Ministry of Trade and Investment, Olusegun Aganga
By Crusoe Osagie
The Ministry of Transport has disclosed that rail transport from Lagos to Kano will commence fully by the end of June, and that the Onitsha river port will also be commissioned soon.
This was made known at a two-day forum in Lagos organised by the Ministry of Trade and Investment for industry stakeholders in the country to enhance growth and productivity in the sector.
The disclosure was made by the Permanent Secretary in the Transport Ministry, Mr Nebolisa Emodi, who represented the Minister of Transport, Mr Idris Umar, at the forum.
He revealed that the Lagos-Kano railway route which was awarded by the Obasanjo administration was broken down into six sections on stand-alone basis for execution.
He said that the effort is geared towards making industries in the country more competitive by reducing the cost of transporting their goods and products, adding that that some services are already being provided along the route.
Emodi explained that the government chose to rehabilitate the existing narrow railway lines instead of constructing new ones because it was more cost effective.
He explained that rehabilitating 3000 kilometres of rail cost about 600 million dollars as against 850 million dollars for constructing a new 275 kilometres of railway lines.
He also disclosed that the Onitsha river port will soon be commissioned as part of the development of the Inland Waterways, adding that the dredging of the lower Niger has been completed.
He said that the Ministry has noted that the existing ports were not adequate, explaining that this was why it entered into partnership with state governments to set up new deep sea ports in the country so that more bigger vessels can come into the country.
Emodi also disclosed that 24 hours port operations have been put in place to ensure free flow of business activities and easy movement of goods in all the existing ports.
He revealed that the setting up of a new port in the Lekki Free Trade Zone has already been included in the gazette and more ports will also be built across the country, including Ondo, Cross-River, Markudi, among others.
He urged the private sector to partner with government to develop inland container depots and also to come and develop the railway sector with high speed mass transit lines that will commute between Lagos and Abuja under 3-4 hours.
He also told them that the eastern corridor(Lagos to Aba) is also another highly commercial route which can be taken advantage of for private investment and development.
Meanwhile, millers have predicted a looming decline in capacity for the sector with the decision of the Federal Government to increase import duty on wheat from 5 to 20 percent with effect from July 1.
The millers told the Minister of Trade and Investment, Dr. Olusegun Aganga, at the just concluded forum where he charged industrialists to speak out on the challenges which they face in their daily quest to boost capacity in the industrial sector.
The Managing Director of Nigerian Flour Mills Plc, Mr. Emma Ukpabi explained during the forum that if the government goes ahead to up the duty on wheat by July 1, the cost inevitably will be passed on to the bakers who will in turn push it to the consumers, a situation which may lead to a loaf of bread now selling for 120 naira being sold at 200 naira.
He predicted that this situation may lead to boycott of bread, warning that when that happens, it could lead to loss of jobs for a lot of people, which is contrary to government’s policy on capacity building.
He also called for a more realistic approach towards government’s directive to include 40 percent of cassava flour in the production of bread.
“We want the International Institute for tropical Agriculture (IITA), all the master bakers, all the millers, to show us how they arrived at 40 percent because to replace 40 percent of wheat with cassava is not the major thing, what is important is that the baker can produce an acceptable tasting bread which Nigerians can eat.
“We are stakeholders and we need to speak out not just for us but also for the Nigerian consumers because they are the ones who will eat the bread and decide what quantity is acceptable, since if they stop eating, bread bakers will shut down and when bakers are not in business then millers will also shut down business,” he reasoned.
He also noted that the people who have invested in producing cassava flour will also lose their investment, so it should be a gradual process determined by the level of consumer’s acceptance.
“Give us the recipe let us try out the recipe, the millers will very much want to support the bakers to learn how to produce bread with 40 percent cassava flour through our various baking schools,” he said.
He also noted that right now the quantity of quality cassava flour produced in the country can only sustain 3-4 percent inclusion in bread ”Where are we going to get the balance from,” he asked.
He also said that government’s decision to increase the import duty of wheat from 5 to 20 percent on the first of July in anticipation that cassava will serve as an adequate alternative is a situation of putting the cart before the horse. “ Why not have the cassavas first before talking about any increment in duties on wheat,” he queried.