“The government is losing over N5 trillion every year because of the situation of the road. All businesses have closed down at the port area.”
Lucky Eyis Amiwero is the Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of Eyis Resources Limited. As a foremost licensed agent and trainer, he has participated in over 167 and nine presidential committees including the Destination Inspection Committee (presidential), Task Force on the Clearing of the Backlog in the Ports; Import Clearance Procedure (which is a ministerial committee), Nigerian Committee on Ports Problem, Presidential Committee on 48-hour Clearance of Cargo from the Ports, among others.
In this interview, he gave an insight into the closure of border, the implications and what should be done to wriggle out of the imbroglio. He also fielded questions on other issues like the port roads, national carrier and the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund.
Borders are supposed to be closed when there is either coup or a serious economic crime from the land border or other serious issues.
Closing borders because of smuggling of rice should not be encouraged on our West African sub-regional cases. This thing is supposed to be addressed from the West African sub-regional area. If Nigeria is a signatory to the convention of cross-border crime, we can bring the West African sub-regional agreement into view to see how it can be stopped. But the situation of closing the border because of smuggling of rice is not too economical because the economic aspect of the border has a lifeline for movement. So, closing the border is not the solution. The solution is to negotiate with the countries that are bordering Nigeria to understand the implications of what that means because there is a convention on that which Nigeria should explore instead of closing the border. When you close the border, most of the economic activities along the corridor will be affected. It is not only rice. We have other free trade agreements. So, the government should reconsider the closure and see how things can be done properly instead of closing the border. We should address it professionally, regionally and internationally. When you close the border, you close a lot of economic activities along the border. It is not the best for a country like Nigeria.
Nigeria must count losses. The problem about most of the things we do as a country is not addressing issues professionally. You don’t address an issue on the basis of military enforcement. You must address the issue professionally so that it will be beneficial to the economy. We have border with Chad, Niger and other countries like Togo, Benin Republic and all the rest. We do not play politics with closing borders. We just have to look for how we can address issues professionally. It is a professional thing. It is not something you have to close the border. When Ghana was having its own problem over this issue of rice with Cote D’Ivoire, they looked at the differentials and saw how they could address the issue. We must look at what we want to gain and see how we can address them.
On local consumption of rice, if we have enough, we can see how we can intervene. Subsidise the local production and encourage them to produce more to be enough for the populace.
Closing the border will affect the lifeline of the country. We should consider the original interest because we border other countries. We don’t just take decisions. We should look at other interests.
This issue of rice or no rice has to do with domestic consumption. We are now taking rice as staple food, which is not to be. So, there is a lot of demand on rice. What is the level of our local production? If it is more expensive than the ones coming into the country, then there is need to address that issue. If it is cheaper than the foreign rice, then there is no need for any rice to come in. But it looks like the ones produced locally are more expensive. Why is it expensive? So, there is need for the government to look at it and address it. If people cannot afford the ones produced in the country, then we have a problem. So, that is the area the government should address and not to close the border. That is a fire brigade approach. The fact that Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has not issued Form M since last year and so no vessel of rice has come in is not a solution. We have a lot of porous borders and you cannot put Customs officers on all the routes. It is not the Customs fault. It is the fault of the demand. There is nothing you can do. There are a lot of areas you don’t see Customs around. It is not the Customs fault. It is our fault not to see how we can address the issue of domestic production properly for the benefit of the people. If the local rice is N60 something thousand and the ones coming in are less, nobody will go for the N60,000 plus. The intention of the government is to look at how to make the local rice cheaper.
Is Dangote a construction company? By the provision of the Nigerian Port Act, Section 32(a), the Minister of Transportation and the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) are to maintain the port roads, control and manage them. The problem you have on the roads are NPA problems because by the provision of the Act and the provisions of their law, NPA has to be probed for what it is doing because the function of NPA is on the port roads. As I said, in the port concession, which is not backed by law, what we have is lease agreement and what they did is concession of the ports and the bill is still in the National Assembly up till today. When the ports were to be concessioned, certain things were not put in place.
READ ALSO: Stakeholders urge govt to fix port roads
For instance, there was a holding bay in the ports for vehicles that are coming in. Those areas were given to terminal operators and there were no holding bays. A holding bay is an area where a container truck can go in and wait for its turn to load. And then we have what they call the trailer parks. Jakande himself developed a trailer park by Wilmer area. I don’t know what the Lagos State government is doing now. If Jakande developed a trailer park during his tenure, what is Ambode doing? I was in the regime of Jakande when the trailer park was developed. Lagos State government is collecting wharf landing fees. What is it doing with that money? We must look at these problems critically. The Lagos State government is collecting money on Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). So, it must contribute to the development of the roads. It is not only on Airport Road because it is collecting money from the ports here. Government must contribute to the development of the ports.
Lagos State government has the highest IGR from people working in the ports. What are they using the money for? The government, NPA and the Minister of Transportation should be held responsible for what is happening there. The government is losing over N5 trillion every year because of the situation of the road. All businesses have closed down at the port area. Apapa is completely grounded. The bridges are threatening to collapse because of the impact of trailers on the bridges. We have a government that is not focused. Jakande created what many of them are benefiting from today. Apart the revenue, a lot of people working at the ports have lost their jobs; most of them have lost their lives, most of them have lost their cargoes; most of their trailers have damaged. Even the government is not providing subsidies for transporters. Is that how countries are being run? Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) controls money for the provision of shipping infrastructure. In America, they have subsidies for transporters. America has a lifeline for its transporters. There is nothing stopping the government to provide 500 trucks for the transporters so that they can bring back the life of the trucks. These are people who are keeping their economy going. You put a very high duty on the trucks whereas Ghana has almost free duty on trucks. Ghana is not having what Nigeria has. What it has is good administration. We play politics with everything. We play politics with our wives; we play politics with our children and we play politics with everything. It is not done like that in any country in the world.
The shipping world is dominated by five or six persons. Shipping is a very big business and it is capital intensive. National carrier status is not in our laws now. What we have in our laws is ship expansion programme for indigenous operators. So, when you are talking about national carrier, I don’t know where you want to place it. If you are talking about a national carrier, you have to provide a law to do that. What you have in your law is fleet expansion programme for indigenous operators under the NIMASA Act. The NIMASA Act provides that you make the shipping environment more conducive. NIMASA has a lot of functions, which it is not doing. The national carrier, by the provisions of the Act, is for indigenous operators who would declare as national carriers. What the government is supposed to have done by the provision of the NIMASA Act is to have a counterpart arrangement where indigenous operators and the government will create an enabling environment to tie most of those shipping companies because in America they have subsidies. If you look at Section 16 and 17 of NIMASA Act, it is saying that the money should be kept for the development of the shipping industry and building capacity for indigenous operators.
Cabotage is a coastline thing. Cabotage has a vessel financing fund. Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF) is not for NIMASA. It is for the indigenous operators.
NIMASA operates the fund for indigenous operators. It is a vessel financing fund. It is for coastal trade and not for international trade. That is the law. Cabotage is something that has to do with indigenous shipping, coastal shipping and all those things. It is not for international shipping. It is for coastal shipping. They should look at the law.