From Idu Jude, Abuja
The Minister of Transportation, Mu’azu Sambo, already has his job cut out for him, though there are doubts as to how much he can achieve in about 11 months, as the Buhari administration enters its twilight.
He is mounting the saddle at a time insurgents and the Federal Government are competing for the control of Nigeria’s transportation assets.
For now, the terrorists have succeeded in shutting down the $876 million Abuja-Kaduna railway, after killing many passengers and kidnapping others for ransom, in a recent mortifying attack. There is also the gradual but steady demise of local shipping firms as lack of financial lifeline continues to force them out of the seas. The surviving ones are on ventilators, literally speaking, leaving the bulk of the multi-billion dollar shipping business to foreigners.
Again, thousands of marine cadets and engineers are churned out from Nigerian maritime institutions annually with no vessel to undergo their mandatory sea-time training, among other burning matters.
Though he retired from the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), an agency under the Transportation Ministry, Sambo, experts say Sambo has a lot of work to do in continuing with the legacies of his predecessor, Mr Chibuike Amaechi, and as such, must not allow himself to be distracted by excess politicking.
A former Director of Railway, Ministry of Transportation, Baba Kobi Mohammed, has advised Sambo to urgently secure the needed political support to enable him implement pending transportation policies, especially those on railway.
According to the transportation expert, “I think the Minister, who is not new in the industry, having spent years as a Director in the industry, is certainly not oblivious of the numerous tactical and administrative challenges facing the industry.
“You see, when we talk about economic diversification and growth, we should be talking of strong and viral railway transportation that will be pivotal to driving the economy. So, he should focus on ensuring that the industry receives a boost before his departure. I can tell you for free that the railway system ensures that businesses between the producer and the consumer are carried out without tears”.
Mohammed added that for any country to have a vibrant economy, controlling the price of goods in the market is the first priority.
“Without a good transportation system, to move goods across the country, consumers are subjected to an uncontrollable price of goods in the market but with the use of the railway as the cheapest means of conveying goods from one place to the other, the price of items takes a natural shape. In other words, no country’s economy survives with the elitist means of transportation, a means where the small-scale industries are not nurtured”, he added.
Economic analysts have also urged the Transportation Minister to ensure the railway runs as a self-sustaining business so it delivers the right value to consumers and investors, rather than seeing it as a government product meant to provide free social services.
The Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) believes that the decline experienced in terms of passenger and freight movements over the decades in Nigeria, was as a result of deferred investments for both the locomotive and rolling stocks.
Interestingly, there currently exists a 25-year strategic roadmap for the revival of the railway system in Nigeria, with relevant ideas to steer the ship of the reformation programme.
Industry watchers have tasked Sambo to see how much he can implement in the blueprint, since it aims to connect all the 36 States and Abuja by rail. It also seeks to provide rail links to the nation’s airports and river port terminals, thereby reducing pressure on Nigeria’s road network, which at the moment handles more than 80% of passenger and cargo traffic.
Another hurdle before Sambo is attracting the right investors to the railway and maritime sector generally.
The call for fresh offshore investments reached a crescendo recently, when China reportedly developed a cold feet in advancing further loans to Nigeria, amid fears of possible default.
Another area experts want the Minister of Transportation to urgently beam his searchlight is the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF), a two per cent contribution by indigenous shipowners involved in coastal and inland shipping trade in Nigeria’s maritime domain.
The fund, established in 2003 to provide funds for vessel acquisition amongst indigenous operators in Nigeria, rose from $195 million to $350 million (N210 billion) in one year. This figure represents a percentage increase of 56 per cent between 2021 and 2022.
The former Minister of State, Transportation, Senator Gbemisola Saraki, while commenting on the CVFF, said it was a national shame that no indigenous ship owner has been able to access the fund that was designed to enable them to acquire vessels nearly 20 years after it was established.
Though she assured indigenous shipowners that the fund was still intact contrary to speculations in some quarters that it may have been misappropriated, experts urge the new Minister, Sambo, to see to the transparent disbursement of the facility so that dead and ailing shippers can bounce back to life.
Daily Sun gathered that the guidelines for the disbursement of the fund have been designed and would soon be presented to the National Assembly for approval. It would immediately be followed by the actual disbursement of the funds to the already shortlisted beneficiaries. To address the lack of sea-time training for Nigerian maritime cadets, a former Minister of Interior and Chief Executive Officer of Genesis Worldwide Shipping, Emmanuel Iheanacho, has called for partnership with major shipping lines calling at the nation’s ports to absorb them for the mandatory experience.
In the alternative, he advised that modern vessels can be acquired and placed on the fleet of the big shipping lines doing business in the country. Such vessels, he added, must be crewed by Nigerians and must adhere to the standard of the international ocean liners.
He pointed out that what was needed was a professional with the right persuasive skills to negotiate with the ocean liners.
In a broad analysis, it is believed that Nigeria’s continued under-development of its shipping industry, poor infrastructure at the ports, pollution, unease of doing business, absence of synergy between government and foreign trade partners are factors undermining the country’s chances of securing a seat at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) Council.
Indeed, Nigeria’s inability to fully implement some of the IMO conventions and instruments continues to affect its return to the organisation.
Specifically, member-states are required to fully implement certain mandatory instruments to qualify for elections into the IMO Council’s categories.