Concessionaires Renew Commitment to Development of Dry Port Projects

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In a bid to escape the hammer of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council which threatened to revoke the licences of non-performing operators of inland container depots, the concessionaires are now showing a high level of commitment in the development of the depots, writes Francis Ugwoke

Operators of the Inland Container Depots, ICDs, otherwise known as dry ports appear to be waking up from the slumber. After several years of abandoning the projects, many of them are beginning to take the projects serious again. This is notwithstanding the current economic recession and the high cost of building materials in the country. But this is for obvious reasons. The Nigerian Shippers’ Council, NSC, had few months ago sounded a note of warning to the concessionaires of ICDs scattered in the six geo-political zones to take the projects serious or lose their licences. The ports economic regulator which was apparently worried about the failure of the concessionaires to speed up the projects at various sites had come out to make the consequences clear.

The Executive Secretary, Hassan Bello, had at a meeting with the concessionaires said “if for any reason, we see some unwillingness to execute this project the government will not hesitate to terminate this concession”. Bello had issued the warning after assuring the concessionaires of federal government readiness to accord them the status of ‘Port of Origin’ when they qualify for this. The assurance from the Council’s boss was very significant considering claims by many of the operators that what is holding them from the completion of the project was the fear of not being declared ‘port of origin’.

Bello had said in a meeting with the concessionaires, “the government has an obligation to bring out consistence policies that will encourage private sectors to perform. The concessionaires too have an obligation. Government is an enabler and will do everything possible to ensure that these projects come on stream but we also need to see some level of work to show some seriousness on the side of the concessionaires.

The private sector must show some responsibility because now we have in that agreement new time lines and we have to act according to the time lines. Anywhere you want us to intervene for you to grow don’t hesitate to tell us but I am telling you now that we also want to see action and if we don’t see action according to the agreement, we will not hesitate at all to cancel any concession.” Bello added: “We are now having a new agreement which we have done with the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC). This agreement is more agreeable, modern and it is in tune with the legal framework of public private partnership and it is easier to accomplish than the previous agreement.

The previous agreement was done without any regulatory framework. We are going to give every concessionaire copies of the agreement and we expect you to study the agreement and make contributions and inputs so that we can come up in two weeks’ time because we cannot unilaterally make the agreement without our key parties.” The threat was even taken further when Bello said the staff of the Council in different zones will be deployed to monitor activities on the sites. That was in November last year. And about two months after, the warning has begun to produce results in many parts of the country.

Dry Ports as Modern Shipping Infrastructure
As experts say, dry ports make international trade easier for people who are doing business far away from the seaports or airports. It is one of the modern shipping infrastructures in many countries promoted by governments in their efforts to make life easy for the people. For the NSC Executive Secretary, Bello, ICDs will bring the ports closer to the door-steps of many Nigerians no matter the geographical location. For instance, there are six of them and more to follow as container freight stations. ICDs are currently located in Isiala Ngwa, Aba, Erunmu, Ibadan, Heipang, Jos, Zawachiki, Kano, Zamfarawa, Funtua and Jauri, Maiduguri. There is also one in Kaduna which already has Port of Origin status.

FG Efforts in Promoting ICDs
The federal government is currently promoting ICDs. This is by way of linking them with rail lines at least from states where seaports are located. This was disclosed by the Transportation Minister, Rotimi Amaechi during a recent visit to the Heipang Jos ICD being promoted by Duncan Maritime Limited. Amaechi had during the inspection assured the federal government’s enabling environment for the operators of the ICDs in the country to succeed. He explained that government will ensure that infrastructures that will make ICDs succeed in various areas of location throughout the country were provided. Amaechi had identified rail as crucial and said that efforts were on to link most of the ICDs, including that of Jos with railways.

With this effort, movement of cargoes will be easy, he said, adding that the federal government was on top gear as far as rail services were concerned. On the issue of port of origin status, he assured that no ICD that meets all the necessary qualification will be denied being declared as Port of Destination in what is necessary for them to gain international recognition. NSC CEO, Bello, identified the employment opportunities for the youths as very important for the states where the ICDs are sited. He also said that the dry ports will boost the economies of the areas where it is located as well as reduce the difficulties encountered in international trade. Bello said the federal government was fully committed to the ICDs, adding that this was the reason the Transportation Minister had to travel all the way from Abuja on the road for four hours for the site inspection.

Efforts, Challenges by Concessionaires
Following the threat to revoke the licences of non-performing concessionaires, many of them have been making frantic efforts to ensure that their projects come on stream. It was gathered that with the seriousness demonstrated in rail projects, many of the concessionaires are beginning to take the federal government very serious too. This is because ICDs can only succeed with rail links between the seaports and dry ports. Hauling containers by road is out of it because of the risk and bad state of the roads. Among those who have shown seriousness in the ICD project is the promoter of Heipang Inland Dry to Plateau, Duncan Maritime Limited, for the Jos dry port.

It has a land mass of 33.7 hectares and a capacity to handle 20, 000 teus. The Managing Director of the Duncan Group of Companies, Dr. Godfrey Bawa Shitgurum described the dry port being constructed in Heipang, Jos, as a game changer for the economies of the North East States. Shitgurum who spoke when the Plateau State Governor, Simon Lalong, Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, Executive Secretary of the NSC, Bello and his top management staff, among other stakeholders, paid a working visit to Jos for the inspection of the project site said the benefits cannot be quantified.

He said that apart from generating revenue to the states and federal government, the port when fully operational will “create employment, expand economic value chain and open up new business opportunities to the citizens”. He however called on the federal government and state governments to intervene in the provision of internal road network, water supply and electricity into the IDP. He equally appealed to the NSC to facilitate the signing of Government Support Approval, GSA, to guarantee the state government’s continued support for the project. Shitgurum called on the federal government to intervene in the construction of rail siding in the IDP.

Apart from this, he urged the Transportation Minister to use his good offices to fast track the Gazetting of the Jos IDP as a Dry Port of Origin and Destination. Apart from Shitgurum, other ICD operators have also called on the federal government to consider the issue of according ICDs Port of Origin status. Chairman of Dala Inland Dry Port Nigeria Limited, the company promoting the Kano ICD, Alhaji Ahmad Rabiu said assurance of being granted the Port of Origin status was very important to fasten dry port projects. Such assurance will make it possible for banks to lend the companies involved for the project as far as reassure development partners, he said.

He told this writer, “the issue is that no bank will be ready to lend you except they see evidence of serious commitment on the side of government as we want, like the declaration of Port of Origin.. The banks wrote us letters and we forwarded them to the Ministers that they know that they are lending to approved project not that they are lending to real estate like this building. It can’t be approved because it’s just real estate but if we have been declared as a Port, whatever we do here, we are investing in a port duly recognized in the world”. Rabiu added: “We have taken our cries several times to the minister and to the president and we are about to take beyond that and we are hopeful that before the end of this month/ January the declaration will be done and we can commence in the month of February because we have got everything it takes. We have done beyond what the minister can see from concept to design to the level that we are”.