A leading port operator, Dr. Taiwo Afolabi and Chairman SIFAX Group has expressed deep concern over the infrastructural deficits hindering the progress of numerous ports of nations in Africa, even as he harped on the critical need for a revolutionary transformation of the African maritime sector.
Afolabi while speaking at the 43rd Annual Council of the Port Management Association of West and Central Africa (PMAWCA), which held in Lagos last week, informed that only three African ports—situated in Egypt, Morocco, and South Africa featured in the 2020 list of the world’s top 100 container ports, handling a combined 51% share of goods transported by sea.
Afolabi’s plea extended to the strategic importance of maritime operations, emphasizing the need for a sharp focus and a developmental strategy if Africa is to realize the full potential of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
Afolabi who was represented by Capt. Ibrahim Olugbade Executive Director of SIFAX off dock, said Africa’s representation in the global top 100 container ports is severely lacking, with only Egypt, Morocco, and South Africa making the cut. He stated that this revelation underscores the imperative for comprehensive infrastructural development across the continent.
The SIFAX boss further stressed the urgency of addressing port expansion as the current infrastructure may struggle to cope with the escalating demands of both imports and exports when AfCFTA fully begins.
He expressed optimism that with Africa’s population on a continuous upward trajectory, the need for various goods is expected to soar, making port infrastructural development of utmost importance, adding that the statistic highlighting the dominance of the three African nations in global container port rankings serves as a wake-up call to the entire continent.
Beyond infrastructural deficits, Afolabi tackled additional challenges facing the maritime industry, including low fleet ownership, unduly long turnaround times for ships, and a lack of adequate investment in modern cargo handling equipment. Many of these challenges, he explained, can be traced back to funding problems experienced by port operators and private sector entities within the industry.
Proposing a paradigm shift in financial strategies, Afolabi cited Nigeria’s Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF) as a model for addressing critical funding issues in the Nigerian maritime industry. He suggested that other African nations should consider establishing dedicated maritime funds modelled after the CVFF to foster industry development, address funding challenges, and enable active participation in the expansive opportunities presented by AfCFTA.
While echoing what Afolabi said, Princess Vicky Haastrup, President of the Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN), while speaking exclusively to our correspondent during the sideline of the event, emphasized the pivotal role of terminal operators in promoting the success of AfCFTA. She said their responsibility in providing efficient and cost-effective service delivery makes them the linchpin of the transportation of goods across Africa.
Addressing concerns about lease renewals, Haastrup expressed confidence in government’s commitment to due process, equity, and fairness. She emphasized the importance of lease renewals in maintaining Nigeria’s credibility and attractiveness to foreign investors, assuring that the current administration is aware of the necessity to renew these expired leases.
Reiterating the urgency of the situation, Mrs. Nneka Onyeali-Ikpe, Managing Director of Fidelity Bank, while speaking at the event, emphasized that intra-African trade currently accounts for only 18%, underscoring the pressing need for improved connectivity and development of seaports. She stressed that the modernization of ports is imperative for Africa to fully harness the economic potential embedded in the AfCFTA.
She called for a revolutionary transformation as Africa aims to harness the economic potential of continental trade.
Meanwhile, while speaking at the event the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Mr. Mohammed Bello Koko stated that the NPA is embarking on a significant $1.1 billion port rehabilitation plan, in a means to ensure a strong commitment to fortify Nigeria’s trade competitiveness.
Koko, during one of the panel sessions at the event, stated that with almost every port in Nigeria requiring rehabilitation, the NPA is initiating a substantial overhaul, starting with the Tin Can and Apapa ports in Lagos.
He stated that the objective of the NPA is to enhance the physical infrastructure of these ports to accommodate vessels of all sizes and increase the draft at the quayside, with the aim of achieving draft depths of up to 14 meters, expressing that the initiative will render Nigerian ports more competitive on a global scale.