Channels Must be Dredged, Maintained to Ease Vessels Movement



Daniel Fuchs is the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Lagos Channels Management Limited. In line with the tradition in his home country, Israel, he spent not less than 27 years in the Navy. The LCM, which is a joint venture by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and some technical partners, has a mandate to dredge and maintain the Lagos channels. The success story of LCM has led NPA to set up similar joint ventures for Bonny and Calabar channels. In this interview with John Iwori, Fuchs bares his mind on on Isreal Nigeria and other issues

How far have you gone in the execution of the mandate the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) gave to your company?
The request by the Nigerian Ports Authority to dredge and maintain the Lagos channels is being implemented. Nevertheless, in order to maintain it, some spots need repairs. The repair could be planned. However, because of budget constraint we were not able to do it in one year. Therefore, it is spread over years. Presently, we are talking about 2017 budget but it is not concluded. This is due to the fact there are still some issues that are we are negotiating. It is not because of operations but because of funds. We are looking for how we can accommodate them this year. Our major focus this year is to maintain what we have achieved in 2016. What we have achieved is that almost all the channels up to Tin Can Island Port, Apapa is up to 13.5 metres in depth. This is the reason why you can see that some big ships are coming here already. These are ships that are 275cm sailing into Lagos ports. We are talking of MV Agima. We are talking about tanks that are 260cm. Other stakeholders work together with the Lagos Channels Management Limited to achieve most of our goals. Already, NPA is talking to us about expansion in the ports and the first one is the Kirikiri afterwards. This is because our Lagos channel ends in the Grimaldi area and we are working together on how to go further. This is not unconnected with the fact that there are demands for jetties to be the path finder. They are coming to talk about expansion. Nevertheless, the port is open now.
Presently, there are some constraints because the economic recession in the country is causing some delays. This is as result of the fact that the revenue accruing into the national till has reduced drastically. However, I believe that Nigeria will overcome this recession and NPA will witness growth in revenue and we will be able to do an expansion of our ports eventually.

How much is the expansion going to cost?
I do not know exactly about the figure now because they are still working on it. The engineering has to be done to ensure that it is feasible. The next step is that NPA will now be in a position to know how much is going to cost. This is due to the fact that the authority needs to do its own assessments on the revenue and funding. It needs to find out. If it is worthwhile, it will do it. Remember, it is its own job. On our own part, we are saddled with the responsibility of carrying out the engineering. We are doing some surveys and collecting information. We gather the figures. We are gathering information and analysing. When we conclude, we go and show them to the authority. We negotiate and see what can be done and what cannot be done. It is a long process.

You said you are doing the engineering aspect and once you have concluded, you go back to NPA to negotiate what it can take and what it cannot take. When do you see these processes completed?
First of all, when we started, the idea was to come in the last quarter of the year to come with some inputs into NPA. However as a result of the economic recession in the country, we are maintaining the channels, finishing first with the engineering work and on how to implement it. At the moment, we actually do not know if NPA can fund it. This is because we have seen the budget and is going to shrink. We have not been able to accommodate it. That is why we decided is to work on the engineering aspects and that is our plan for this year. Now, we are asking if it can allocate something in the budget to start work this year. We are still negotiating. This is important because even if they allocate so much money, there are other variables we need to put into consideration. We may not be able to do it because our plan was to reduce and not to increase the scope. We cannot bring people into the country if there is no commitment from our partners. The NPA must be able to fund it otherwise we will not able to make a head way. The last time we discussed, it was agreed that everything be slowed down a bit to maintain what we have achieved and now we are talking may be to start doing something this year. Presently, we do not know how much. This is due to the fact that it has to pass through several stages: the government, National Assembly, comprising the Senate and the House Committee on Transport. It is a budget and by the time we finish, it is going to be almost three quarters down and what is left to us is the fourth quarter. What we decide is to give them a wrapped number to put and let us see if it is possible.

In the past four years, especially in the weeks ahead of the Yuletide, you have been extending a hand of fellowship to the less privileged. What is the motive behind what you are doing?
Well, surprisingly most of us are living in Nigeria. Most of our life is here in the country not outside. We see how people are suffering in this country. I come from a place where I was educated and I grew up where people have suffered in the past and they do not have anybody to fight for them and this is where we decided to focus on the less privilege and the vulnerable. In my country, if you save one, you have saved many. We are seeing how we can help and support the under-privileged people to live a good life. We are doing these in our own small way and it is left for other companies to see that they can also do to help the vulnerable and less privilege.

What are the criteria for the selection of the beneficiaries and do you intend to maintain the number or expand it?
As expected, there are so many individuals and organisations that need help. However, we have to select five of them, mostly in Lagos. We carry out some checks to confirm whether these organisations actually exist and what are their needs. These checks enable us to be in a better position to carry out the selection of the beneficiaries. The reason we select from Lagos is clear. Lagos is our operational base. From time to time, however, we may select outside Lagos. There is a limit to what one company can do. Therefore, I feel that some other companies can emulate what we are doing and join forces together so that we can reach out to more less privilege individuals and organisations for the needy across the country.

How many dredgers did you inherit from NPA and have you acquired?
You know that we are not working on campaigns. We are working on 24/7 basis. We are leasing the towages and one of them is 40 years old and you know the culture of maintenance. Sometimes I do not know if we are leasing or we are taking care of.  Anyway, it is in our agreement that we must take those vessels and lease them. In my personal opinion, I do not want to sound impolite. Business wise, it is half business and half not business and it is a choice for NPA. We see ourselves responsible to give jobs to Nigerians and the technical part of LCM is the one that operates those vessels and equipment. Our goal is that at the end of the day, we will bring all vessels back to NPA. The idea is to take care of the vessels and not to lease them. Maintenance is not easy. It is not a simple task to take care of vessels and equipment. The problem here is that in the past, the side that we are leasing and bringing vessels from abroad, more numbers were not working and only the small ones go to the creeks.

What do you think informed these changes in the plan?
Any budget is a good plan and change is necessary. There is no development in the port that the NPA is not part of. Besides, at least two members of the board of directors of this company come from NPA. I do not necessary need to go to the NPA to carry out my functions. LCM is in charge of surveying. Information cannot be provided by other companies. We also provide for the government. Survey has to do with lot of time. This is my point of view. It is good that NPA is part of the management of LCM. Everything needs to be done accordingly. Not too long ago, the management of the NPA, led by its Managing Director, was on an inspection visit at Kirikiri. We were called to provide information and render certain functions. This is not unexpected because the managing director of the NPA is the chairman of the company.
Remember, LCM came into being during the administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. This was sequel to several meetings and signing of agreement. LCM is a budgeted company and its budget is pure. NPA does not advertise every venture it is going into. Our budget goes to the politicians at the helms of affairs. This is because at the end of the day, it is the budget of NPA and LCM budget is inside NPA budget. I was asked to defend it. I prepared adequately for this defence by starting to plan next year budget by July. I do the defence in several places. Wherever I was asked to come and defend it, I defend it. For instance, I defend it at the National Assembly. Whenever the NPA goes there too, they will call me and I will go there to defend it.

What is your take on the concession of the nation’s seaports?
The concession of the nation’s seaports is good for the economy. In spite of the drawbacks in certain aspects, the concession of the ports has yielded many gains. In my opinion, the decision of the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration to concession was a good one.

Now you have been in Nigeria close to a decade, what is your impression about Nigeria?
My country is full of security issues just as it is in Nigeria. We are trying to not show that we are attacking anybody. We are very a friendly country and try to keep peace. Virtually all the countries around us collapsed and we are the only one that stayed firmly on ground. I wish Nigerians can do the same but Nigeria is divided. They are divided. They are not united. Here, everybody is working for himself. People here are more individualistic in their pursuit instead of embracing team work. Nevertheless, Nigeria has a very nice environment and good people. Though some places are safe and not safe in Nigeria. I always try to avoid any problem wherever I am. I also avoid going to some places here. It must be noted however that insecurity is not peculiar to Nigeria alone as there are so many parts of the world experiencing the same thing.

How do you relax?
I use four weeks in Nigeria, two weeks out of the country. My family comes here to live with me. This is my life. I am used to it. Do not forget that I was in the Navy for 27 years.