Apart from the Lagos ports which remain the flagship of the port industry that account for over 60 percent of shipping activities in the country, there are other ports in the Eastern Zone of the NPA which include Port Harcourt port, Onne port, Warri port, Koko port and Calabar port.
The Ibom Deep Seaport at Ibaka, Akwa Ibom State is still at the gestation stage.
However, apart from Onne port which due to its strategic location at oil services area that made it marginally productive, the rest of the ports in that axis are virtually idle.
The situation has gotten to a stage that they have become big drain on the resources of the NPA that has failed to get returns on its huge investments it has consistently sunk into these ports over the years.
Over the years, the Port Authority had made several efforts to stimulate activities at these ports but to no avail.
Prior to the 2006 port concession programme, a 30 percent reduction on all NPA tariff was granted to lure importers and shipping companies to patronise the ports in the Eastern axis but with little results before the gesture was withdrawn.
Under the present NPA management, another concessionary discount of 10 percent on harbour dues was also granted to bring back the fleeing importers and their agents but to no avail.
This effort was complemented with the multi-billion naira dredging of Warri ports, deployment of equipment said to worth over $30million to the ports in that axis.
Curiously, importers, shipping companies and other merchants in related shipping activities still prefer Lagos ports with their malignant traffic gridlock and over stretched infrastructural facilities.
There is no gainsaying the imperative need to make the Eastern ports attractive to ports users.
The Lagos ports are congested and have reached a breaking point and the urgent need to attract some of the users of the over-stretched Lagos ports to the Eastern ports cannot be overemphasized.
More importantly, some of the owners of the cargoes that are destined for the East, South -South and Eastern parts of the North who ordinarily should have preferred the Eastern ports due to their proximity to the destination of their cargos, curiously still patronise the Lagos Ports.
We believe that the problems of the Eastern ports which have made them pariah among the shipping community are not insurmountable.
These problems are mostly man-made and self-inflicted, apart from the natural disadvantage of Calabar port with its characteristic high siltation level that has continually made its long channel shallow and unable to accommodate bigger vessels.
These are oft-repeated problems known to all stakeholders and government which include the insecurity such as youths restiveness in the Niger-Delta, piracy, sea-robberies, dilapidated and decayed infrastructure at some of these ports as well as deplorable roads.
While we blame the Federal government for its failure or lack-lustre efforts to tackle the issue of insecurity, especially the restiveness of the youth in the Niger-Delta which was allowed to linger and fester at the time the agitation of South-South region of the country for resource control was at its feverish pitch, we equally frown at the successive NPA managements’ timidity in tackling the issue of infrastructural development of the ports in that axis.
Though we commend the remedial efforts of the present management of the authority to fix the infrastructural decay, we however dare say the problems have accumulated far too long for this present efforts to have immediate visible impart.
One of the potent problems of the Eastern ports that has posed a formidable challenge to their viability is the issue of insecurity.
This has made the freight rates of the shipping companies to be more than triple the ones they impose on Lagos ports.
For instance, due to the real or imaginary fears of insecurity of their vessels and crew members, the shipping companies have increased the freight rates of cargoes to the Eastern ports by almost 300 percent.
In addition, insurance premium has increased while special rates called war surcharges are most of the times slammed on importers by vessels that agree to go to that region as most of them decline offer to make voyage to the ports in that axis .
This development has expectedly made the use of the ports in the Eastern Zone very uneconomical for importers, hence their preference for the Lagos ports despite their own challenges.
Given this scenario and the fact that government cannot claim ignorance of this development , we consider the current public hearing on the challenges of the Eastern ports being conducted by an Ad-Hoc committee of the House of Representatives as a mere academic exercise if the Federal government does not muster the necessary political will to tackle this problem headlong.
In as much as we appreciate the concerns of members of the National Assembly over the parlous state of the Eastern ports, their efforts in conducting the public hearing into this matter will be a mere circus show where all the stakeholders, including the government agencies, engage in what we consider high sounding rhetorical exercise if they fail to compel the relevant authorities to resolve the multi-faceted problems facing these ports.
Resolving the insecurity issues, especially piracy attacks, sea robberies, kidnappings and armed banditry in that part of the country holds the key to the resuscitation of shipping activities and viability of the Eastern ports.
As much as the remedial efforts of NPA to fix the infrastructural decay at the ports and the fixing of the roads by the federal ministry of works are desirable and necessary, we consider them as complementary efforts to tackling the main menace of insecurity.
No amount of persuasion or concessionary discounts by the NPA will make importers go back to the Eastern ports if the issue of insecurity is not resolved.
We believe that resolving the insecurity in the region will win back the confidence of foreign ship owners to patronise the ports and make them normalise their outrageous freight charges that will make the patronage by importers economical.
This, we hope will rescue the Eastern ports from the throes of death as importers will start to patronise them, thus relieving the Lagos ports of its cargo and human traffic that have stretched their facilities to a breaking point
Editorial! Chairmanship of CRFFN: Mortgaging the Freight Forwarding industry
“Following Chibuike Amaechi’s imposition of one Alhaji Tsanni as chairman of the governing council, Amaechi’s action, contrary to the legal provisions of the CRFFN Act as regards the position of chairman and vice-chairman, has automatically placed the Council on the precipice.”
“It is absolute disregard of the rule of law. It’s not even healthy for the political future of Mr. President (Buhari).
The Gradual Decapitation of Shippers’ Council under Jime.
The Politics of CVFF disbursement.
The Cabotage Vessel Financing Funds (CVFF) has become a wild card in the hand of the government which it uses at will to dribble the hapless indigenous ship owners in a game of deceit.
For about 18 years when the Cabotage Act of 2003 was promulgated and 14 years when the CVFF guidelines 2007 were issued by the Ministry of Transportation and approved by the National Assembly, the disbursement of the interventionist fund has become a rat race between the government and indigenous ship owners.
All over the world, governments seek and strive for the development of their maritime Industry either through direct intervention as the CVF was designed to be or through the creation of conducive environment to attract private participation.
It was with this mindset that the promoters of the Cabotage Act promulgated the ACT in 2003.
The ACT, akin to the Jones Act of the United States, was meant to reserve the opportunities in the coastal trade for the exclusive rights of indigenous ship owners.
To enable them to participate effectively in coastal trade, the promoters of the Act mooted an interventionist fund to be given to the operators as soft loans under the Cabotage Vessel Financing Funds (CVFF).
The fund, which is a pool of the deductions of the two percent of the contracts executed under the Cabotage trade, will be given out to qualified shipowners in a low-interest loan.
But 14 years after the fund berthed, no single operator has benefited from the fund.
Successive governments have played a game of deceit on the disbursement of the fund, making fools of the hapless indigenous operators.
Over the years, the accrued amounts of the fund from the deductions which are still ongoing despite non-disbursement, have been a subject of controversy as various, unverified figures are being churned out by the government and its agency, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and safety agency (NIMASA), thus leaving operators to make wild guesses.
The last unverified figures given out by NIMASA during the press conference to mark the one year in office of the incumbent Director-General of NIMASA, Dr. Bashir Jamoh, was $20m and N32 billion.
We call it unverified because the fund grows almost on daily basis from the two percent deductions from Cabotage contracts.
Unfortunately, the fund has been serially abused by successive governments which gleefully dip their hands into the hilt and use it for purposes other than what it was meant for.
The circus display of a game of deceit over the disbursement of the fund started during the last administration of President Good luck Jonathan when Mr. Patrick Akpobolokemi was at the helms of affairs as NIMASA DG.
The closest the indigenous operators came to getting the loans was the shortlisting of six applicants from the 100 applications for the loans.
Nothing was thereafter heard until 2015 when the Jonathan administration gave way to the present government.
It was even rumoured that the fund was depleted by the previous government in the run on to the 2015 General elections.
The game of deceit continued under the present government which even elevated the circus show into an act of mind game.
Under the present dispensation, promises of disbursement were not in short supply as the Chief Executive officers of NIMASA, starting from the erstwhile DG, Dakuku Peterside, regaled indigenous operators with his power of rhetorics to hoodwink them when he made several unfulfilled promises of disbursement.
This act of deceit continued under the present leadership of NIMASA which has continued with the same old tradition of unfulfilled promises.
Even though Dr Bashir Jamoh, the incumbent NIMASA DG, appears to be genuine in his passion to disburse the fund, but he was handicapped by the insincerity of his principals.
If the Jonathan Government was being diplomatic about its insincerity over the disbursement, the present government, who incidentally criticized its predecessor over the non-disbursement, left no one in doubt about its intention, to play to the gallery.
It was under this government that the fund was taken over and deposited into the TSA account at the Central Bank of Nigeria.
As laudable as the move was to safe guide further pilfering of the fund, the Buhari Government, through his Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, said the fund belong to the Federal Government.
Despite several efforts and promises made by NIMASA and the Ministry of Transportation to disburse the fund, the Presidency inexplicably yielded to the antics of the Finance minister who curiously objected to the disbursement.
To confirm that this government never had any intention of disbursement, Rotimi Amaechi, the Minister of Transportation, told the bewildered audience at a Lagos event last week, that the President has withdrawn his earlier approval granted for disbursement, thus shattering the forlorn hope of the expectant beneficiaries.
We are as confused and bewildered as the hapless indigenous operators over the turn of events.
Two months ago, Amaechi told his audience that the fund was on the verge of disbursement when the Minister of Finance, despite the approval of Mr President and the endorsement of the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, protested and stalled the process.
In another breath, the President was said to have withdrawn his approval over what Amaechi called the petition letters which he alleged the indigenous operators wrote against him to Mr President.
The whole thing doesn’t add up.
It was Amaechi who advised the operators to write a letter, protesting the meddlesomeness of Ahmed Zainab who allegedly stalled the process.
We find it curious that the same operators, who should be grateful to Amaechi for fighting their battle, would now turn against him and instead of protesting against Ahmed Zainab, their common enemy, will now turn their anger against Amaechi.
The whole scenario seems illogical to discerning minds.
To us, it was giving a dog a bad name before hanging it.
The government, as the risk of being controverted, had never intended to disburse the fund, if there is still any fund to disburse.
With the legendary propensity of this government for borrowing, we may not be entirely surprised if it later turns out that this government has “borrowed” the accrued amount into the fund while playing to the gallery to buy time until more money is accrued. After all, the two percent deductions and other fees accruable to the fund are done on an almost daily basis, if not on daily basis.
If this government could deplete the pension funds through borrowing, we would not bat an eyelid if the CVFF has suffered a similar fate.
We are sad to note that the noble objectives of CVFF have been distorted and bastardized on the altar of political expediency.
The fund, which has become an object of serial abuse, has been turned into a buffer to cash back political expenses while leaving the indigenous shipping to bleed and suffer stunted growth due to mindless neglect.
Going by the guidelines set by the Ministry of Transportation and approved by the National Assembly in 2007, the hijack of the fund by the Presidency and the interference of the Minister of Finance is illegal and negates the spirit and letters of the guidelines.
Schedule 4 of the guidelines spell out the parties to the fund which include the Ministry of Transportation as the supervising Ministry, NIMASA, the Primary Lending Institutions (PLIs) and the fund applicants.
Nowhere was the presidential approval nor the inputs of the ministry of finance indicated before the fund could be disbursed.
Using the fund for purposes other than what was stated in the guidelines was not only uncharitable but criminal.
Under the purpose and beneficiaries stated in the guidelines, schedule 3.1 (financial support), it states that:
” The fund shall be utilized by the agency (NIMASA) to offer financial assistance, create access to funding by financial institutions with the sole aim of increasing retail indigenous ship acquisition capacity.
“The disbursement of the fund shall be subject to the approval of the Minister of Transportation upon recommendations by NIMASA”.
For 14 years, these objectives were met in the breach
From the foregoing, the current circus show which the present government has engaged with the CVFF disbursement is against the spirit of the ACT.
For a government that prides itself as a defender of rule of law, it should have caused the National Assembly to amend the Act before the president took over the administration of the fund.
We find as distasteful the political game to which the present government has subjected the CVFF disbursement while neglecting its critical role of intervention to empower the indigenous operators to enable them to participate effectively in coastal trade.
We urge the National Assembly to step in and stop the serial abuse of the fund and cause a forensic audit to be carried out to ascertain the level of pillage that the fund has suffered since 2007.
Ending this rat rate and political circus show over the disbursement of the CVFF, to us, will halt the gradual but steady tipping of indigenous shipping from its present precipice of disaster.
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