Barring last minutes hitches, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) says it is set to host the African Regional Conference of International Association of Ports and Habours (IAPH) in Abuja on Monday, 17th to 19th September, 2018; even as the Authority has expressed some worries over the infrastructural decay in ports operation due to poor hinterland connectivity, a situation it says was responsible for the inability of Nigerian ports to attract transit cargoes of neighboring Chad and Niger Republic.
Speaking while briefing pressmen on Friday about NPA’s preparations towards the conference, the Managing Director of NPA, Ms Hadiza Bala Usman revealed that the theme of the IAPH Conference is: “African Ports and Hinterland Connectivity”.
She disclosed that the objective of the Conference was to assemble key experts and stakeholders in the port logistics and transport industry to provide a deeper understanding of the concept of port hinterland connectivity, assess the present landscape of Africa’s port sector and the challenges faced in hinterland connectivity.
Speaking further, she said the conference would discuss the experiences of port hinterland connectivity in other parts of the world compared to Africa, explore possible critical solutions, and recommend best home-grown models that would enable Africa improve on its port hinterland connectivity and intraregional trade.
Emphasizing the importance of the conference, the MD hinted that Nigeria lost transhipment cargoes to neighbouring Benin Republic, Ghana and Togo due to lack of hinterland connectivity to Chad and Niger Republic. She maintained that without hinterland connectivity, the seaports cannot achieve operational efficiency.
The NPA helmsman who also frowned at Nigeria seaports relying solely on roads as a means of evacuating cargoes from the ports, said there is need for policy direction for government to develop other means of evacuating cargoes at the seaports .
According to the MD, “If you look at the transhipment cargoes that we are not able to capture in Nigeria it is attributable to that because a portion of cargoes that are going to neighboring ports are transhipment cargoes going to neighbouring countries.
“We have been advocating for intermodal connection and intermodal transportation system for cargo evacuation and we believe that this is the singular way to decongest any port .
“So far as we have all our road all the cargo plying the roads we will continue to have congestion so making our respective government understands that prioritising hinterland connection is paramount for any port to be operational and for import to be efficient we must have hinterland connection.
“We have Niger, Chad republic if Nigeria has smooth hinterland connection, rail connecting through to Katsina to Kano then it is easier for the importer to now bring it to Lagos and bring it to Kano or Katsina and evacuate to Maradi in Niger or Chad but the absence of that hinterland connection is attributable to a portion of huge captive cargoes we are not getting so that is part of the takeaway.”
“Without the hinterland connectivity, no matter how much we invest on quays, infrastructure in the port if you don’t link it to rail, inland waterways we have not achieve anything.”
“Nigeria government is prioritising export of agriculture produce, solid minerals but if there is no connection from the hinterland where the agricultural produce are farm, if there is no connection for the solid minerals to get to the seaports how can they be exported so the conference is to ensure that government understands our issues.”
“We will also share experience with respective port in Africa on how they were able to introduce evacuation of cargoes to the hinterland because if you see the challenges that we see NIWA having as they dredge the Inland port, how much cargoes is coming to sustain the level of dredging via a vis the level of siltation so there is need to be feasibility study on cargo traffic in those location to justify the dredging that will be done in the inland port.
“We want to see our sister counties to ask when they are doing their inland waterways routes what did they do, what are the challenges you have so we don’t repeat some of the mistakes that were made by other countries. We should learn and leapfrog to a successful outing,” she said.
She continued, “The notion that port operation is in isolation of hinterland connection seems to be what our government understands so you have a port and you have been mandated to have maximum operational efficiency and hinterland connection is not provided there is no priorisation of roads or utilisation of inland waterways so this are the things we think are burning issues for the continent and more so for Nigeria.
“We recently got the president to give a directive that the ongoing rail rehabilitation and expansion must ensure that all the ports are linked to the rail this was not so before.
“We also make submission to the ministry of works to prioritise linkage of access roads to port locations and in a situation where we also notified for need to have utilisation of inland waters using badges ensuring that Nigeria inland waterways authorities prioritise it’s operational capacities.
“Dredging some of the River ports and ensuring that the route to which we can utilize the inland waterways.