The Nigerian social media space at the weekend was saturated with anger. The gridlock at Apapa Port was at the centre of the public anger and anguish. The gridlock has resulted in untold hardship, anger, frustration and death. It has to an extent, affected the entire Lagos and had a whole lot of persons asking pertinent questions; questions like why are the Eastern Ports not functioning to ensure that the congestion at the Western Ports is dealt with.
However, the right questions to ask is perhaps, why does Nigeria play politics the way it does. Nigeria has been notorious with her politics of economic starvation
The Nigerian Ports Authority’s facilities in Rivers State are crying shames to the state and the region at large.
On a visit to the Port Harcourt Port, the facility is devoid of any activity save for two or three ships that berthed at the port laden with PMS. The security is loose. No one searches you as you make your glorious entrance into the expansive facility with decaying structures. In short, one can smuggle in a bomb into the facility and no one cares. Few vehicles drive about the facility, mainly those of the customs and police officers tasked with safeguarding the facility.
Echoes of human coughs could be heard from a traceable distance. The port facility that should be generating billions of revenues for the federal and State governments is almost overrun by weed while Lagos is almost choked to death due to too many activities and nothing is being done about it?
Strategically located to serve the import and export needs of Eastern Nigeria, the Port Harcourt, Onne Port, Calabar Port and the Delta Ports are clear pointers that politics, as we know it in Nigeria, is crude, brutal and devoid of principles. In short, Nigeria plays politics with everything; health, education, roads, bridges and even human lives. Ever wondered why four successive presidents have played politics with the second Niger Bridge without recourse to the calamity that will follow when the bridge finally caves in and collapses?
While Lagos suffers undue hardship due to port congestions, constant traffic gridlocks, deaths due to the activities of truck drivers and pollution, the Eastern Ports lie fallow, unused and decaying.
While Lagos has taken it a notch higher to maintain its economic advantages over the rest of the country by partnering with a foreign firm for the Lekki deep seaport, despite the congestions at Apapa, the minister of transportation who is from Rivers State and also a former governor, was there at the flag off yet, the Eastern Ports are under-utilized and unused. This is not a personal attack on the minister but the truth needs to be told. Why are the Ports in the South-South not functioning despite the fact that a former president came from this region and the current minister of transportation is also from the region? Why are they ill-staffed?
While it takes absolutely 48 hours to haul containers from Lagos to Onicha, it takes just 5 hours to haul same from Port Harcourt Port to Onicha, 4 hours from Onne to Onicha and fewer hours to Aba.
This is economical as it is also political. While Lagos state benefits in terms of taxes from both the Apapa Port and Tin Can Port, Rivers State benefits nothing from both the Port Harcourt Port and Onne Port, thus killing any form of competition and monopolizing berthing of container-laden ships.
The Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) says on its website that it is a Federal Government agency that governs and operates the ports of Nigeria. The major ports it operates include; the Lagos Port Complex and Tin Can Island Port in Lagos State, Calabar Port, Delta Ports, Rivers Port and Onne Port in Rivers State with operations carried out under the supervision of the minister of transportation.
In effect, it has become a federal government policy to deprive some states of the needed economic benefits that should accrue to them from their abundant natural resources. Another fact is that a son of the soil happens to be in charge as minister of transportation while another son of the soil was in charge as the president yet the economic bullying continued.
Checking the shipping positions, a total of 6 ships have berthed at the Port Harcourt Port in the last 6 months, mostly carrying fish, bulk wheat and PMS. At Onne, a total of 14 ships have birthed at the Port in the last 6 months carrying mainly drilling equipment. The rests are from Intels carrying crude oil and other products. At the Calabar Port, 12 ships have birthed in the last 6 months. Delta Port is even more pathetic. The last time a ship birthed there was in 2016 and it was a Navy ship.
On the contrary, the Tin Can Port is expecting about 11 ships on Wednesday alone while over 40 ships have birthed at the Apapa port in the last four days.
Why are the Eastern Ports not functional despite the large pool of importers from the region? Is this another form of economic starvation and a tool to make sure states in the South-South and South-East remain economic slaves to the federal government? Why have the South-South and South-Eastern states not gone into partnership to ensure freedom from this kind of enslavement?
Imagine the economic impact the Bonny deep seaport, Onne Port and Port Harcourt Port will have on the Rivers State economy. Imagine the chain of businesses that will arise due to the functionalities of these ports. Imagine the jobs, security enhancement, improved welfare for the people and the healthy competition that will exist between states with access to the sea.
It has always been said that the only advantage that Lagos state has over Rivers state is the sustained federal government presence in Lagos which came in form of a monopoly of access to the sea and air travel. A functional Port in Warri, Port Harcourt and Calabar will reduce the congestion in Lagos and within 5 years, the population of Lagos will reduce by half with little to no traffic gridlock.
The Lagos state government have often times blamed overpopulation for the way things are in the state. The state government, however, don’t often disclose that such huge population translates equally to huge IGR and have ensured the extension of economc power from Lagos to Ogun State. The federal government should as a matter of urgency make the Eastern ports functional. Leaders of the region should think beyond oil and ensure that they benefit massively from their maritime resources.