“If you make the customer a promise… make sure you deliver it” – Merv Griffin
Drawing from this apt saying by Merv Griffin one can argue that a customer or client is entitled to demand certain standards or entitlements in a business arrangement.
With this in mind, one can draw an analogy to the situation between Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and its customer, the concessionaires of the Calabar port, where NPA promised to dredge and maintain the draught at 9.4meters to enable the concessionaires maximize the potentials of the port, but the Authority never kept its end of the bargain.
Are government agencies too big to respect legitimate agreements entered with private investors? Could there be legitimate reasons the government couldn’t deliver on the promises they made to concessionaires more than a decade ago?
Today, the non-completion of the dredging of the Calabar channel is the most critical factor that is limiting the development of the port. The concession agreement signed with the NPA stated that the lessor (NPA) should maintain the draught at 9.4meters, but eleven years after the concession, the draught still remains at 5.4meters at low tide and 6.4meters at high tide which was the same situation prior to the concession on August 1st, 2007.
Last year, NPA raised the aspirations of the port operators when it placed an advert for the contract and revealed plans to commence the survey of the channel in preparation for award of the dredging contract. However, no development has been recorded about the bidding for the dredging and NPA continues to pay lip service to the project.
When quizzed about the updates on Calabar port by MMS Plus correspondent on Friday, last week during a stakeholders’ conference in Lagos, the Executive Director, Marine and Operations, Dr. Sekonte Davies, said; “Please forget about Calabar port project for now”
This statement comes as a shock to the maritime stakeholders in the country as only two months ago, the Managing Director of NPA, Ms. Hadiza Bala-Usman, assured that the exercise would be completed this year
The NPA helmsman who was by the Executive Director, Engineering and Technical Services, Idris Abubakar, at a stakeholders’ meeting in Calabar in March, said: “The contract has been advertised, we are now in the procurement process. We have been given allocation in the 2017 budget. We will commence the survey because we need to know the size of the area before giving it to the qualified contractor.”
“The procurement process will not be completed until the survey report is ready, and the standard bidding documents for the contractors will be made available after the survey. Once that is ready, we will progress to the Ministry, and further to the Federal Executive Council for approvals of the contractor. When this is done, we will immediately commence the dredging”, she said.
From the legal perspective and going by its implications on the projections the concessionaires made, the non-dredging of the channel could be considered a material breach of the agreement. On the strength of the assurances by NPA and the provisions in the concession agreement that the dredging would be completed, the concessionaires invested in brand new container carrying equipments; sadly most of them are yet to lift a container till date.
The potentials of Calabar port are very enormous but the port has been reduced to a jetty because of this constraint. The port by virtue of its location has the potentials to service the Northern states, the commercial cities in the South East of Nigeria, and can become a transshipment hub for the land-locked neighbouring countries.
Consequently, commendable projects like the Tinapa project and the Calabar Free Trade Zone have not been able to fully realize their potentials because of the absence of port infrastructure required to support their operations.