Even though it was predicted, not everyone thought seriously that it would be as bad as it turned out to. Certainly, 2016 gave a lot of hurting punches to maritime industry stakeholders, but 2017 was far punchier than the previous years.
From the importers to clearing agents, to ship owners, haulage operators, stevedoring companies, the story is the same. It is perhaps worse for those who either work or live in the port city of Apapa and its environs.
For the importers, the agony of 2017 was about accessibility and cost of foreign exchange, for the customs licensed agents, it was the usually cumbersome and high cost of cargo clearance, for the ship owners it was the same old story of lack of patronage and dominance of foreign ship owners. For the owners/drivers of articulated vehicles that are used for dry and wet cargo haulage, 2017 was worse. For residents, port users and all who either work or have businesses in Apapa, 2017 was full of pains.
Just like in 2016 when government mounted pressure on the maritime sector for revenue, owing to the drop in earnings from crude oil, attention was on the sector for revenue for the government in 2017.
Even though the value of Naira stabilized marginally in 2017, when compared with what obtained in 2016, it was still difficult for importers.
We recall that, from an exchange rate of about N280 to 1$ in 2015, the Naira was plummeted to as high as N480 by end of 2016. But, it stabilized at N360 to a Dollar in 2017. The same ratio applies to Euro and Pound Sterling which navigated around N400 and N450 respectively in 2017.
For an import-dependent economy, the Nigerian importer was confronted with a terribly unfriendly import policy, especially the continued shut-out of 41 items from the official foreign exchange window.
In response to these policies, the ports started experiencing down turn in vessel and cargo traffic.
Although, final figures of cargo throughput at various ports for 2017 were still being compiled by the NPA, various stakeholders confirmed that importation dwindled last year.
Even though it is beating its chest, the more-than N1trillion that the Nigeria Customs Service collected in 2017 has been attributed to arm-twisting of importers and clearing agents by its officers and high duty collected on all imports.
Of course, the ban on importation of vehicles through land borders also aided the high revenue collected by the terminal operators, the NPA, Customs and others.
There are fears that 2018 may not be any better for the industry than 2017. The unfriendly nature of the industry didn’t start last year; in fact it began in 2014 when the price of crude oil started dropping. Since that year, the price of oil has been falling unprecedentedly. The 2015 budget was predicated on crude oil price of $73 per barrel, 2016 was lower, while 2017 is far lower, and 2018 is predicated on $45 per barrel of crude oil.
Compared to 2017, there isn’t much different in the fiscal policies of the Government. Even though it is not our prayers, all these are signs that 2018 may not be any better than the year before it. No doubt, this year will further test the staying power of maritime industry stakeholders.
Apart from the fiscal policies and their effect, a critical area that will grossly affect the industry in 2018 is the state of maritime industry infrastructure, the attitude of its stakeholders.
Sadly, not much has changed in terms of the structures, superstructures and operators that we have in the Nigerian maritime sector. The approaches to Lagos ports, even though totally collapsed, have been bad for years. They only assumed a dangerous dimension in 2017, such that the Vice President had to embark on a discreet chopper ride over the port city of Apapa. The result was that he convoked a stakeholders meeting to find a lasting solution to the problem. The result of the meeting is yet to be seen.
Without being pessimistic, the issues of 2017 will largely remain the issues of 2018. From the access roads to the terminals and jetties, to the channels, on to the creeks of Niger Delta; we may not experience significant changes.
Finally, how good will it be if by the end of 2018, Ports and Harbour Bill has been passed and there is complete rehabilitation or reconstruction of the roads leading to Lagos ports and other ports in the country? We are also very hopeful that the recent appointment of members of governing council for the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) will herald a resolution of the conflict that has rendered the Council comatose for years.
While congratulating the Nigerian Shippers’ Council for breaking the jinx of the non-take-off of the Dry Ports, it is our hope that in 2018, more of these facilities would be commissioned.
As we all navigate into 2018, it is our prayer that we will experience a better industry this year.
We pray for a Happy and Prosperous new year for all. Amen.