By Kasim Sumaina in Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari Monday hinted that his administration is committed to rebuilding infrastructure that supports multimodal means of transportation from the ports to the hinterland, even as he directed the linking of major seaport in the country to rail infrastructure.
The president stated that the current administration’s projection was that by the end of 2021, the country will have a standard gauge railway across the main North-South trading route.
He gave the hint while declaring open the first ever conference of the African Region of the International Association for Ports and Harbours in Abuja.
According to him, “We understand that this interconnectivity will improve the country’s economic competitiveness as targeted under the Economic Recovery and Growth. So for starters, I have directed that every port must have the complement of rail infrastructure and our projection is that by the end of 2021, we will have standard gauge railway across the main North-South trading route.
“The same level of serious attention is being given to the improvement of road infrastructure. At the moment, 25 major highways and 44 roads are under construction across the six geo political zones of the country.
“Just as we have insisted on the stimulation activities on our inland waterways. Major inland river channels are being dredged with adequate channel markings for ease of navigation all the way through the East and Northern parts of the country. That is the only way to go if we plan to remain competitive in the maritime industry.”
Continuing, he disclosed that it is particularly gratifying that it is at the time that Nigeria has the privilege of the vice-presidency of this important body that the idea of a continental conference is coming up for the first time.
The president also said it is a testament to the country’s commitment to the even development of the continent and its maritime industry in this particular instance.
He explained that nations in Africa are also largely connected by the same developmental challenges as well as large human capital and natural endowments.
“It behoves us therefore to work together and deploy our resources towards solving those issues that militate against us,” he said.
Speaking further, he said: “One of the resources that we can proudly speak about as Africans is our maritime endowments. A situation in which at least 39 of the 54 countries on the continent are either littoral or island states makes the formulation of policies for the effective utilisation of our waters for the growth of our economies expedient.
“This, in a sense, seems to be a divine ordination of our desire for continental integration. Even though we have physical national boundaries that separate us, the waters are a natural source of connectivity and they seem like a subtle message that we must work together for the good of all our countries.”
According to him, this is why there could be no better time than now to hold this conference, adding: “The theme of the conference: African Ports and Hinterland Connectivity is itself a testament of the determination of the organisers of the conference to collectively seek lasting solutions to the challenges that port operations face on the continent.
“After the issues of adequate security and transparency, the one other important factor deciding the competitiveness of ports is that efficiency with which cargoes are evacuated to and from the ports. This, without doubt is an area in which port operations in Africa needs a lot of intervention.
“Of course, there are on-going discussions in Nigeria and other African countries on the expediency of urgently investing in infrastructure that supports multi-modal means of transportation between our ports and the hinterland. Meetings like this put the issues in proper perspectives and serve as avenue for the generation of ideas that would aid our national governments formulate effective policies.”
He implored participants at the conference to see themselves as people opportuned to stand in positions of responsibility on behalf of Africa.
“I say this because the maritime sector where all of are fortunate to be active stakeholders is central to the facilitation of trade and the total integration of Africa for even development. I look forward to fruitful outcome from which all of Africa will benefit. And on that note, it is my pleasure to declare the first Regional Conference of the International Association for Ports and Harbours in Africa open. I wish you very useful deliberations,” he said.
Similarly, the Vice-President, International Association for Ports and Harbours (Africa) and Managing Director, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Hadiza Bala Usman, said: “Given our limitless potential and the concerted efforts of national leaders on the continent to explore the potentials that our ports bear, there could be no better time for us as administrators of ports across the continent to ponder on the best ways to improve connectivity to the hinterland where most of the cargoes that we receive at our ports are designed for.
“There’s no doubt that one of the determinant factors for the relevance of ports is the speed and seamlessness with which owners of cargo are able to move their consignments out of the ports and that Africa really does still have a lot of work to do in this area.”
Usman, while delivering her opening remarks, stated that for these and so many other reasons, the theme for the conference, ‘African ports and Hinterland Connectivity’ is one that will hopefully unleash the potential of our ports to contribute to development
“In the 63 years of its existence, the association has grown into a global alliance representing 180 members ports and 140 port-related businesses in 90 countries. The IAPH promotes collaborations and information sharing which helps to resolve common issues and continually improve on service of ports to the maritime industries.
“Although this is an African conference, global key organisation like the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) are here to avail us the opportunity to latest global best practices and opportunity that exists for the development of ports in Africa.
“There is no doubt that Africa holds a special place in the global maritime space with 39 of the 54 countries on the continent endowed with littoral assets, the development of the continent is to a large extent, tied to the optimal exploitation of its vast maritime resources.
“I implore all participants to open their minds to speak out and learn new things that will justify this meeting and affect our organisation and country positively,” she charged.
On his part, the Minister of Transportation, Mr. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, said: “Let me say here that the present administration of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is unequivocally committed to the optimal development and utilisation of the nation’s port potentials.
“Our desire in Nigeria is to have ports that are not just part of transport and logistics supply chains in themselves, but ports which are landlocked transit corridors and directly connected through rail to the inland dry ports for efficient evacuation of cargoes. We are as a result committed to developing the intermodal transport system as a mechanism to reinvigorate the conveyance of maritime logistics.
“The task of opening up the hinterland where the largest population of our people resides and where most of the agricultural produce are domiciled become a challenge that requires urgent response which this administration has provided and we are totally determined to strategically link up the 36 state capitals with the Federal Capital, Abuja with standard gauge rail services.”