Recently, the managing director, Nigerian Ports Authourity, Engr Omar Suleiman met with a select team of journalists in his office. In the brief encounter, the MD spoke on so many issues, ranging from port concession and the attendant gains, to his passion for deep sea port and ongoing capital and manpower development in the agency.
Can you tell us the priority that you set for yourself when you were appointed as the managing director of NPA?
Fortunately for me, I have been in Nigerian Port Authority (NPA) for long, so when I came in as the Managing Director, the first issue was to develop the ports, increase the level of infrastructure so that Nigerian ports will be able to compete favourably with other ports in the world. The port infrastructure has been very low. So, one was to put infrastructure in place and deepen our channels, build new deepsea ports so that we can get the economy of scale that is required. The other one is to restructure ourselves, before port concession so many activities of Nigerian ports have not been in existence, this require a lot of re- training and the repositioning before we can be able to operate as the landlord model that we now have as against the operating port model.
So how far have you gone as regard infrastructure?
In term of infrastructure, we have done a lot, we have been able to dredge the channel to 13 .5 metre and now we are now we are receiving bigger with larger TEUs of about 4,500, bigger ships are now coming in, we are also in the process of developing new ports. We have gone advanced in Lekki and also the one in AkwaIbom. On manpower restructuring; that one is an on-going process because we are doing a lot of training so that we can catch up with the new trends in development and port monitoring, instead of port operation.
How far have you gone in respect of movement of overtime containers from the port to Ikorodu terminal?
The issue of overtime container is that if you are a shipping person you will know that every day there are overtime containers and they are the containers that have not been discharge, especially government cargo, IPP containers. We have moved more than 2,200 TEUs for now, but it is an ongoing process. We are just encouraging the users especially the government cargoes that they should come for the clearance and the importers also who have left their cargoes, we are appealing to them to come and clear their cargoes so that we have enough space for turn around time and achieve a shorter waiting time for containers.
Is NPA trying to introduce any device that could be used to monitor containers from pre-shipment stage to the period of destination?
I think we are putting two issues together, NPA’s role starts from when the containers arrive our docks, but we are synergizing with customs, that whatever had been cleared that we have original manifest of it should be in the container, because at the end of it, we (NPA) are the landlord and whatever happens, we are responsible for it, so we make every effort to follow up any container that comes into Nigeria.
Most of importers in Nigeria prefer importing through the neighboring countries, what effort have you made to make our ports attractive?
The usage of the neighboring ports is in two fold, actually I will admit that we have some challenges, but not to the extent of using the neighboring ports. One of it is because of our ban on importation of some goods, because if you take a look at our border, you will discover that most of these things are things that are prohibited to be imported into the country and that’s why they find it convenient bringing them in through the border than the port.
The banned items constitute the high level of importation through the borders into Nigeria. Because of the current policy of 48 hours cargo clearance, if you’re a serious importer you’ll not need to import through neighbouring country, but because of the items that are banned from being imported into the country, some people go through the borders.
Is the 48hrs cargo clearance in practice now?
Yes, it is.
What is your assessment about the port concessionaires, especially in the area of providing cargo handling equipment for containers?
That is a very germane question and that is the core of our responsibilities. All the concessionaires are setting out to what we call development planning which include the provision for the equipment for cargo clearance. For instance, what one of them, APMT did was to bring in ship to shore cranes and others equipment for container handling, some of them are doing very well and when we talk of containers, only the terminal that handle containers will be concerned with container handler , if you’re bulk handler you must have bulk cargo handling equipment. For now, the challenge is not really on the container handler because, vessel turn- around-time is now one or two days, even with the volume that we have seen. Therefore, we have challenges with a few of them who handle bulk cargo, but those who handle container have good handling equipment.
What are the gains of port concession and what do you consider as the contributions of NPA to the success to the programme?
One of the greatest contributions is that; we were the one who cried to the world that the way of doing business in the port has to change, therefore, we went to the government much earlier and we started the push for the concessioning. And it’s obvious if you have been to the port recently; you’ll obviously see the gains of concessioning, apart from the shipping indices, the turn- around time of vessels which used to be about 30 days is now one day or two days, ship waiting time has also reduced drastically. The ships that you see staying for days are not ships coming to discharge cargo, most of them are ships that are waiting for oil trade, they are not coming to the port. The ship coming to discharge cargo cannot stay more than two or three days, what is a ship doing for five days?
Would you say is its part of your achievement?
Yes it is, it’s an achievement of NPA. Before concessioning, ships used to stay for week and sometime, up to two months, but all that is no more.
What are you doing about other ports outside Lagos?
Yes, thank you. We are working on that, Calabar dredging is in the progress, Warri Channel dredging and the Escravos too, all the ports are receiving attention. We are also marking Calabar channel with buoys in order to get it completed and the Warri channel too.
When is construction of the AkwaIbom deep sea port going to start?
Very soon, the consultancy is on, I am going to Uyo tomorrow to have series of meetings with the consultants, that’s one of the deep sea ports that is looking very promising because of the cooperation of the state governor.
Some government agencies that have refused to leave the ports, what is NPA doing about this?
Those ones that were asked by the President to leave have vacated, you can go and check if they are still there.
But the House of Reps and some stakeholders are making move to return SON, NAFDAC
We have made our submission to the executive arm of government and we are waiting for the minister’s directive.
What should Nigerians expect from you in NPA in some years to come?
Deep sea port
Can you cast your mind back to those days at the Ahmadu Bello University, how did that University prepare you for leadership position?
I had admission in three universities then, but Zaria used to be a place almost everybody will wanted to be, it was metropolitan, you have people who already in Zaria and you have friends amongst the old students. I can say that’s one of those things that helped to seek admission there. It really helped me to relate with people anywhere I go. It makes me to be able to relate with people irrespective of where or who they are. I think that’s one of the things that ABU did to me. Thank you.