The Executive Secretary, Nigerian Shippers’ Council, Hassan Bello, speaks on the challenges confronting ports and how to make their operations seamless in this interview with Okechukwu Nnodim
How would you describe the export chain in Nigeria?
The export logistic chain in Nigeria is weak. We need the Central Bank of Nigeria to look at the whole gamut of our logistic chain and build export centres all around the dry ports. Kaduna State, for example, is an area for the production of ginger. Many metic tonnes have been exported from the Kaduna Dry Port, but the rail capacity is not much and we need the rail system to run efficiently there.
So I want the central bank to look at the logistic chain and the infrastructure in order to see where it can intervene directly. It should look at the dry ports and make them centres for export. It should enhance them, provide consolidation centres and processing companies, because we should not be exporting raw commodities, we should add value.
We know that value addition creates jobs and that means packaging. For every packing or processing company we may get close to a hundred jobs in the value chain up till when such commodities are exported. And with this, you will see that we will not care much about the volatility in global oil prices.
Are there other agro produce, aside from ginger, that could be considered as well?
We can enhance cocoa, cashew nuts, turmeric, sesame seeds. They are so many that I cannot name now and this is based on research. I’m just talking about non-oil exports, particularly agro-based products.
We need to be a producing nation, rather than a consuming one. We need to have factories running. Our people should not just be selling mangoes but should be working in mango factories, producing juice and so on.
So that is what the Nigerian Shippers’ Council is trying to do. We are trying to stimulate the economy because when it is stimulated, you will have adequate infrastructure such as roads, rail, barges, etc, to allow us translate and transform our products to be compliant for export.
Does this mean our ports are not fully ready for export?
Nigerian ports are not configured for exports because they have for so long depended on imports. They have been dreaming that the oil will be there as our major commodity. But the oil will dry up. And for the sea, will it dry up? Yes, it will dry up, of course, because the Sahara Desert was once a sea but that was thousands of years ago.
We have to wake up and we hope this COVID-19 situation will make us wake up. At the shippers’ council, what we have been trying to do is to get to the centre of the economy of shipping transportation and see how this can contribute to the country’s Gross Domestic Product, both in terms of infrastructure, employment and revenue
The Nigerian government is currently suffering from revenue loss from the oil and maritime sectors because we have drop in imports. There is unemployment and people don’t have money to buy things, meaning the purchasing power to even import has dropped. And for one year, we may suffer this situation. That is why we are pleading with the CBN to intervene.
How has some of the dry ports fared so far?
The Kaduna Dry Port has done well despite the challenges. We are very proud of what has been done there. For the container traffic, from January to May 2020, we had 1,826 units, hitherto it was about 800. We had imports of about 398 and, of course, it was 318 for the month of May and this is probably because of COVID-19. But the port is facing challenges, one of which is the lack of support from shipping companies.