James Emejo in Abuja
The $61.5 million regional Sealink project being promoted by the Nigerian Export-Import (NEXIM) Bank in collaboration with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission has received a boost with the unveiling of navigational charts for the lower River Niger.
The project seeks to establish and operate a maritime shipping company, which will connect the West African coastal ports as well as link parts of Central Africa to the West African region in order to facilitate trade.
The initiative will gulp $60 million in equipment and working capital and $1.5 million for the operation of a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) for the promotion of the concept among member countries.
The funding of the landmark project includes 40 per cent equity participation by private investors while the remaining 40 per cent capital would come from institutional investors in the form of loans.
The launch of the survey and navigation charting, which was jointly undertaken by hydrographers of the Nigerian Navy and the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) with financial support from both NEXIM and Afreximbank, comprised of 12 paper and electronic charts to ensure navigational safety of the lower River Niger channel to boost both hinterland and coastal trade.
Speaking at the ceremony over the weekend, Managing Director/Chief Executive, NEXIM Bank, Mr. Abba Bello, said as a trade policy institution, the bank embarked on the deliberate policy initiative to bridge maritime infrastructure gaps towards lowering logistics cost to foster trade with the promotion of the regional sealink project.
He pointed out that as a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) under a public-private-partnership framework, Sealink essentially aims to enable the bank to significantly broaden the national export basket.
According to him, the cessation of the use of the Burutu port in the mid-1970s substantially led to a considerable level of disuse of the river channel for mercantile trade, leading to the siltation of the channel over the years that resulted in navigational challenges.
This, therefore, informed the decision of NEXIM to partner with Afreximbank, the Nigerian Navy and NIWA to undertake the survey/charting exercise.
Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, commended NEXIM for its determined drive to implement government policy initiatives and for the inter-agency collaboration on the Sealink initiative.
Represented by the ministry’s Director, Home Finance, Mr. Mohammed Ali, Ahmed noted that the ministry had adopted the regional initiative as one of its ministerial mandates because of the need to support initiatives that will promote and attract private sector investments in maritime logistics infrastructure.
The minister said the project was expected to engender sustainable growth and diversification of the economy, as well as enhance the country’s potential to undertake export trade of bulk commodities like solid minerals and agricultural produce.
The Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral A.Z Gambo, thanked all the critical stakeholders and pledged the commitment of the Nigerian Navy to provide all logistical and technical support needed to ensure that the Sealink project is completed.
He stressed the critical role played by the Nigerian Navy in developing the charts, spearheaded by the naval hydrographer, adding that this was the first time a project of this nature would be handled by an indigenous Nigerian entity.
On his part, Minister of Transport, Jaji Sambo affirmed the ministry’s commitment to the successful attainment of the overall objective of the project in line with President Muhammadu Buhari’s vision for the holistic and sustainable development of the maritime sector and the Inland waterways.