Story by Dili Utomi.
The idyllic atmosphere of the main auditorium of the Providence hotel, Ikeja GRA was the venue of the thirty fourth anniversary celebration of the Maritime Reporters Association of Nigeria (MARAN).
The packed hall held such industry stalwarts as Dr. Hassan Bello, the immediate past executive secretary of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Dr. Ade Dosunmu, the former Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Mr. Olumide Oduntan, former director of finance at the Nigerian Ports Authority, Mr. Francis Omotosho of the NAGAFF academy, Chief Remi Ogungbe of the AMATO, Mohammed Aminu Abubakar of the Apapa Special Area Command of the NDLEA, Lekan Fabiyi of the Marine Police, Idi Seidu of the Ship Owners Association, Dr. Bolaji Akinola, former MARAN president, Victor Ngboji of the Anishere Chambers, Oluwadamilola Emmanuel, the GM of Lagos State Waterways Agency (LASWA), Comrade Adewale Adeyanju of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN), Dr. Bashir Jamoh the DG of NIMASA and of course the minister of Transportation, Eng. Mu’azu Jaji Sambo who came in straight from the airport as he had earlier been to Port Harcourt on official duty.
The president of the association, Mr. Gboyega Oni read the opening speech and said that the event is meant to “Assess the 16 years of Port concession, take stock and as well as to honour some distinguished stakeholders in the industry”.
The keynote paper which was titled ” 16 years of concession: The pains and the gains” was presented by Dr. Hassan Bello. Dr. Bello started with the remark that “Governments need to be put on their toes everytime”. He asked the rhetorical question “What has been the impact of the 16 years of Port concessioning, has it been good, tangible, substantial? Dr. Bello noted that it is important that we understand the key role of the Port reform in the general economy and added that no country can operate in isolation. He advised that that if the transport system is not efficient, the economy will be sluggish in growth.
The keynote speaker indicated that before the concession, the Port system was not running well, that the Port operated largely outside the beneficial real economic, no planning, no projection, haphazard ways of doing things were the order of the day then and chaos and confusion were the characters of the Ports.
Dr. Bello opined stated that the need to optimise the use of the Ports for efficiency and growths made it imperative to reform the Ports, hence the private sector was brought in. He suggested that the government’s intention was to enhance revenue, lower transport costs as the concession took hold around the Ports.
He also asked further rhetorical question ” Have there been gains”, he also answered it in an affirmative and resounding “Yes” as he noted that in the year 2006, there were 26 terminals available to the 5 Ports in the Country. Dr. Bello said that things have been better, that at the time of concessioning in 2006, there was about 22,000 TEUs of cargo through put generated for the year, but that as at this December, there has been about 1.7 million TEUs of Cargo through put.
The speaker opined that it appears that “Efficiency has still not been optimum and so there should be reforms in some other critical sectors within the system. The cargo clearance system is still tedious and cumbersome and we still have a 21 days gap in cargo clearance”. He added that there is absence of clarity in the legal framework of the concession agreement and that a lot of stakeholders were excluded from making in put as it was mostly shrouded in secrecy without comprehensive details.
Dr. Bello said that Government has not been able to to provide the critical infrastructure- road, rail and the waterways transport developement with the needed ease of doing business.
He advised that standard must be set, obligations, duties and rights must be clearly stated. Measurement evaluation and ranking must be established to know the real performance of the Ports. He concluded that there is no time to pause or stop and that we must continue to reform the maritime industry and that that includes the journalists continuing to play their roles in the economic development of the nation.
There were a lot of goodwill remarks by different persons in the hall. Dr Ade Dosunmu noted that “MARAN was part and parcel of his administration as the DG of NIMASA, he said that they were part of the very dutiful reporters as they helped to prod him to success through the regular interactive sessions where he “took away a lot of lessons” in order to make some impactful decisions. Mr. Lekan Fabiyi advised that there is a need to forge better alliance with maritime journalists and associations by various agencies. Mr. Oluwadamilola Emmanuel advised that we should all ensure that the maritime sector achieves it utmost potentials with the journalists highlighting those positive things that will aid the growth of the industry. Dr. Bolaji Akinola said that it is good to be back home again in the fold of colleagues as he highlighted the cordial relationship that he enjoyed as the then president of the association with some agencies. Mohammed Abubakar of the NDLEA said that “In all our operations, we cannot do without the media as we are all partners in progress, people will never know what you are doing until it is clearly reported, we appreciate it all”.
Francis Omotosho of the NAGAFF academy said that maritime reporters have been very consistent in informing the public about events in the maritime sector. Chief Remi Ogungbe said that the maritime journalist have been very the ones who help to bring their plights to the knowledge of the general public. Mohammed Sani Bala also of AMATO said that maritime reporters are the voice of the voiceless, truckers and stakeholders alike in the sector.
Comrade Adewale Adeyanju noted that “Even though dockworkers have been transformed by the Port reforms, a lot is still needed to be done. The government should not and cannot toy with Dockworkers because they play very critical roles in the maritime sector. C. C. Iwegbuna, the representative of the founder of NAGAFF says that ” It is imperative that maritime reporters continue to do the job of airing the views of the stakeholders in the industry as they have been doing over time”.
The Minister of Transportation, Eng. Mu’azu Jaji Sambo in his good will address commended the maritime journalists for their constructive reportage. While expressing surprise that most of our cargoes are still being moved through the roads, he stated that he is totally committed to making sure that the rail transport works and that a lot of our haulage will be carried out through this mode of transportation. He reacted to the impression that most of the 8,000 sacked workers of the Nigerian Ports Authority are still being owed salary since 2006, he quelled the speculation by declaring that all sacked workers have been paid off with the only exceptions being some of the then freshly trained cadets who went to court, but who have recently got judgement.
Minister Sambo noted that the deep blue project has helped in curbing piracy on our waters since it’s inception and that there has not been any reported cases of piracy for sometime now. He also stated categorically that the management of the Lekki deep sea port have been warned that “We do not want another Apapa traffic lock jam around Lekki and so barges should be optimally used for the conveyance of cargoes from the Port.
There was a 5-man panel of discussants for the presented paper and it was generally agreed by all that. The reforms which were necessary were also extremely painful as 8,000 staff of the NPA lost their jobs. That the Ports were concessioned to promote efficiency, but then have we all really gained optimally from the concession, has the costs of doing business reduced? There has been gains in the area of employment as casualisation of jobs has been drastically reduced with notable thanks to the activities of the maritime unions for their dogged efforts. The discussants also advised the Nigerian Governments that the country can benefit from improved cargo clearing process, that they should deal with the infrastructural (roads, rail and water transport) deficits and that they should reduce the physical examination of goods while enhancing automation at the Ports.
There were various categories of awards given to many of the personalities in the audience.
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