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Weekend ginger: BUHARI and The Need for One Man!

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…As Nigeria’s Maritime Sector weeps!***

The immediate past National President of the Association of Nigerian License Customs Agents  (ANLCA), Prince Olayiwola Shittu said it more succinctly: Nigeria is still blinded by crude oil money!

Also Read: Until Maritime Industry Stands alone, Nigeria will not attract desired benefits- Otunba Folarin, Shittu

And the Head of the Centre for Financial Journalism, Ray Echebiri took it a step further on Wednesday, when he showed it: there’s a strong correlation between ports performance and the GDP of most EU countries! In other words, the health status of the economies of European Union States are directly impacted by the ports traffic!

Today, there’s one simple thing President Muhammadu Buhari can do, to positively redesign the economic future of Nigeria: Intensively focus on the Nigerian Maritime Industry!

There’s nothing the President is looking for from forex generation, massive youth employment as enacted by the Philippines, to unimaginable gains of the Blue Economy like perfected by India.

Unfortunately, if President Buhari treats the maritime industry like former President Olusegun Obasanjo, or Goodluck Jonathan, in due course, his era will go unsung; the inclement weather conditions would further wither his economic miscalculations, the poverty level would remain unchanged or worsened; and in four years time, Nigerian journalists would add his name to the list of those mentioned above, who had God given opportunity to make the desired gargantuan leap; but equally wasted it!

The legal rules Nemo dat quod non habet, says “no one gives what he doesn’t have”, it simply means that the President must look for truly gifted, selfless and resourceful and proven person, not necessarily a politician, who would assist Buhari realize the vision, while the President take the glory!

The Holy Book of Christians, the Bible tells us the unparalleled wisdom of Pharaoh, who appointed a non-Egyptian, and made him a Minister of Agriculture, Silos Storage and Distribution. The result: while others grieved and lament the seven years of devastating famine, both the young and old generated Pharaoh for his ‘divine wisdom’, foresight and distinguished leadership!

Nigeria has descended into its own abys of wilderness and famine. The President needs to take a leaf from Pharaohic wisdom!

Buhari must not repeat the mistakes of former President Olusegun Obasanjo or Jonathan. 

During the reign of the two, 

☆The Contributions of the ports were not seriously recognised.

☆Maritime indices were lumped with the entire revenue from Transport!

☆The only successful far sighted reform was the Port Reforms and even so, it’s final implementation was at a point warped!

☆The 25-Year Ports Master Plan was designed, appraised and filed in the Clouds! Since then, everyone, including the present NPA Managing Director, Hadiza Bala Usman is talking idly about it. Has it started? When did it start? What year is the 25-Year going to lapse?

The only remarkable thing about the 25-Year plan is that cargoes are now spending six weeks to exit the ports in Lagos; and empty containers three weeks to return!

No one really needs to blame anyone, neither President Muhammadu Buhari, nor most of his appointees in the maritime sector has an iron-grip water-tight understanding of the peculiar needs, knowledge or dynamics of the maritime industry! In the nature of the nemo dat rule, they cannot but failed!

And not wanting to look flatfooted, they have taken to playing politics of ‘extreme loyalty’ to either the President, APC or both!

In Obasanjo’s National Energy (Economic) Development Project, the ports were not directly mentioned. Was it a mistake?

In former President Goodluck Jonathan’s Priority Projects, Policies and Programme, the ports, shipping and maritime were again, sidelined! It was an unforgivable blunder! A total of about 41 projects were ITEMIZED, yet the nation’s maritime industry, the only viable, vibrant and enviable gateway to the Economy was sidelined!

Sadly, as if the nation is indeed cursed, even also in President Buhari’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, the Ports or shipping only got mentioned, in passing! Sadly, the ‘Plan’ was highlighted as ‘Comprehensive’!

The Comprehensive Plan has no identifiable strategy for Ports or Shipping Development!

In the Primary school, we were taught that six blind men went to the zoo, touched the elephant. They came back with reports that the elegant looked like ‘fan’, ‘wall’, ‘pistle’, ‘snake’, etc.

In Nigeria, the whole lot of ‘experts’ after seeing the elephant seemingly indicated seeing something like a Snake!

No wonder Singapore is attracting about seven percent of its GDP from the maritime. No wonder Ghana is daily devoting quality attention, like South Africa to its Maritime. No wonder Indonesia and Malaysia would never play with its maritime industry!

And no wonder Nigeria is probably where it is currently too!

The Minister of State, Petroleum, Dr. Kachikwu this week in Yenagoa told a bewildered nation that the crude oil is truly a ‘depreciating asset’. We have a depreciating asset, yet the youths are hungry, restive and unable to sleep. Who knows, one day, the depreciation would slide so much, even the rich would begin to suffer insomnia!

Also Read: Oil is fast becoming a degenerating asset- Kachikwu grieves

Let’s continue to pray for Nigeria, while Nigeria’s Maritime Industry is crying for attention!

Let’s Pray for Nigeria!

May the President live forever!!

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Ekweremadu’s fall: A test of Nigeria’s diplomatic dexterity?

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FG, Ohanaeze Worldwide, others condemn attack on Ekweremadu in Germany

In what some analysts have described as a “`fall from grace to grass”, former Deputy Senate President of Nigeria, Ike Ekweremadu was on May 5, sentenced to nine years and eight months in jail after a United Kingdom (UK) court found him, his wife, and his doctor culpable in a case of organ trafficking.

The Old Bailey, London’s Central Criminal Court also sentenced his wife, Beatrice, to four years six months in prison while the medical doctor Dr Obinna Obeta, who acted as a ‘middleman’ in the plot was sentenced to 10 years and his medical licence suspended.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the Ekweremadus were convicted of trafficking a street trader from Lagos to Britain to illegally harvest his kidney for a transplant on their sick daughter, thus violating British laws on kidney donation and transplant

The conviction came on the heels of pleas by the Nigerian Senate, the Federal House of Representatives, the ECOWAS Parliament, government officials, and notable Nigerians, including former President Olusegun Obasanjo who had written to the court to tamper justice with mercy.

The Nigerian Senate had urged the court for clemency in delivering judgment against the Ekweremadus as first offenders and considering the former senator’s contributions to humanity.

“Distinguished Senator Ike Ekweremadu served for 12 years as Deputy Senate President and he put in so much effort to the development of the Parliament across Africa, and in the world.

“He was not found wanting and so what has happened is very unfortunate.

“I have written a letter to the British judicial authorities about three weeks ago on behalf of the Senate seeking Clemency, given the history of Senator Ekweremadu.

“We are now using this particular intervention to seek clemency in the sentencing.

“The conviction has been done, but we are seeking clemency because this is the first time, our colleague, a patriot, a leader, a great leader, a very peaceful man is getting involved in this kind of thing.

“Had we all known that this would be the case, certainly we would not have gone into that kind of situation because we are law-abiding citizens and we respect our country and its laws and laws of other countries,” Ahmad Lawan, President of the Senate said.

The Federal House of Representatives had also written a similar letter to the court for lenience.

A member of the House, Mr Toby Okechukwu had moved a motion for clemency on the floor of the parliament based on the long-standing history and cordial ties between Nigeria and the United Kingdom.

The House highlighted Ekweremadu’s contributions to the Commonwealth of Nations and his innocent intention to save the life of his sick daughter, Sonia, while calling for back channels for diplomatic interventions.

Group Lauds Obasanjo's Advocacy on Power Shift to Youths; 661,783 PVCs remain uncollected in Edo

*Chief Obasanjo

Obasanjo in his letter pleaded for mercy and profiled Ekweremadu with a sense of responsibility, stressing that though he recognised the act as illegitimate, the UK court should be magnanimous in mercy.

“Ekweremadu’s conferment with the coveted national honour of Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR) is further testimony to his selfless service to our country, Nigeria.

“Mr Chief Clerk, I am very much aware of the current travails and conviction of Ike Ekweremadu and his wife in the United Kingdom resulting from their being charged with conspiring to arrange the travel of a 21-year-old from Nigeria to the UK in order to harvest organs for their daughter.

“I do realise the implications of their action and I dare say, it is unpleasant and condemnable and cannot be tolerated in any sane or civilised society.

“However, it is my fervent desire for very warm relations between the United Kingdom and the Federal Republic of Nigeria; for his position as one of the distinguished senators in the Nigerian Parliament, and also for the sake of their daughter in question whose current health condition is in danger and requires urgent medical attention, you will use your good offices to intervene and appeal to the court and the government of the United Kingdom to be magnanimous enough to temper justice with mercy and let punishment that may have to come to take their good character and parental instinct and care into consideration,’’ the letter read in part.

In spite of all the pleas for clemency from various quarters including diplomatic contacts, the Court gave what many have described as a harsh sentence. Is this then a test of Nigeria’s diplomatic dexterity?

Constitutional Lawyer, Kayode Ajulo while reacting to the sentence, urged the Federal Government to explore diplomatic means to get a pardon for the senator.

He said he had written to King Charles III, pleading for a Prerogative of Mercy for the Ekweremadus.

“Your Majesty, though invigorated by your coronation, I witnessed the same with mixed emotions.

“Ekweremadu and his wife have been convicted and sentenced accordingly and I plead that you graciously and mercifully invoke the Royal Prerogative of Mercy in favour of the couple,” he said.

Mr Frank Tietie, a Human Rights lawyer described the judgement as harsh, insisting that more diplomatic channels could have been explored by the Nigerian government to get a shorter sentence for the Ekweremadus.

Lawyers and analysts like Ajulo and Tietie are of the opinion that while not condoning crime in any form, the Federal Government’s citizen diplomacy policy thrust should be re-activated regardless of the status of Nigerians across the world.

The citizen diplomacy policy places priority on the protection of the interest of Nigerian citizens both at home and abroad.

It also seeks to protect the rights, dignity, and privileges of Nigerian citizens in their countries of residence abroad.

Experts say the policy implies that individual citizens are not just the centre-piece of state policies but also have the right and even the responsibility to help realise the country’s national interests through their interactions to complement official diplomatic activity.

-By Muhyideen Jimoh

(NAN Features)

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Book – The Iconic Bola Ahmed Tinubu – for launch March 25

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Book – The Iconic Bola Ahmed Tinubu – for launch March 25

Mentorship

By Oluwatope Lawanson

Co-authors of the book, The Iconic Bola Ahmed Tinubu: An Inspiration to African Youths –  on Tuesday called for effective mentoring of the youth toward nation-building.

The co-authors, Messrs Oki Samson and Abayomi Oyelami made the call at a press conference held on Victoria Island, Lagos State.

Samson said that nation-building would require citizens to align themselves with leaders with the interest of the country at heart.

“They see their efforts, sacrifices and paths laid for the progress of the society. For instance, in South Africa, we have had people such as Nelson Mandela and others who the citizens looked up to.

“In Nigeria, we have exceptional leaders of thought and deeds, who we can align ourselves within the area of mentorship, to have a better society.

“One of the leaders or rather exceptional leaders our youths can look up to for nation-building is Tinubu, who stands to be counted as a hero of democracy,” he said.

Samson noted that the struggle for democracy by Sen. Bola Tinubu, the Presidential Candidate of the All Progressives Congress, and some others facilitated Nigeria’s democratic growth.

He said that Tinubu, a two-term  Governor of Lagos State, had shown a passion for Nigeria’s progress.

“Right from 1999, Tinubu has yet to look back in ensuring that our democracy is well-nurtured, he has been on tour of many states in the country for this cause.

“Tinubu was not bothered whenever he got any negative criticism from any quarters; instead, he used the criticism to build on his strong points,” he said.

Samson said that while some people might disagree with Tinubu’s line of thought, his achievement as one of the defenders of democracy would continue to stand him out.

“Some may disagree with Tinubu’s style, but one thing is sure: he remains a hero of democracy. He fought for it and stood by it.

“The energy and passion that Tinubu puts into his programmes are what the youths can learn from, his never-die spirit and resoluteness are virtues to consider,” Samson said.

He implored the youth to read the book without political sentiments to be able to gain from it.

On his part, Oyelami said that it would be beneficial to learn from outstanding people.

“We need to appreciate the leaders we have, they have paid their dues in giving us a better society.

“At this critical time of elections, we need to ask ourselves what type of leaders we want.

“For the subject of discussion, Tinubu has a character that youths can emulate to build a stronger Nigeria.

“He is a role model to the youth, he has allowed them to have their say even in his government because he ran an all-inclusive government,” he said.

He said that the book would be launched on March 25.

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FG Must fulfill Obligation to Reap Benefits of Port Concession

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Nunc Dimittis: Buhari Advocates Regular Gulf of Guinea Summit To Ensure Peace, Security

When the Federal Government embarked on port reform in 2006, culminating in the concession of cargo handling operations to private terminal operators, there were expectations of massive transformation in port operations, and aptly so.

With the concession, 25 terminals were handed over to private companies in Lagos, Rivers, Calabar, Delta and Onne, with the port authority retaining ownership of the ports.

The private companies were required to provide and maintain their own superstructure, including buildings and cargo-handling equipment at the terminals.

The objective of the port concession was to increase efficiency in port operation, decrease the cost of port services to stakeholders as well as decrease cost of running the ports by the government.

However, 16 years after the port concession, stakeholders insist the country is yet to reap its full benefits.

The general belief is that the port authority has not lived up to expectations with regards to provision of the enabling environment, and has not fulfilled some of its obligations in the concession agreement.

Maritime stakeholders postulate that the private operators have done their own part and it’s left for the government to fulfill its obligations for the country to reap the full benefits of the port concession.

Dr. Kayode Farinto, acting president, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), urged government to live up to its responsibility by providing 24-hour electricity.

He said even though the government had awarded the contract for the rehabilitation of the road leading to the seaport, the work had been very slow. 

He said the government should prevail on the contractor to fast-track the implementation of its intermodal transport system as many of the cargoes that transited the port in terms of import and export solely relied on the road. 

“On the rail system, we have been hearing stories about the rail being bought, the rail system has gone beyond what we are having here,” he said.

He noted that the payment in dollars by concessionaires should be reviewed by the government so that it could add value and strengthen the naira.

He also called for the review of the port concession agreement, adding that a concessionaire unable to add value should be suspended.

“Port concession has brought another era of port operations into cargo clearance. It has added value and I can score port concession 60 percent, at least now, the custodian of the goods can deliver.

“Also, we have one or two indigenous companies that have a lot of success stories, likewise some foreign companies, in terms of handling equipment.

“Port concession is not a total failure, there has been a success story in one part and in some parts there is a need for the federal government to review it,” he said.

The ANLCA boss said there were new handling equipment that could handle thousands of containers in an hour, noting that any concessionaire with obsolete equipment was taking the country back to the medieval period.

“Fifteen years ago I visited the Antwerp Port, they are talking about Port Development Plan viz-a-viz 2035, we don’t even have port development plan, we don’t have a consistent policy. 

“We need to have a Ministry of Maritime Affairs so that we can use that opportunity to develop our port industry and more revenue can be generated by the federal government, and all these things have not been harnessed,” he said.

Before the concession, the entire operations of the ports were manually conducted, and bureaucracy worsened the situation making the entire port environment chaotic, Mrs. Joy Monije, a freight forwarder, said.

Monije noted that the concession brought improvement and innovations, with operations being done digitally.

“But before the COVID-19 pandemic, there had not been much improvement. It was as a result of COVID that so many things changed.

“COVID-19 helped to reduce human interface and introduced technology in port operations.

“People now know that it’s not compulsory to come together at the ports to achieve their aim. If it’s implemented more, by 2023, I believe things will be much better.

“In the area of costing, we are paying through our nose. Before now, we don’t pay demurrage and even on weekends when they don’t work, we don’t pay anything.

“But now things are done in stages, if one does not complete a stage, you cannot move to the next line and this distorts things, making us to pay demurrage,” she said.

The spokesman for Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN), Dr. Bolaji Akinola, said without a doubt, the economy had benefitted from the port concession. 

He listed the benefits of port concession including injection of private capital into port development, elimination of port congestion, modernisation of ports and better cargo handling equipment.

Others, he said, were competition among terminal operators, improved welfare and training of port workers and the institution of the condition of service for dockworkers. 

“Recall that prior to port concession, dockworkers were casualised; they did not have employers and did not have condition of service. 

“The narrative has since changed with the introduction of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which created a condition of service for them and also created room for review of their remuneration every two years,” he said.

Akinola said the drawbacks at the ports were a result of the cumbersome cargo clearing process and physical examination of cargo by the Nigeria Customs Service.

He added that the over-dependence on roads for cargo delivery, as well as bad roads leading into and out of the ports, were some of the reasons the country was not reaping the full benefits of port concession.

“I believe that once these challenges are addressed by the government, Nigerians will reap more gains from port concession,” he said.

Similarly, Mr. Hassan Bello, former Executive Secretary, Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), said there had been gains in port reform; palpable yet limited.

He said the reform was short of being revolutionary, changing radically the dynamics of the port operation such as efficiency in port operation – largely because of the private sector participation, increased port revenue and others.

Bello said, unfortunately, the vestiges of the pre-reform era still remained, as efficiency was not optimal – port operation characterised by delays, inertia, lack of transparency, primitive and tedious cargo clearance procedures.

“The port is still being run as mostly a manual port even though some terminals are operating digitally. Thus, the port is still plagued by human contacts and having 21 days cargo dwell time – very long,” he said.

He said the reforms were not comprehensive and had gaps like multi-model access to rail, road, inland waterways; an absence of clarity and inclusiveness in the regulatory and legal framework.

“There seems, therefore, a lack of effort by the government to carry out structural reforms in related sectors, such as enhancing inland connectivity. 

“There is no deliberate linkage or integration of transport infrastructure, ports were haphazardly cited without regard to logistic dynamism,” he said.

In addressing the present state of the ports, the Managing Director, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Mr. Mohammed Bello-Koko, noted that there were options for the rehabilitation of the country’s ports. 

He said what led to defects in infrastructure at the ports was the reduction in the ability of the ports to generate revenue to invest in the rehabilitation of the ports and other off-dock locations and provide equipment for maritime service.

Bello-Koko noted that one of the options was for NPA to totally fund the port rehabilitation, but to do that, government needed to give concession and not ask NPA to transfer revenue to the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF).

“This year alone, we have transferred over N100 billion to the CRF and imagine if the amount is allowed back for the reconstruction of the port.

“To say NPA should fund it holistically, we know it’s impossible, reason being that normal construction period for such infrastructure is three years and there is no revenue to pay any contractor,” he said.

Bello-Koko noted that the second option was to go for a hybrid finance model where the NPA and the federal government would provide part of the money, while a multilateral lending agency would provide the balance.

He said another option was for terminal operators to reconstruct the ports but at a high cost.

“The decision taken by the ministry of transportation, NPA and probably with the federal government is to allow NPA to use 50 percent of the amount transferred to CRF in the next four to five years.

“If on average NPA transfers N80 million to CRF and is allowed to use 50 percent to reconstruct the port, it will go a long way and we hope we get the approval,” he said.

From the prevailing views, long after the Federal Government carried out its port reform, particularly the port concession, the country is far from benefiting maximally from the reforms.

And for that to happen, it is believed that the government must fulfill its part of the port concession agreements by proving key infrastructure and an overall enabling environment.

– An analysis by Chiazo Ogbolu

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