By Rabi Gambari
For over four decades, the Nigerian economy has depended on proceeds from the sale of crude oil. This is at the expense of other sectors such as the maritime sector, which in so many developed countries, contributes significant revenue to the economy.
It is an undeniable fact that the ports sector can play a pivotal role in the Buhari administration’s economic recovery efforts not only because of its capacity to help combat poverty through job creation,but also because of its linkage with other critical sectors of the economy like the manufacturing sector.
But most importantly, the port sector could help alleviate some of the problems associated with the disturbing nature of the Nigerian economy that has for too long being vulnerable to fluctuations in global oil prices.
Interestingly, the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), which regulates economic activities at the ports, is beginning to show signs that it can lead key stakeholders in the sector to raise non-oil revenue substantially from what obtains at the present.
To do this, the NSC has put together the New Port Order, a framework designed to check inefficiency, leakages at the ports and trade malpractices that include false declaration and under-declaration of imported goods, among others.
At the heart of this initiative is the introduction of the advanced cargo information system otherwise known as Cargo Tracking Note (CTN), which is a bold attempt to end decades of trade malpractices in which government loses billions of revenue annually.
That’s not all. The NSC is also vigorously pursuing the establishment of Inland Container Depots (ICDs) otherwise known as Dry Ports, which is strictly meant for safe keeping of cargoes for owners before final take-over by consignees after payment of some custom duties.
An ICD is an equivalent of a seaport located in the hinterland. It receives container by rail from the seaport for examination and clearance by Nigeria Customs Services. It has all the loading and off-loading equipment needed to handle container and general cargo.
The Council believes that with Nigeria’s deep involvement in importation, with almost 90 percent of products it consumes, it is important to build ICDs to address the obvious challenge posed by the limitation of seaport terminals’ space capacity.
Already, construction of six ICDs by various companies, which have keyed into the initiative are in progress in various parts and geo-political zones of the country. In Kaduna, North West, the ICD begun by Inland Container Nigeria Ltd (ICNL) is about to take off. In Jos, North Central, Duncan Maritime Services Ltd has started an ICD project and in Isiala Ngwa (Aba), South-East, the Eastgate Inland Container Terminal Ltd has begun another ICD project.
Dala Inland Dry Port in Kano, now owns an ICD, with Migfo Nigeria Limited, Maiduguri taking care of the North East. Catamaran Logistics Limited in Ibadan is expected to bridge up for the South West, while Equatorial Marine Oil & Gas Limited Funtua has taken up the ICD initiative for the North East.
The collaborative seminar organized by the NSC and ICNL in Kaduna recently marked a turning point in the actualization of the initiative.
From the Ministry of Transportation, through the management of the Shippers Council to other stakeholders, there was unanimity of opinion that the project would provide stimulus to the economy of the states where the ICDs are sited and the country at large.
Speaking at the event, NSC’s Executive Secretary and Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Hassan Bello said apart from assisting in decongesting the seaports and making them more user-friendly, the ICDs would bring shipping services to the door step of shippers across the nation.
He emphasized the socio–economic significance of the ICDs to include reviving and modernizing the railway as a primary mode for the long distance haulage of cargo, as well as assisting in the reduction of overall cost of transit cargo to landlocked neighboring countries. Establishment of customs clearance facility close to production and consumption centres; and improved container usage and reduction in the movement of empty containers, he said, have also been identified as key benefits of the ICDs.
Harping more on the benefits of the ICDs, Bello explained, “The success of the ICD projects will definitely ensure greater efficiency of the terminals. This will in turn improve the turnaround time of ships thereby reducing demurrage and eliminating cases of pilferage.
To address the challenge of moving cargoes from the seaports to the hinterland, the Nigerian Shippers Council has taken further steps to initiate the construction of truck parks in the cities where the ICDs are being sited.
•Gambari writes from Lagos.