The Nigerian Ports Authority says it has opened correspondence with a number of international financial institutions, including the Africa Development Bank, French Development Agency and the European Investment Bank, among others, to help finance the dredging and expansion of port infrastructure in the country.
This comes after the management of the ports complained of decaying infrastructure, which it says is leading to loss of revenue and hampering port operation.
The NPA has, however, been generating close to N300bn on a yearly basis for at least five now, but says the strain on port finances has made it difficult to invest in critical infrastructure and maintenance of decaying facilities.
LEADERSHIP Sunday findings show that port operations in Onne, Rivers State, and the Calabar Port in Cross River are not only characterised by decaying infrastructure, but also inefficiency, job losses and corruption.
The ports provide ship harbour, interface services such as pilotage dredging, provision of berths, maintenance of navigational channels, ship-port interface (loading and unloading of cargoes, and port-land interface in cargo delivery to and from the hinterland).
Apart from being major gateways to the economy, seaports play a strategic role in the development of the economy of the nation.
In Cross River State, the Calabar port, after its construction many decades ago, apart from the port being used by the slave merchants for conveying of slaves to Europe and America, Calabar seaport was used as a channel of transportation to also convey raw materials like lime stones exploited from the state to other parts of the country and subsequently to Europe and Asian countries.
Agricultural produce like cocoa, which the state is known to be a major producer, was also being transported through the Calabar seaport to western countries of Europe and America to feed their chocolate industries which, after being used for production of chocolate bars, is exported by the whiteman back to the state through the same Calabar port.
Agricultural produce like palm kernel, rubber,palm oil, cotton, imported materials used for the production of cement, crude oil were transported to and from the state through the Calabar port. All these happened when the port infrastructure was said to be in good shape.
As time went by things began to change. Channels at the Calabar waterway became so shallow, making it impossible for bigger vessels that are beyond five to six feet tall to gain access to the Calabar port given the level shallow water, causing businesses at the ports to operate at a very low ebb.
The implication of this is that many who hitherto had one or two businesses to transact at the Calabar port suddenly had no jobs due to low business activities at the Calabar port. A situation which has thrown many out of jobs. Failure of business operations at the Calabar port has not only caused many to be idle, but torn families apart as many young men and women who hitherto were engaged by companies like Intels and others, who may have left the ports because of business failure, got staff of their folded companies disengaged leading to the
disengaged workers relocating to other parts of the country and abandoning their loved ones behind in search of new opportunities.
Effort to get the corporate affairs manager of Calabar Port, Dr Kingsley Ukadike Chijoke, to speak on the issue failed as he told LEADERSHIP Sunday correspondent to write an official letter to the NPA management before he could say a word.
However, a woman who said she is a staff member of the Port Authority in Calabar, Miss Estella (surname withheld) said,”Operations at the Calabar Port are not rally as we envisage or expect the port to perform.
“Shallow channels are not allowing bigger vessels to come into the port. “The authorities of Calabar Port have experimented with flat bottom vessels, it didn’t work. It is also very restrictive to tell a shipping line what vessel that will come to your port.
“On account of dredging, they have been some constraints restricting dredging.
“Another issue that made the Calabar port perform below optimum capacity is the litigation issues surrounding some earlier dredging efforts.
“Management is lookingeffort at how to dredge but they are considering economic viability of dredging,” stressing that “if they dredged, because of the amount of money involved in the dredging, the Port Authority is afraid if the money sunk to dredge can be recouped through various activities in the port,” she said.
A cursory look at the hydrographic survey of Calabar port shows that some places are standing at 10 metres, others at 8 metres, with others recording 5 and 6 metres at maximum permissible depth against the national standard, which is standing at 10 metres depth.
All these technicalities make it impossible for vessels which are above 10 metres to berth at the Calabar Port. This encumbrance has forced the management of Calabar Port to look for alternative solution to the technical problem.
“At a moment, management is suggesting isolation dredging as opposed to dredging the whole port,” she said.
LEADERSHIP Sunday also learned that other problems that serve as impediments towards efficient operations at the Calabar seaport include the curvy channel which is about 94 kilometres from Calabar Port to the ocean front. Again the curvy nature of the channel makes it difficult for bigger vessels to enter and berth at the Calabar port.
A source told LEADERSHIP Sunday that the management of Calabar Port has been soliciting for help from the federal government to look for avenues to strengthen the curve which, if taken care of, will shorten the distance between the ocean front to the Calabar seaport.
Other constraints hampering efficient operations of the Calabar port, according to LEADERSHIP Sunday’s investigation, is the existence of illegal jetties found in places like Ikang, around Bakassi LGA, and Agborkim Waterfall, Etung LGA in Cross River State have to be taken care of. This to a great extent constitutes impediments to the smooth functionality of the Calabar Port. If the government is serious about getting right, machinery has to be set on motion to discover and probably get these illegal jetties closed down. The bottom line is that some of the security agents are aware of these illegal jetties.
The source said another issue is tropical West African cargos that ought to have been coming to shoreline are always diverted at regular intervals to other West African countries. The continued collapse of these jetties, which are not yet to be fixed, has been creating room for loss of businesses. He said if the government can rise up to the occasion and get the shore lines fixed, the jetties can begin to generate income to the coffers of the federal government.
Calabar port is made up of new port terminal, which has Intels and ECM terminals. There are ports that are authorised to carry out cargo handling.
Another factor going against the smooth operation of the Calabar port, LEADERSHIP Sunday gathered, is the state of the roads. Goods coming into the country through the ports do not stop at the ports until the goods get to the final consumer before the goods are said to have reached their final destination. Every good that comes to the port is intended for somewhere else. Without a good road network, business at Calabar seaport operates at very low ebb. The issue of bad roads particularly the Calabar-Itu road is also said to be hampering smooth operations at the Calabar ports.
At the Intels terminal, the abandoned rig called Delta Queen has been taken over by AMCON, which is presently trying to cut the rig to pave the way for easy passage of vessels. Work is currently ongoing to get the rig removed from Intel’s terminal.
The internal security, LEADERSHIP Sunday learned, is said to be in good shape. For some time, there have been no reports of theft or incidents of robbery or burglary of warehouses or attack on tank farms or facilities at the waterfronts, though there are incidences of sea pirates and theft at along the Calabar channels at regular intervals.
A visit by LEADERSHIP Sunday to Onne Port complex was not only slow but rough, considering the sorry state of the Eleme axis of the East-West Road.
It was observed that a lot of container-carrying vehicles coming or going to the Onne Port complex were either stuck along the road while others somersaulted while trying to manoeuvre bad spots on the road.
Although the federal government recently announced that construction work commenced on that section of the road after some protesting youths blocked it for more than one week, nothing seems to be happening.
At the Onne Port complex, LEADERSHIP Sunday observed that there seems to be a collaboration between all government and non-government agencies working at the Port to institutionalise corruption.
According to an insider, who pleaded for anonymity, the Onne Port, like any other Port in the country, was not in a sorry state, but it is the system in operation at the various ports that is in a sorry state.
He said: “The situation in Onne is a general situation. It is not that Nigerian Ports are in a sorry state but it is the system in operation that is in a sorry state. NPA staff, customs, clearing agents, importers are operating in a system that is corrupt where everybody is suffering and smiling; no one to redeem the situation.
“For Customs, they have come out with a system where there is duplication of work, involving at least five units working on a particular job, thereby creating room for corruption. It is a big problem because clearing agents cannot do anything.
“If a clearing agent attempts to protest, all government agencies working at the Port will target the agent’s job, making it difficult for his jobs to be cleared. We are afraid not to be phased out of the system.
“NPA management that knows what is happening cannot confront Customs because they are working hand in hand. No seasoned clearing agents will agree to talk in order not to become a scapegoat.
“At Onne Port, there is nothing the federal government can do to tackle that because NPA management knows what is happening and are out to enrich themselves.”