Kasim Sumaina in Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari on 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 seaports in the country to rail infrastructure.
The president stated that the current administration’s projection was that by the end of 2021, the country would have standard gauge railway across the main North-South trading routes.
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 plan (ERGP). So, for starters, I have directed that every port must have the complement of rail infrastructure and our projections 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 Eastern 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 at the time that Nigeria had the privilege of the vice presidency of this important body that the idea of a continental conference is coming up for the first time.
He 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 countries in Africa are also largely connected by the same developmental challenges as well as large human capital and natural endowments, saying it behooves on the citizens to work together and deploy their resources towards solving those issues that militate against them.
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.”
The president further noted that there could be no better time than now to hold the conference, adding that 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.
He added, “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.
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.”
According to her, “There is no doubt that one of the determinants 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 so many other reasons, the theme for the conference, ‘African ports and Hinterland Connectivity’ is one that will hopefully unleash the potential of the nation’s 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.
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.”