Comrade Umar Jimoh (President, NPA, SSA)
One of the reasons why the eastern ports have not been well patronized especially in Warri and Calabar is the shallowness of the channel which does not allow for navigation of big vessels, the pilotage system to the high sea in Lagos is shorter compare to Warri where you still have to propel round before getting there, Port Harcourt and Onne port are still doing fairly well in terms of cargo handling compared to Calabar and Warri. We however thank God for the giant stride taken by the present administration for its decision to carryout dredging in some parts, the first phase has started and I believe this will further make things easy. Also with the dialoguing going on between government and the Niger Delta militants; if properly done, there should be peace and calm in that region.
If the government is ready to ensure viability in the eastern ports, it should encourage citing of industries in these parts and link them by rail to ensure easy access, it is only then that patronage can increase, we need to talk of viability which is a holistic approach, the low patronage will continue if the infrastructures and the orientation are changed.
Aleakhue John Okpono (Merchant Navy)
The problem with us in Nigeria is that we believe in ‘already made’ and we hardly accept change, everybody wants to stay in Lagos and do business in Lagos, this is so because 90 per cent of Nigeria’s port activities are concentrated here.
Let me say that the reason most importers will prefer their cargo to arrive in Lagos instead of the east is because of security, Lagos to some extent is more secured than the east where we have the Niger Delta militants kidnapping and hijacking ships. Another factor to consider is the shallowness of the waterways, any big vessel coming there will have to stay far away while a smaller one will be engaged to transfer cargo to the port, all these amount to extra cost and nobody is ready to bear all that.
In Lagos, there is an existing market, before the vessel arrives, the buyers are ready unlike Calabar and other eastern ports were there is low market because of the lack of awareness, some people are not even aware that there are ports in these areas.
Government must play a vital role by a way of granting subsidy or waiver in order to encourage importers to be making use of the eastern ports.
I believe if the government can encourage the importers by way of discount on duties and so on it will further make the operators to equip the ports with more cargo handling equipment which will help spread the activity.
Olanife Adeoye (petroleum marketer)
The federal government should intervene on the issue in terms of security in these eastern ports, there are lots of militancy and piracy activities going on there which is causing importers to run from the area.
I believe that the lack of adequate security in the area is the major cause, the issue of shallowness does not count because even in Lagos, some big vessels cannot be accommodated, it has to stay mid-stream were smaller vessels will now have to go and carry the goods.
Chief Henry Njoku (Chairman, BOT, ANLCA)
As we are aware, many of these ports were built more than three decades ago and as result, cannot cope with the challenges of the present day. This therefore makes the call for port expansion imperative. The port should be expanded both in terms of latitude and infrastructure.
There should be adjustments in the structure of the ports by this, I suggest that Port Harcourt port 1 (the old port) the cement plant in port should be relocated to the end of the wharf.
This will allow free flow of vessel carrying other goods like fish, rice, and containers etc easy access. Onne port should be restricted to pipes and other industrial equipment and general containers. There is no doubt need to dredge and widen the neck of the ocean to allow big vessels easy movement in and out the port. This also applies to Warn and Koko ports. There is the need to encourage the use of EPZ, Calabar because of its closeness to Tinapa. The place can be used for manufacturing and exporting products thereof. Exporters of raw materials like cocoa, rubber, palm kernel etc should be encouraged to make use of the port. Government should see to it that the roads from the neighbouring states are widened to enable more people access the port. Government should also take the issue of maritime security more serious in order to restore the confidence of key players. Both Koko and Sapele ports can be made more functional as fishing and oil product ports respectively.
Mr Leye Ajayi (MARAN President)
It is a fact that Nigeria is blessed with six major ports as well as other ports like Koko, Burutu and Sapele ports. Unfortunately, the ports in the East have not been adequately patronized due to several reasons adduced by port operators. Some of the reasons as identified by our association are: militancy, problem of pilotage, shallow navigational channels and bad roads.
It is therefore a matter of urgency that the Federal Government should find a logical solution to the issue of militancy by ensuring that adequate infrastructure are made available to the communities.
Government should also resolve once and for all the problem of ship pilotage along the Delta creeks.
It is commendable that the Federal Government has embarked on the dredging of the River Niger and at the same time government has pronounced that the Calabar River channels should be dredged.
Such dredging would open up the nation’s water channels for smooth navigation and boost ship traffic.
Dredging would also provide avenues for both small and big vessels to go into the Eastern ports.
There is also the need for government to embark on immediate repair of access roads to states hosting the Eastern ports. For instance the major road leading to the Eastern region from Ore (Ondo State) to Benin (Edo state), Aba (Abia State) to Calabar in Cross Rivers State and Port Harcourt are in bad state.