While people have applauded the choice of the acting Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Mr. Mohammed Bello-Koko, all eyes will be on him to see how he addresses some of the major problems that have confronted the maritime sector in Nigeria part of which are inadequate financing, inefficient ports infrastructure, deficit in maritime infrastructure, inefficiencies, lack of transparency and sharp practices among numerous others.
Expectations from stakeholders in the sector is remarkably high. Being a capital-intensive sector, anyone at the helm of affairs is expected to work to increase private sector partnership, because inadequate participation of the private sector is responsible for poor funding, subsequently, inadequate financing, inefficiency and ineffectiveness as well as stunted growth.
Another particularly important issue is inefficient and inadequate port and shipping infrastructure. How Bello-Koko handles the problem of decaying infrastructure such as ports, terminals, cargo handling equipment, channels and harbours, warehouses, ports access roads, intermodal transport involving rail and roads interfacing with ships and badges, utilities, information communication technology (ICT), deep seaport and scanners, will be of immense interest to ports users as these are parts of the challenges facing the maritime sector in Nigeria.
Any reform the new NPA boss would embark must factor in the pathetic state of port access roads, particularly, the Lagos port complex, Apapa and Tin Can Island Port. The road condition in the Lagos port is disturbing and the pressure it has been exerting on Lagos metropolis has heightened the call for multiple modes of transportation.
There is also the problem of inadequate development of seaports and inefficient supportive logistics infrastructure. This is another challenge stakeholders in the maritime industry in Nigeria have had to grapple with. There is the need to increase vessel size, and this has remained a problem for ports and shipping companies. Also, accommodating much larger vessels has proved very problematic in ports,where the capacity for such ships is lacking.
Worried, experts have repeatedly noted that if the Nigerian maritime sector was properly harnessed and managed, it can generate N7trillion to the national coffers and create numerous jobs for Nigerians. Instead, stakeholders have continued to express concern that Nigeria is losing several billions on a regular basis to revenue leakages, capital flight and policy inconsistencies in the maritime sector.
A 2018 Brickstone white paper titled: Challenges and Solutions: Private Sector Participation in the Nigeria Maritime Industry stated that Nigeria is currently losing N15b or $101m annually in the sector. Worst still, the research noted that Nigerian ownership accounts for less than 8 per cent, which is far less the percentage contemplated in extant legislative enactments. Put succinctly, Nigeria and Nigerians are unable to fully reap the benefits available in the maritime sector.
To address this, the new NPA leadership will be expected to investigate allegations of malpractices in shipping operations such as alleged under-valuation of imports, under-declaration of goods, concealment and fraudulent transactions on Gross Registered Tonnage (GRT) of vessels by shipping lines, among others.
Renowned Nigerian maritime lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Olisa Agbakoba has said times without number that, the Nigerian maritime sector has huge untapped revenue estimated at N7 trillion per annum, maintaining that to harness this potential, existing policies, institutions, regulatory and legal framework in the sector must be overhauled. So, Bello-Koko would be expected to take encumbrances affecting the optimisation of the maritime sector to the National Assembly for legislative overhaul.
*Abdulkadir wrote from Zamfara