Bassey Inyang in Calabar
The Managing Director/ Chief Executive of the Nigeria Export-Import Bank, NEXIM, Mr. Abba Bello, has advised the federal government to open up more functional ports so as to expand economic growth and ease the Apapa gridlock.
Bello, who made the call during a ceremony to flag-off the loading of 7,000 metric tons of cocoa beans onboard a chartered vessel from the Calabar Port to the United States, said the event was significant because it would help decongest the Apapa port as well as increase in business opportunities, not just for the state, but the entire South-south region.
Bello said: “Apapa Port nightmare is partly a reflection of the increase in the volume of business activities in the Apapa and Tincan Ports and associated high volume of human and vehicular traffic without corresponding improvement in road network and other port infrastructure.
“The attendant challenges have had serious implications for the business climate contrary to the objective of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari to ensure that Nigeria ranks among the top one hundred countries of the world on ease of doing business by 2023.”
He lamented the challenges created by the Apapa gridlock, saying exporters continue to suffer hardship and in some cases inability to satisfy their contract obligations, as well as bearing additional cost saying.
“This is even more so against the background of the expected increase in the volume of trade with the commencement of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) and the ongoing efforts by the federal government to diversify the economy and promote non-oil exports,” he said.
Speaking about some of the activities of NEXIM Bank, the Managing Director said at the moment, the institution was working in partnership with the public and private sectors at improving maritime transportation system through the establishment of a regional shipping company, the Sealink Company Limited.
He said the establishment of the Sealink Company Limited would bridge the infrastructure gaps existing in the maritime industry, thereby easing trade connectivity for coastal and hinterland trade, and also promote the export of solid minerals, and goods manufactured in Nigeria.
He said, “Having made significant progress, preparatory activities for the Sealink project have reached advanced stage.
“The project has consummated a consortium partnership with some private sector maritime operators who have agreed to deploy about twenty vessels after issuance of ‘Notice of Readiness’ by Sealink project.
“As part of the indication of the project’s readiness, we have obtained approval for Inland Water Ways right of way from the National Inland Waterways as approved by the government,” he added.
Bello disclosed that the NEXIM Bank has started the implementation of the State Export Development Programme, designed to develop at least one exportable commodity from each state, under the zero Oil Plan of the federal government.
He said to achieve the aim of the programme, the bank earmarked N1 billion per state in support of the efforts of the states.
In his remarks, the Executive Director, Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC), Mr. Segun Awolowo, said Nigerian exporters have suffered from avoidable delays in export shipments as a result of the gridlock at the Lagos ports.
Awolowo said on some occasions goods arrive their ports of destination late and sometimes in bad conditions due to over stay in the vessels and are sometimes rejected in extreme situations, underscoring the need for alternative ports.
He stated that as one of the critical agencies in the promotion of non-oil exports which is the next line of defense for the Nigerian economy, NEPC views the event of the day as significant towards the attainment of a zero oil economy.
“In our zero oil plan, we have identified and told the Federal Government that the rail lines from Maiduguri to Calabar and the Port Harcourt Port called the blue transport corridor and the rail line from Katsina through Abuja to Shagamu and the Lagos Port and an alternative route to the Badagry Port called the red transport corridor must be built to boosts trade,” he said.
Also speaking, Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Hadiza Usman, said when she first assumed office in 2016, she made Calabar Port her first port of call to underscore the special place Calabar Port occupies in the agenda of her administration.
Managing Director Starlink Global and Ideal Limited, Alhaji Adeniji Adeyemi, exporter of the 7000 metric tons of cocoa beans from the Calabar Port said, “Before now the cocoa from Cross River used to have very poor quality due to poor post-harvest handling, so we came here and taught the farmers how to clean, remove clusters and gave them machines to dry the cocoa beans thereby making it of international standards.
“Today Starlink is the only company in Nigeria that has the FGN registration to ship cocoa to America from Nigeria.
“We believe in the need to solve the perennial problem of the gridlock in Lagos Port, that is why we brought a chartered vessel to Calabar, it has not happened before and we are ready to do more,” Adeyemi said.