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

Lucky Eyis Amiwero

Amiwero’s interview continues…

That is why I’m always insisting that things should be done the right way. But this sometimes may make some people uncomfortable.

I am not an NPA worker. I am not a government worker. In 1996, I started lecturing them. And in 2001, 2002 up to 2003, I was the only person who was lecturing on port concession. I did not go and lecture them outside. It was with the approval of the Government.

There was a time I wanted to lecture and some of them said ‘Lucky ke?, wetin he go teach us?’ But the woman coordinator said ‘I don’t know. But he is the person government has engaged to teach you’.

The hostility was pronounced, that first day. Some of them walked out on me announcing that they want to go and look for their Calabar girlfriends. The coordinator appealed that they should stay, emphasizing that the presidency endorsed my lecturing them; so, most stayed.

I can recall too that on one occasion, two names were brought to me and I recommended that of Prof. Badejo. Badejo was initially hesitant, insisting that he was neck deep into academics. But up till today, I do not know who recommended me.

We took off the first day. But, by the second day, we had full attendance. Those who attended told those who declined, that they missed so much!

During the lecture, one man stood up to confess that he had gone on many trips abroad, but he had never heard some of the terminologies!

It is not that I particularly want to go about lecturing. It’s rather that I believe that the more we all know, the easier it would be for us, to improve on the system! We need information to be productive, if we are not productive, our generation will suffer.

Apart from the cargo deficiency factor you have mentioned, what are other factors?

The need factor…Lagos has a natural tendency to meet the need of the business class as a deep sea port. You have the Badagry port. You have the Lekki port.

But, just don’t forget that within the West and Central African sub region, we don’t need more than two loading centre.

Many of the reporters currently writing about deep sea ports lack strong understanding of what the deep sea entails.

What would you say it entails?

First, it must be established, where you are certain that other people would be comfortable to have you serve them as a trans-shipment centre, like Singapore.

A deep sea port mean there would be space and depth for bigger ships coming in; and when they come, the economic advantage that follows it as the target can be enjoyed. For instance, most of the ships coming to Nigeria always target coming in with 1200, 800 or 900 containers. So, you can think in terms of the times you would need to go and come back, go and come back to bring 5000 containers. But when a ship loads in 14,000 containers at a go! Then, you must realize that several other ships would be waiting for it, to off-load so that they can pick from it.

That is what Cote D’ lvoire is planning to do today; that country is not into politics. It is into business. But we are here playing politics. Deep sea doesn’t mean it must be located in a sea. It could be created by some people. So, they come with advantages over the river ports. Our ports are usually river ports; not natural ports. Tin can and Apapa port are river ports.

But then, when you have sea and you put the required structures there like what is happening in Abidjan, you can have a deep sea port. As you have a river port, so you also have a lake port. So also there are artificial ports, just like there are ocean ports.

When such giant ships bring in their multitude of cargo, would it not create congestion after off-loading?
No. it is a trans-shipment centre. It only comes to off-load, unto several other ships which would not pick and head in specific ports directions or countries.

American ports are run by the counties or local governments. And they are also run by government subsidy. And that is why every policy is pursued with the interest and welfare of the future of the American child in mind. But with us, we pursue policies that enable us, not only to eat up the future of the Nigerian child, but even to eat up the Nigerian children themselves.

And this is all because we always consistently put the square pegs in round holes. Why?

Our people are always rushing to go to America. Do they learn anything from there? I have cancelled trips to America, about eight times. I went to Ghana instead.

Some people have voiced out their view that Nigerian cargoes are being diverted into other countries ports and government has denied it… how can we establish that there is cargo diversion?

Who is denying it? Go to nearby ports. Cotonou port for instance and watch; you will confirm it or go to Seme. Make your own investigation too. Don’t come to me. I was one of the people striving at bringing our cargo back. Of course cargo diversion started when government restricted cars coming in on the basis of age. When you go to Cotonou in those days, Cotonou literarily took over our car market. Nigeria single handedly controls over 75 percent of the sub-region‘s cargo. Do you know our markets? How many ports is Ghana having? How many ports have Cote D’lvoire? And how many ports has Nigeria? And what’s their population? So how come they are having more throughput than us? Even from rice alone, do you know what is entering Nigeria through Cotonou or Cameroon or Chad?

So, how can anyone deny the validity of cargo diversion? Even President Jonathan acknowledges that there is diversion. I have served in 167 government committees. So, I know government knows there is cargo diversion

How can this be corrected ?

If we can’t put the right people in the system, you cannot correct it. As for the feeder ports, do you realize we can link or move cargo from Tin Can Island Port to Calabar port or vice versa.

So, we can transit our goods freely. When Nigeria was in the 70s she was transiting goods. We were once moving cargo unto Cameroon, Chad, from Nigeria. In those days we controlled the whole route. Are we still controlling it now? Why are we not controlling it again?

Don’t forget that, that task alone could provide us with at least, one million employment opportunities – from transport workers, traders, security etc. We have lost it to Ghana. Ghana can never cry for employment, in so far as we continue to run our affairs as we doing it now.

We have lost everything to Ghana and cote D’lvoire in terms of our freight component!

What is freight?

Freight is the cargo. When people ship their cargo, you must understand that employment is going with the cargo. That is what is called component of freight. Cargo generates employment. If it doesn’t land on your door step; if you are receiving it as the third party, you are going to pay double.

If our port is to be effective, we have inter- modal. The rail must be working. And also the employment of the barges, aside from the road trucks. These are the things that remove the pressure of the port.

In years past, most of the companies in Warri remove their goods by barges. If it could be done then, why can’t it be done now?

We have one of the best ports in the sub-region. If you don’t have a multi-modal transport system, in your port; then you will have an impediment in your cargo handling system. But in Nigeria, for most port we have a mono-transport system – The road and that is why when you build a road, tomorrow it is gone; because 90 percent of the things that are supposed to be shipped by barges or moved by rail are still on the road and that is why your road cannot last. And so, the roads in Nigeria die fast.

What are we currently doing with our inland water ways? Is the woman in charge there being guided by the experts?

In America people would put their best als as head of professional tables, not take a lecturer from one university to head a vital parastatals; or a hairdresser to head another.

We are still playing with the opportunities God has given us. But when you play with it, your children will suffer for it.

But it is not only with NIMASA. Check the Customs too, where people just take arbitrary decision. There is no place where the Customs would be the judge, the prosecutor etc in arbitrary manners. It is against the laws of the land or international conventions. Section 37 of the constitution or article 11 of our CEMA specifies that there must be an interdependent body that can take decision in respect of decisions that Customs run. The Kyoto convention article 15 also says there must be an interdependent body to guide the service.

The general impression you gave the listener is that though you know so much, you might not have the patience to carry along your audience let alone give them a breathing space to understand your points totally. Do you agree?
There are certain things I will not condone. One of them is to compromise. The Bible insists that once you compromise, you would lose out! I worked with Sarumi. I worked with Gwandu when he was there at NPA. And I am still working now with Hassan Bello. But I can’t compromise. And that is why I cannot work with some people.

The country is already benefiting from the disposition. I have served in 167 government committees. And it has enabled me to direct impact on vital poli-cies.

What is the difference between freight forwarder and Customs brokers?

We are licensed customs agents. A broker may not be licensed. But he works between the freight components. You may have a licensed broker however.

Freight component can be viewed from two perspectives: freight and forwarding. Freight is the cargo. Forwarding is the art of moving it.