Economic viability should be major determinant of new port location, says Amiwero

Lucky Eyis Amiwero

Lucky Eyis Amiwero is known to be a controversial and critical commentator on the country’s maritime issues. He is the National President of Council for the Managing Director of Customs License Agents . In this interview with Dele Aderibigbe, he listed factors militating against trade facilitation, just as he advised the government against using political consideration for the establishment of new ports in the country. Excerpts

Why do you believe so strongly that the current operation of our international trade won’t generate much employment?

The way the country is going, government would never be able to generate employment through our international trade activities.

All our exports are on FOB [free on board], and all our imports are on CIF [cost insurance and freight]. This means, on export we don’t have any components. Import, we don’t have any component. There is no way you can create employment like that. There is no way!

That is why the Americans are faithful to their Jones Act [the law Nigeria modified to become our cabotage law but which we have haphazardly implemented]. The Jones act you are talking about is part of the two pillars that sustains employment in America. But we have nothing to sustain us here.

We have lost the first layer which is traffic. The second is the trans-shipment. So, talking about the Ibaka [deep sea], Lekki or Badagry [deep sea port], Ogidig-ben or Sapele, Warri or Buruttu you quickly realize that for most of those talking about it, they never really understand the meaning of the deep sea port project.

Is there anything different between the common river port and the deep sea port?

The deep sea port is not the same as the present river port. The operation of the deep sea port demands that you must meet certain conditions. And when you say you are building a deep sea port, it must be able to accommodate some feeder ports or river ports, so that it would be able to attract cargo to it.

As at present, the only place you can set up a vibrant deep sea port is in Lagos. Set it up in Warri, it would be like Warri port. Set it up in Calabar, it would be like Calabar port.

If you set it up in Warri for instance, how many ships would you have going there? How many ships?

If Nigerians have their ways they will build political ports everywhere; that is why somebody would put a port in Onitsha. Another person puts it in Warri. The white man who came first didn’t put any ports everywhere. He was moving the goods with “pontu” [barges.] because they looked at the topography and they noticed that if you do it, it would be un-viable. So, the ships berth at the high seas and the barges brings the cargo in.

But we were not concerned with economic implications, so we put the ports everywhere… any place where there was somebody of substance was available to speak for it. Yet, there was nobody to stand up and ask ‘are we doing the right things?’ or, what were the economic implications of these decisions or actions to the Nigerian economy?

Even now, they want to build a Bakasi port. And I ask: how many companies do we have there?

One of the core elements of a deep sea port or a trans-shipment centre or a preferred port is its ability to attract cargo, as a destination of cargo. So, they are designed, only after a critical analysis and agreement that there is cargo. What is destination of cargo? This means that we have industries located there or around there; so that the cargo not only come there, they are also mostly consumed there.

So, one of the factors that attract the development of a deep sea ports is the destination of cargo. But, if don’t have it, if you build a deep sea port there, it would just lie fallow.

So, if you go ahead and build the Ibaka port , the Ogidigben port, the Ibadan port, the Oyo port; and while we are at it, somebody shouts please, put one port also in my town too; where in the world do you see such? Of course, they would end up lying fallow.

So government must take the bull by the horn, to protect the interest of the country’s cargo components. Look, if you throw your interest open, the importer would say ‘that is my country’s ship, put my consignment there and the benefits would go back to his country.

But aside from political reasons, do we really need the establishment of a deep sea port?

Yes , we do. When a ship comes and it goes to berth in Ghana for instance, and off-loads the cargo, it is Ghana that would enjoy the benefits of that traffic.

How? It is Ghana’s truck and drivers that would be engaged to bring in the cargo to Nigeria. And before it was removed, it was Ghana’s warehouse or terminal that would receive it; all of which services are paid for.

There are limitations for ships to come in river port… A deep sea port is a load centre. But other ports would still be there, as feeder port or river ports. They would be there because of the advantage of economy of scale. We must create such a loading centre.

But if you don’t create it now and other people create it, then the big ships would direct your goods there and we may have to be going to Cote D’ lvoire to collect our goods or Ghana to pick up our goods and all these our “deep sea port” may end up lying fallow. And until we utilized the port as they should, we can-not generate the attendant employment component.

The way we manage our endowments makes one sad. And several times, one cannot just keep quiet. It is not that we are fighting. But I am not fighting for myself. You must realize that I have not gone on leave for the past 30 years.

People, especially the Customs, always look at you

as a controversial person because of your confronta-tional attitude

I have nothing against anybody. I have nothing against the Custom Service. They have no power of their own. They can only implement whatever the gov-ernment directs them to do. That is why I always take my issue up with the government.

The only problem is that when I see anything that is wrong, I can’t keep quiet. It is like when I saw the con-dition of the port’s access roads, I just couldn’t remain quiet. I wasted no time in taking pictures! Then I wrote to the Minister in Mabushi (Abuja). All I wanted was to see the situation to be corrected.

Some of them at the Nigerian Ports didn’t like it. But then, many of them easily forget that I was lecturing their seniors as far as back as before they attained their present position of leadership.

Sometimes ago, I had to send my profile to the CEO, to enable them realize that I am not self seeking. Take a good look again at the NPA; beginning from the era of Mallam Gwandu, till the present day, most of the structure in the port today, I, through my writing caused them to be there!

I have a higher vision than most of my peers.

To be continued..

International Trade Monitor