of Driving Schools, Akparawa Eakins, thanked the Commissioner for his proactive approach to bring sanity into the transport sector and for recognizing proprietors in the scheme of things. He pledged to support the government in all its laudable policies.
In another meeting with the transport Stakeholders, Prince Ntukudeh commended the stakeholders for complying with the government instruction to relocate to approved parks, urging them to maintain their support for the government to succeed.
Representatives of Transport Stakeholders comprising
and more witnessed the commissioner handing over key of a Hiace bus donated by the state government to the president of Tricycle Union Comrade Sunny Enang.