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Delta Ports: Uduaghan dangles carrot at Onitsha traders
Written by EMMA AMAIZE

Vanguard (Lagos)

SINCE he became the Governor of  Delta State a little over a year ago,  Dr.  Emmanuel Uduaghan, has been thinking of nothing other than how to  transform the economy of the state, which was shattered by Warri  crisis and  crippled by militants. Delta State owns the largest concentration of sea ports in the country, located in Warri, Koko, Sapele and Burutu, and it also has  the longest shoreline.

But, at the moment, the Burutu port has been  privatized by the Federal Government; the Nigerian Navy took over the Sapele port years ago and converted it to a School of Engineering even as Sapele people bemoaned the plummeting of the once flourishing municipality to a “rural community.

However,  "the House of  Representatives may  have come to their rescue with the recent motion it passed, ordering the Navy to relocate the school to the neighboring Oghara, the country home of  the former governor, Chief James Ibori so that the concerted effort to jumpstart the economy of the area once again will gather steam. At  Koko,  the people know that they used to have a port in the town, but, what  they  cannot say with exactitude is whether it is dead or still alive.  

Economic experts believe that one of the major catalysts to the recovery of the weather-beaten economy of the state is the resuscitation of the various seaports, particularly the Warri port, which has recorded a lull following its abandonment by importers and investors at large that fled the state as a result of the twin crises. Uduaghan knows this and as he remembers with nostalgia the booming business at the various ports in the 70s and 80s and ripple effects it had on the life and finances of the people.

That was the time the Delta ports were beehives of activities, ships laden with assorted goods came in droves while hotels and night clubs blossomed; importers, exporters, transporters, traders moved  freely, and people went about  without  fear of being kidnapped by militants. The governor rises up every morning, not  with  the thoughts of how workers  salaries  would be paid alone, but also how the state can be restored back to its  former glory.

With his three-point agenda of peace and security, infrastructural development and human capital development in view, he held a brainstorming  meeting with the key players in the oil industry, some few months ago, in Warri, to re-assure them on the state governments preparedness to  provide security for them while they do their business in the state.

They believed him because they saw how he was able to restore a sense  of sanity to the state through the Delta Waterways Security Committee, his colossal support to the Joint Task Force (JTF) on the Niger-Delta and his empowerment of the Delta State Oil Producing Development Areas  Development Commission (DESOPADEC), as a vehicle to develop the oil communities and curtail their surge on the oil companies. Managing  director, Western Division of the SPDC, Mr. Cor Zegelar, who spoke the mind of  the investors, said they were ready to remain in the state with Uduaghan as the chief pilot.

But the havoc that was wreaked on the economy of the state cannot be fixed overnight. Even though, investors, for instance, are ready to return,  as they promised Uduaghan, it would not be easy for them to stop importing their equipment and goods through the Lagos and Apapa ports, which have become their first choice overnight, and switch over to Warri port and  other ports in the state. Besides, there is the  problem  of the Escravos Bar, which must be dredged before big vessels can come to the Warri port again.

Not only that, the break waters constructed  by  the colonial government had given way and required to be created again and there are also some security threats, including the hurdle posed by the local pilots.  

Convincing investors

The questions that arose are legion: How do we bring the ports back to  life? How do we convince investors that Delta state is the preferred  destination? How do we persuade Onitsha traders across the Niger and  the oil companies that import their goods and equipment through the Lagos  and Apapa ports that the oil city of Warri is safe to do business? If the Onitsha trader imports his goods through Warri, Sapele or Koko ports, how does he transport them to the east? Are the roads in Delta good  enough for a comfortable trip to their destination or it will be the  same  headache the Lagos-Ore-Benin expressway poses  to them? What of the  security agents: Police, customs, immigration that disturb the  traders? 

What about the high tariffs charged by the operators of the ports? Who  dredges the Escravos Bar and how soon? How about the militants, will  they  not resume attacks again and the area boys that waylay traders on the  road to ask for “deve” (settlement)?  Posers upon posers.

It dawned on Uduaghan early in his administration that the state  government had to partner with the Nigeria Ports Authority if his  dream ships  bringing in an assortment of imports, such as industrial machinery  equipment, plants, chemicals, flour, frozen fish and industrial raw  materials, and ships beginning to load cocoa, timber, rubber, palm  kernel,  coffee, etc as export cargoes in Delta ports should translate to reality. This synergy was established, last year, and apparently resulted in the  Ports  Consultative Council (PCC), the highest advisory body in Nigerias  maritime industry, holding its quarterly meeting and maritime summit for the first time in Delta State for two days, Wednesday, June 4 to Thursday, June 5. The chairman of the PCC, Dr. W.A. Kareem, commended Uduaghan for the exploit.

Managing director of the NPA,   Mallam AbdulSalam  Mohammed, noted with delight the effort of the Uduaghan government “to provide comfort  for  shipping”, saying, “Nigeria Ports Authority and the Delta  State Government have worked closely together at the highest level towards  ensuring greater patronage of Delta ports and the governor has reiterated the commitment of his administration to create the enabling environment for greater development of the ports. The hosting of  the Ports Consultative Council meeting serves to confirm the focus and  commitment of the government to see its efforts to fruition.”

From the NPA itself where all the managers of the different  ports in the country were present, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce,  Industries, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), Manufacturers Association  of  Nigeria (MAN), shipping companies and agents, freight forwarding  companies and agents, port terminal operators, Central Bank of  Nigeria,  Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON), Nigeria Export Promotion Council  (NEPC), Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), Nigeria Port Police Command, Ministries of Transport, Finance, Trade and Commerce delegates at the  meeting, it was clear that the stakeholders were complete to do justice  to the theme of the maritime summit, which was aptly tagged, Delta Ports: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.

The general manager, eastern zone of the NPA, Mr. Sotonye Etomi  delivered an enlivening paper entitled, Ports as a resource for rapid  socio-economic transformation and development of Delta State. Managing director  of Green View Development Limited, Captain Olugbenga Abidoye, spoke on  the “Challenges of revitalizing Delta Ports for efficient service  delivery to the Ports Users” and the former Acting Comptroller  General of  Customs, Mr. Tayo Ogungbemite, talked on “Trade Facilitation and the  roles of the Nigerian Customs”. Director, Cabotage, Nigerian Maritime  Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Mr. Ambrose Igbecha,  delivered a paper on “Cabotage Implementation in Nigeria: Problems  and  Prospects”. “Port infrastructural development as investment  opportunity  for financial institutions” was a fashionable paper at the meeting  by  the managing director of the Oceanic Bank Plc, Chief (Mrs.) Cecelia  who was represented.

The bank listed the areas of  public-private partnership in port infrastructure investment such as terminal for cargo and  container  terminal,   usually funded by the  World Bank, but for port  equipment,  packaging plants in the production zones, transportation of shipment  parts  and employment creation, it said it was ready to bring out the money,  supported by equity contribution, as long at the processes are made  clear  to the bank and it was assured that the money would be paid between 50 and 80 years.

Uduaghan who was the chief host sat down patiently like a  student with his pen and jotter to listen to the resource persons and  took  down notes on what his government should do to put the Warri ports  back on its feet whenever the speakers made vital points.  He commended the speakers for enumerating the various problems  that have been militating against the optimal utilization of the  ports,  which he summarized as silting that has made entry, especially as the Madangho end to the Warri port, slightly difficult at a place that is  popularly called the Escravos Bar, the Escravos breakwaters done by  expatriates and almost extinct today, threats along the channel and “very  sadly, the problems we have encountered with local pilots. The  governor, on the other  hand, said, “I believe that the most advertised and  the  greatest challenge that we have in the utilization of our ports is the  issue of security.”

Apparently drawing from his findings during his recent trip abroad to  market the investment potentials of the state in the oil and gas  sector, he said, “For any investor you talk to, asking him to come  and  invest in Nigeria, he will first exclaim, Nigeria! Not to talk of if  you say come and invest in Warri or part of the Niger-Delta. Security  is  still a very big issue and for us as a state government and indeed,  the other state governments of the Niger-Delta, we have taken the  issue  of security very seriously. “In looking at the security issues, I will start by looking at the  overall challenges in the Niger-Delta - why do we actually have these  security  issues.

The challenges include but not exhaustively the problem of  environmental degradation and pollution, the problem of high  unemployment,  the problem of poverty and the problem of under representation. All these have led to agitations, restiveness and to criminal activities,  which include kidnapping, destruction of oil pipelines, etc”, he  said.  Uduaghan explained that the problems could be solved through a  co-operation framework involving the Federal Government, state  government,  local government, investors, operators and the host communities.

What government is doing?

He said that a lot is being done by  the Federal Government to   bring  about peace in the Niger-Delta and one of the ways was its  strengthening  of the NDDC, which has come out with a master plan for the development  of the region. He asserted that the Federal Government has equally  created opportunity to dialogue with some of the youths in addition to  the  enforcement of peace through the Joint Task Force (JTF) on the  Niger-Delta.

“For us as a state government”, the governor said, “We have our strategies and our strategies are our three-point agenda of peace and security, infrastructural development and, of course, human capital development.” The state government, he said, had approved the establishment of the  Delta State School of Maritime Technology, which would be located in  Burutu and a consultant was already working on the temporary site  while the  government is looking at the permanent site. 

On infrastructural development, he said the state government was using  the Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission   (DESOPADEC),  whose primary aim is to provide the oil producing communities with the  basic amenities of life, such as electricity, water, education and  good health, pointing out 50 per cent of the 13 per cent derivation  funds  accruing to the state is set aside for the commission, headed by a  community leader from the riverine area.

He also said that the state government has proposed the setting up of  the Delta State Integrated Development Agency (DIDA) and the Bill for its establishment is before the House of Assembly. Essentially, the  body  is to develop infrastructures that will transport investment to the  state in the areas of transportation, power, urbanization, etc. Having identified the ports as one strategic area the state government  is anxious to revive and use as a logistic support for investors, he  said the problems were being tackled and that through the working  committee of the state government and the NPA, the dredging of the Escravos  Bar and the reconstruction of the breakwaters would soon be a thing of  the past, as the NPA has put some money in the budget to silt the  entry  points. Uduaghan said information at his disposal  was  that contractors were already positioning themselves for the contract  but he was quick to appeal that people from the area should be  involved  in it.

He said the state government had been intervening  on the problems between the local pilots and the NPA and would do  everything to broker peace to ensure that the maritime industry does  not go  below the standard that is recognized anywhere in the world. He said  it was disheartening to hear that Delta ports are being flagged red in  international reports in spite of all the efforts the government was  putting. He therefore appealed to the local pilots that they would not be shortchanged but whatever they want to do should be done according to  the laid down rules by the Federal Government.

Tapping into the Onitsha market, Uduaghan showed he has a clear focus of where he wants to take  the state to when he revealed his government’s plan to make the  traders in Onitsha to start importing their goods through Warri,  Sapele or  Koko ports in due course, instead of Lagos port, saying Onitsha is a  very big market and the state government wants to take advantage of  it.He invited the president of the Anambra State Amalgamated Traders  Association, Mr. Sylvester Odife, who came to Warri with some other top  officials of the body. 

He told the Onitsha traders that they would not regret using any of the  ports in the state for the importation of their goods, saying, “We  know you do have problems with some of the security agencies: Customs,   police and all that, either in the port or on the road, we dey talk to them, they are our brothers.” On transportation of goods from Warri port in particular to Onitsha, he  said he was happy that the Federal Government was already dualizing  the east-west (Warri-Port-Harcourt) highway, adding that since the  road  passes through Ughelli, the state government was looking at the  possibility of dualizing Ughelli-Asaba Road, even though it is a federal road.  

Two Lane Expressway

The idea is for the traders to travel on dualized expressway from  Warri to Onitsha. Sunday Vanguard has it on good authority that the state government is, in fact, waiting for its next share of the excess crude oil fund to commence the dualization of the Ughelli-Asaba Road. The project had already  been approved by the State Executive Council and it may also seek financial  support from Oceanic Bank.

Besides, Uduaghan said his government was making plans to dualize the Ugbenu to Koko Road  for the investors and traders  who decide to use the Koko port to travel on a dualized expressway  from  Koko to Onitsha, either via Benin or Warri. He added: “But if you want  it faster, we are constructing an airport in Asaba, a cargo port  provision sort will be there and you can air-freight your goods  straight to  Asaba and within a few minutes into Onitsha.

In fact, if you dont  want the goods to enter Onitsha straightaway today, Nna, Chineke, your  money is talking, we are also planning warehouses around Asaba, where  you  can keep the goods safely and while waiting in Asaba, if you want to  chop your ego (money), we are very good hosts, we are putting up very  good hotels, you know we already have very good hotels like Grand Hotel.”

The governor also stated that his administration was seriously pursuing the  Free Trade Zone and had already applied for Koko Free Trade Zone while  pursuing the one for Warri to ensure increased activities. For the  state to get ready for the anticipated upsurge in business, he said  that  the government was dualizing the road from Ugbenu, along the Benin Warri expressway to Koko so that even if you bring your goods  through the Koko port, you are going to be hooked on a dualized road,  straight onto the Benin-Warri highway and if you want to take from  there to Onitsha, it is easy as you get to the bypass in Benin City and head straight to Onitsha market.

He said the more serious one for the state government is taking  advantage of the deep shoreline in the state, which is over 26  kilometers by  establishing a Deep Sea Port that will act as a regional cargo receiving  centre for larger vessels. Such a port would be one of the biggest in  the continent and also a serve as a transit point for multi-port  distribution along the west coastline of West Africa with specialized  port  services that will reduce the freight rates due to bulk cargo  handling.

He said that the road that would service the port is already being  constructed at a cost of over N95 billion. It takes off from Warri,  through Omadino and the Gbaramatu axis to Escravos. The first phase, he said,  had been at Omadino and the NDDC, which is partnering with the state  government, would be awarding the second phase of the road project in  the next few days.

Uduaghan told the  stakeholders that the  state  government was also discussing with the  Federal Government to complete the Ajaokuta-Aladja railway line,  saying that if the rail line stops somewhere at Agharho and if it does  not  do so, as a state, we believe we can mobilize some funds to be able  to complete it. Security for the investors, particularly the oil companies and other big-time  investors, he said they have to help government to help them.

His  words, “For us to have peace and security in the area (Niger-Delta), for  us to make sure that investors coming in are not disturbed, there are  two issues. One, we appeal that your operations should conform with  the  necessary safety, health and environmental standards so that our  environment are not polluted because when our environment are polluted, it  gets the communities very angry and I can tell you that it is one of  the  reasons  we have community disturbances. So, please, ensure your  operations  have to meet this minimum standard..

“Secondly, you are worried about the security of your personnel, all  investors are worried about the security of their personnel but our  simple solution to this is your policies must be in such a way that   they  are community-friendly.” He, however, said that everybody, from the Federal Government, state  government, investors and the communities, have to do their part for  there  to be development and security in the Niger-Delta, adding, “If you  expect that I (government) will be the only one that will work towards  peace and you bring up policies that are not community-friendly, then  we  will continue to have problems. So my appeal to the companies working  in this area is to re-examine their operational policies, employment  and contract awards so that the host communities will be better  positioned to ensure safe operations for the companies.”

Delta State Commissioner for Information, Mr. Omah Djebah, a journalist of repute, told Sunday Vanguard that since he joined the Uduaghan  government, he is beginning to see the man more as the Biblical Joseph  who  interpreted dreams. He said, “Governor Uduaghan is a visionary, he  has a  comprehensible inspiration of where he wants to take Delta  state  to in the next few years  with his three-point agenda and is pursuing  it  with ‘I can do it’ spirit.

It is like a bug that has caught up with some  of us, his commissioners and aides, to make the impossible to be  possible in Delta State with God as our Battleaxe and Chief  Builder. President of the Anambra Amalgamated Traders Association, told newsmen after listening to  Uduaghan that from what he said,  the  governor knows our fears, adding that once those fears were addressed,  Onitsha traders would relocate, so to speak, from Lagos to Delta State  and make the state, beyond doubt, the favorite investment destination  for  any sagacious investor.