Lack of hinterland connectivity has affected trade within Africa but the Nigerian Ports Authority brought African together to discuss connectivity. YUSUF BABALOLA writes
Trade between African countries is said to be low compared to trade between Africa and developed countries and this is attributed to lack of connectivity between the countries. it is believed that it is easier to import from China to Nigeria but rigorous to export from Nigeria to neighbouring Ghana because of lack of connectivity between the two countries. Unfortunately, 39 of the 54 countries on the continent are either littoral or island states but these countries can’t effectively connect each other for trading or movement of transit cargoes. For instance, Niger Republic shares about 1,500 kilometres of boundary with Nigeria, and with a coastline of about 800 kilometres, Nigerian ports remain the natural and easiest gateway for Niger and Chad’s access to the sea.
Nigerian ports are also nearer to Jibiya (a border town between both countries) than Togo, Benin Republic or Ghana; while Ghana to Niger is about 3,400 kilometres, Lagos to Jibiya in Niger Republic is just 1,300 kilometres but the countries prefer Togo, Ghana to Nigeria because of lack of hinterland connectivity. But, in other to find a lasting solution to challenge in Africa connectivity, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), hosted an International Association of Ports and Harbour (IAPH), tagged: “African Ports and Hinterland Connectivity” on effective utilisation of African waters for the growth of their economies.
At the conference, experts brainstormed on the challenge of having Africa connected by rail, road or even inland waterways for efficient evacuation of cargoes to the hinterland. According to the African Development Bank (AFDB), Africa needs $90 billion investment to bridge its infrastructure deficit , while $30billion is needed yearly for
the transportation sector .
This has however been a source of concern as they believed this has contributed to high cost of service and cargo evacuation in various African countries.
Country programme director, Laté Dodji Lawson, said cost of transportation in Africa was as high as six times in other region especially in Europe.
For instance, while African ports rely mostly on evacuation of cargoes by road and few by rail and inland waterways, the port of Antwep moved 38 per cent of its cargoes by inland waters, while seven per cent are moved by rail and 55 per cent by roads. The promoters of the ports, however said there were plans to reduce evacuation of cargoes by road by 15 per cent by boosting its rail and inland waterways connectivity and movement of cargoes to hinterland.
However, speaking on how Nigeria intended to connect its hinterlands for quick evacuation of cargoes out of the seaports, President Muhammadu Buhari directed that all nation’s seaports be connected by rail , while roads construction are ongoing in all six-geo political zones in the country.
“This administration that I am privileged to lead is committed to rebuilding infrastructure that supports multimodal means of transportation from the ports to the hinterland.
“We understand that this interconnectivity will improve the country’s economic competitiveness as targeted under the Economic Recovery and Growth. So for starters, I have directed that every port must have the complement of rail infrastructure.“Our projections is that by the end of 2021, we will have standard gauge railway across the main north-south trading route. “The same level of serious attention is being given to the improvement of road infrastructure. At the moment, 25 major highways and 44 roads are under construction across the six geo- political zones of the country. “Just as we have insisted on the stimulation activities on our inland waterways. Major inland river channels are being dredged with adequate channel markings for ease of navigation all the way through the eastern and northern parts of the country. That is the only way to go ifwe plan to remain competitive in the maritime industry. “This, in a sense, seems to be a divine ordination of our desire for continental integration. Even though we have physical national boundaries that separate us, the waters are a natural source of connectivity and they seem like a subtle message that we must work together for the good of all our countries.
“This is why there could be no better time than now to hold this conference. The theme of the conference: “African Ports and Hinterland Connectivity,” is itself a testament of the determination of the organisers of the conference to, collectively seek lasting solutions to the challenges that port operations face on the continent.
“After the issues of adequate security and transparency, the one other important factor deciding the competitiveness of ports is that efficiency with which cargoes are evacuated to and from the ports. This, without doubt is an area in which port operations in Africa needs a lot of intervention.
“Of course, there are ongoing discussions in Nigeria and other African countries on the expediency of urgently investing in infrastructure that supports multi-modal means of transportation between our ports and the hinterland, meetings like this put the issues in proper perspectives and serve as avenue for the generation of ideas that would aid our national governments formulate effective policies,” he said.
Also, the Nigerian minister of transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, said Nigerian government was commitment to the case of rapidly developing and connecting the hinterland. And this according to him, was evident in the rapid pace with which the government was pursuing the reactivation and extension of the nation’s railway networks to facilitate the ease of transporting cargo from our port locations to the hinterland.
He said, “Work is already at advance stage on the realignment and re – modification of the national railway gauge lines and the revitalization of the once moribund Kano Express Train.
“Similarly, the Lokoja – Itakpe – Warri rail line started operations only a few months ago while the Port Harcourt – Aba – Maiduguri axis is being reconstructed to standard gauge to further open up the nation’s hinterland for market penetration.
“With the development of dry ports in Kano and Kaduna with direct rail connection, cargoes and containers now easily transit to the nook and crannies of northern Nigeria. “This also extends to Chad and Niger Republic in our determination to promote trans – shipment of cargoes to the neighbouring countries. We are also partnering with the government of Niger Republic in the construction of a standard gauge rail line to connect Maradi in Niger Republic with Katsina State in Nigeria. These constitute part of our efforts at promoting regional integration and trade between both nations.
“In furtherance of government’s determination to create an efficient multi – modal transport system to improve inland connectivity in Nigeria, the inland waterways are being revitalised as alternative to existing modes of transportation.
“At the moment, inland river channels are being dredged starting from the River Port in Onitsha up to the northern region of Lokoja in Kogi and Baro in Niger States with adequate channel markings for ease of navigation.
“It is an established fact that solid minerals like manganese and agricultural produce are already being exported out of Nigeria from the Ikorodu Lighter Terminal through barges on the shallow lagoon extending to the Apapa Port in Lagos.
“Work has commenced on remodeling the existing narrow gauge rail lines on the Apapa corridor of the Lagos – Ibadan rail network into standard gauge for seamless transportation of people and goods. The project being handled by China Civil Engineering and Construction Company (CCECC) is progressing at a rapid pace,” he said.
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