How Coastal Line Will Solve Desertion Of Port Harcourt Ports- Sambo

How Coastal Line Will Solve Desertion Of Port Harcourt Ports- Sambo

Engineer Mu’azu Jaji Sambo was the immediate past Minister of Transportation. In this interview with MMS Plus’ Publisher, Kingsley Anaroke shortly before his exit as Minister, he spoke about his short but impactful stint as minister, how he ran his office, his relationship with the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Transportation, Mrs Magdalene Ajani, among others.

He also spoke on the importance of the coastal line and how it connects all the port cities of Nigeria and that by it, all the port cities can be connected by rail thereby eliminating the desertion of the Port Harcourt Port. Excerpts

Looking Back At Your Journey At The Ministry Of Transportation, Any Regrets?

Apart from the fact that it is not proper spiritually to regret anything because you did not create yourself, you did not design the trajectory of your life, it is God that created you and put you in places and at times, in accordance with his will.

 So, if you are saying you regret it’s like you are challenging his will, that is from the faith aspect. But coming to reality also, there is nothing to make me regret my stay in the Ministry of Transportation. Not one thing. I don’t know if that satisfies you.

Relationship-Wise, How Will You Describe How You Related With People?

You know me from time immemorial that I am a team player. And when I came on board during the handing over, I told the management of the Ministry and by extension, other agencies that were listening to the handing over ceremony, that I’m a team player.

And I have not come to give anybody any trouble. But I made a caveat. If you give me one trouble, however, I will give you ten.

 Because in everything I do, it is ingrained in me to play like a member of a team. No one individual can make it succeed. It’s impossible. You need everybody’s input, from the lowest to the highest.

And so, my belief is that anybody who is wise enough and sees that his leader has extended an olive branch, he should accept that olive branch so that he too will succeed in his own assignment. So, to cut a long story short, if you listen to like you did, the message of my speech of yesterday, my advice to the new Council is to work as a team.

 And I always make sure that I’m guided by that. If I find in the course of my work that member of the team is not in sync with our objectives, I have a way of creating a detour to make sure that I achieve my goals without letting anybody drag me behind and without being offensive.

But you yourself will realize that you have not been helpful, even to yourself. And if you are wise, you will then have a change of course and come back. That has been my guiding principle.

As A Minister, What Is It Like Running The Ministry Every Day You Came To Work, When You Come, When Do You Leave? And All That Serially? How Do You Run Your Office?

How I run my office is how believe it ought to be run. Okay. We have a management beginning from the Permanent Secretary through to the directors, down the line to the cleaner.

Everybody has a role to play, and you relate with people based on their duties and schedules. It’s not all of them. In fact, there are a lot of them I haven’t met physically.

The person I always have direct contact with on a daily basis is the Permanent Secretary, who is the bureaucratic head of the Ministry and I have an excellent relationship with her. I must say she has been very, very supportive.

Bonny Deep Seaport, I Remember That Your Predecessor Went For Approval, But Somehow It Seems The Approval Didn’t Sail Through. What’s The Situation With Bonny Deep Seaport?

The Bonny Deep Seaport is still on course. Bonny Deep Seaport is part and parcel of the rehabilitation of the Port-Harcourt-Maiduguri Railway line.

It is supposed to be funded 85% by A Chinese concessionary loan from China Exim Bank, while the balance of 15% is to be provided under our appropriation. So far, all the work that is going on there is funded from the 15% appropriation. The 85% from the Chinese-Exim Bank has not been able to materialize.

And as we speak, the company, the contracting company CCECC is looking for alternative funding mechanisms based on commercial loans.

Now that will be subject to the review of both the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning and the Debt Management Office as well as the National Assembly.

To answer your question directly, the Bonny Deep Seaport is still on course. Bonny Deep Seaport is part and parcel of the rehabilitation of the Port-Harcourt-Maiduguri Railway line.

In The Railway Project, There Is This Concern On Security Issues That Came Up One Time. So, I Don’t Know How They’ve Been Able To Work On That Apart From The Funding Issue

…. Cuts In…. The railway projects themselves or the railway lines that are in operation.

When You Visited, You Hinted That They Had To Somehow Stop Working At A Point Because Of Some Security Challenges.

Yes, I think talking specifically about the Kaduna-Zaria-Zaria-Kano Rail Project because of insecurity between Kaduna and Zaria. So, the contractor had to start from Kano coming back to Kaduna. Towards Zaria.

Now insecurity has gone down along that axis. It’s almost gone completely. Again, the work is going on, but again, it’s from the 15% appropriation. The 85% is still being expected.

The Port-Harcourt- Maiduguri because of the insecurity in the northeastern region, they had to start from Port-Harcourt here, they’ve reached Aba, by the way. So, the project is ongoing. What is holding it? What is holding progress, as much as we would want, it’s just the funding that is yet to come.

I Think It’s Important To Put This Perspective Out There Because The News Out There Is That You Came And Suspended The Project  So, It’s Important To Hear This Now Only.  

I’m surprised because I went on a tour. I was in Port-Harcourt with journalists and we went to the railway project and we explained it to the journalists. I even asked questions.

I also heard somewhere some time ago that I was not interested in the coastal line. I was really shocked. Now, the coastal line is one of the most critical lines for Nigeria because it connects Lagos to Calabar, which therefore means you are going to kill like maybe two, or three birds with 1 stone.

Some of the issues we have regarding desertion of the Port-Harcourt port will be overtaken because I can then bring my cargo to Port-Harcourt and use the rail line, take it in the hinterland, or if the cargo is meant for Calabar, I put it on the rail line all the way to Calabar. Again, the problem with that particular line has been the total absence of funding.

Fortunately, we are now, because of our desire to have that line come on stream. We had a conversation that had started with my predecessors of subcontracting about 40% of that contract to a company that was willing to provide external finance.

They have produced a timesheet which the Federal Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning and the Debt Management Office are looking at as we speak.

And if all the negotiations are right and everything goes through, funds will come in and you will see that project come to come to light. I was very worried that a project that was approved since 2014 has not taken off. To tell you the truth, the Maiduguri-Port Harcourt Railway Project is ongoing and anybody who cares to confirm this can visit Port-Harcourt and Aba, the work has already gone substantially far.

If you look at the Kano-Kaduna rail, go from Kano to Zaria, you will see how far progress has gone.

By the way, the third one also that is going on very well is the Kano to Maradi railway project as well. So, all the railway projects are going on.

However, I would have been happier if funding was in place. The progress would have been far, far more than what we are seeing.

Still On The Rail, How Sustainable Is The Security Put In Place?

What we have done after the kidnap incident was to design a short-term and a long-term plan for maintaining security along that corridor.

And the short-term is what we have put in place immediately before we resumed operations.

Some of them, we have said them publicly, now for the first time, you cannot board a train either from Kaduna to Abuja or Abuja to Kaduna, unless you have what, a national identity number, because that is what you use to purchase your ticket online.

That tells you that whoever boards our train, we know them. So, in security architecture, that is the beginning of passenger profiling. Like they say in popular parlance, if you want to overcome a house effectively and successfully, you must use an insider.

Hardly would you have an effective attack on a train if you don’t have somebody on board that train. The only other thing you can do is to maybe plant an explosive device on the tracks. Now we have cameras on the wagons. Now we also have a software system that allows us to monitor the track all the way, in real time.

The driver can see 2 km ahead of him, and if he sees anything ahead at a particular distance, he has about 800 meters to match his brakes and stop before that object, that again is ruled out because we have constant patrols. The patrols we have are both in military uniform and some are not even in uniform. Some you see, some you don’t even see, some you can’t even talk about for security reason. So, to God be the glory. So far, we have not had any incidents and we pray that it will continue like that so that people will continue to enjoy the infrastructure that the government has provided for their benefit.

I tell you can see from my experience in life, the best model of transportation, even though I’m a maritime person, is the train.

The beauty of the train is that you can sleep, you can walk, you can jog, you can read, and you can do so many things while the train is moving. So, yes, that is the short term.

The long term is to concession, rail security infrastructure. And that, I believe, would be continued under the next administration. We’ve put something in place, proposals are in place, but the procedure that is required to bring this to fruition is so that we cannot finish it in the few days that we have remaining. But I know whoever comes after us will see the beauty of it and we’ll take it out from there.

There’s A Sore Finger Within All The Fingers. I Discovered Lately That Brawal Terminal Has Not Been Concessioned And Then I Don’t Know What The Problem Is. My Inquiry So Far Shows That The Man Who Owns The Place, Odili From Port-Harcourt Is In Court With NPA, Are You Aware Of That?

No, I am not.

The man disclosed that he has mapped out about $100 million to rehabilitate that terminal but the NPA said no he can’t work on but then the man said if you have to concession the port, he has to be given the right of first refusal because they have spent so much money and over time that port has been deteriorating even worse than you have the quay apron issues that you have on the other side of Tin Can Port.

And then when your predecessor came in, the same man-Odili that sponsored him to become governor, wanted him to come and prostrate before he could listen to him, so I learnt. The man said he wouldn’t do that and that’s been hanging unrepaired. When you get to speak with MPA MD, he tells you how politicians are the issue, at the end of the day it is the same terminal that is affected with economic implications to the nation. I’m surprised it didn’t get to your table.

 Like I always say, let’s start from the facts before we go to conjecture. I visited but since I became Minister of Transportation to this very minute that I speak to you, there has been nothing about Brawal on my table.

Secondly, I visited Onne Port. Brawal, one of the oldest, if not the pioneer, occupants or the sea of the Lighter Terminal at Onne, I was there. Officials of Brawal were there. I even went into their conference room and had a short meeting with them. I’m surprised they didn’t put this on the table.

Cuts In….This one is in Lagos.

…Brawal in Lagos? Which Of the ports?


I was also in Tincan. If Brawl is having issues with the Nigerian Ports Authority, you ought to know that there is a supervising Minister. So, if they have issues with NPA, let them escalate it to the minister.

And I tell you, as a man trusted by Mr. President to discharge his responsibilities under the Ministry of Transportation, I will discharge that trust with the fear of God.

Lastly, sir NTC, what happened?

Honestly, the National Transport Commission is one area I did not look at since I came. Now, personally, like I told you when I came because we had a short time and there is a need for us to impact Nigeria and Nigerians and the maritime industry, as well as the other subsectors like railway and so on.

So, I identified key deliverables that I call low-hanging fruits.

The National Transport Commission was something I felt would take my time and not give me the desired result. Why? Because it has been controversial.

Two, it will be an additional agency at a time when the government is looking at the Orasanye Panel report to reduce the number of parastatals and agencies of government in order to reduce cost of governance.

So, I felt in myself that coming to push the agenda of the National Transport Commission will be akin to somebody who is not sensitive to government thinking of reducing cost of governance.

In all honesty, that was why I did not look in that direction.

On the killing Of Vehicle Transport Areas VTAs…….

Nothing was killed. How do I mean? I told you about the National Transport Policy (NTP). One of the areas of disagreement with the Federal Minister Of Works And Housing is this particular area that we are talking about. And now that we have harmonized our positions, as soon as the NTP comes out, you begin to see activities in PTS because we have now harmonized our positions.

You know what led to the disagreement and therefore seeming lack of progress. The roads are under the control of the Federal Minister Of Works and Housing by virtue of the Highways Act while the conceptualization of VTAS rests with the Ministry of Transportation through the Nigerian Shippers’ Council.

Now the Federal Minister of Works has the right of way of where these VTAS will be located.

So, unless you harmonize your position and agree on a template, which we have now agreed, you cannot make progress because each ministry naturally, and expectedly, would want to control its turf, its jurisdiction.

I mean, for example, I don’t expect the Federal Minister of Works and Housing to come and start talking about maritime issues or coming into the maritime domain to throw his weight around, and then I will just fold my arms.

So, in the same way, the highways, the roads are under the Highways Act, therefore within the purview of the Federal Ministry Of Works and Housing, so, there must be a way of harmonization.

That was why, in the wisdom of the Late President Yar’Adua, he brought in Works and matched it with transport and called it transportation, and then left the other part of works, which he called land, housing and urban development.

Right now, as we speak, under the Ministry of Transportation, you have the department of Mass Transit and Road Transport Administration and Mass Transit for the sake of doing policy, driving policy, and putting in place structures that will make the traveling public life easy.

But again, you’re doing that for an entity that is under the control of another agency of government. 

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