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Manasseh Victor: The task before Amaechi


Manasseh Victor: The task before Amaechi

The name, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, evokes different meanings for different people. For a concise summary, he is the former Governor of Rivers state, and now serving Minister of Transport in the cabinet of President Buhari. A testimonial of his foresight and sagacity was his leading other new PDP governors to decamp (some thought he had committed political suicide at the time) and join forces with the APC in the last electoral cycle.

For some outside the Niger Delta, he is the Lion of the Niger Delta; for others he is the past governor of Rivers state who underperformed and has allegations of corruption against his person. His government, they say, budgeted N82 million to host Soyinka for a night. His Excellency, like his colleague, Minister of works, Tunde Fashola, who spent N70 million on his personal website and N148 million to drill two boreholes, doesn’t sign cheques. Hence, the allegations might be baseless and politically motivated like the PDP claims the trial of some of its member for corruption is? Who cares?

Make no mistake about it, Amaechi’s ministry is powerful and overlaps with other ministries. He is the man in charge of everything that moves in, within and out of Nigeria by sea, road, rail, air and any other transport medium you know of-even Edo style. Our seaports, airports, federal roads, railways are all his business now to build, maintain and formulate sustainable policy for.

As opposed to his spending time so far reeling out the names of those who will be prosecuted next or not in the anti-corruption crusade of the federal government, let’s look at what his tasks and focus should be in the different sectors of his ministry in the coming years.

Seaports and  maritime capacity development
Nigeria has the human and capital resources to be, not just a regional maritime powerhouse but also a global maritime power, creating jobs and opportunities in the process. Amaechi shouldn’t throw away the baby with the bath water by discontinuing the Maritime University in Delta. The maritime academy at Oron only admits 30% of its total applicants. The Maritime University should speedily be completed while the Maritime Academy at Oron should concurrently be upgraded to the same standard.

Nigerian ports are run by NPA, which has a concession agreement known as “Landlord agreement” with the operators of Nigeria’s various’ ports. An estimated 60% of all goods imported through West African ports are meant for Nigeria. This results in serious revenue, opportunities and job loss for the economy. Goods are also routinely under declared with the connivance of corrupt Customs officials leading to more revenue losses. Nigerian ports run on analog configurations, goods are cumbersome to clear through; one reportedly has to sign 79 documents before clearing goods, while the lead time is three days.

A cursory glance through the website of the agency reveals that it is only the Lagos port complex and Tin Can port complex that currently serves their purpose. Delta, Port Harcourt, Calabar, Onne seaports are non-functional except for lifting petroleum products. This results in overpopulation in Lagos, as every importer and their clientele base, is compelled to visit Lagos and perhaps live in Lagos for business.

The former governor of Lagos and now minister of works, housing, and power Tunde Fashola is set to site two more seaports in Lagos- at Lekki and Badagry-as his recent paper at the pension retreat suggests.

If Amaechi had a policy blueprint like Fashola, the key objectives would have been to:
– Optimize the capacity and operational efficiency of western ports by digitizing clearance of goods.
– Upgrade eastern ports from mere jetties to western standard.
– liaise with the Akwa Ibom and Cross River state governments to adopt and develop their deep seaport projects.
– Build the six deep seaports proposed by the last administration
– Ensure the Nigerian shippers’ council fully implements Cargo Tracking Number (CTN) to curb revenue loss and digitalize operations.
– Make sure NPA is unbundled and made efficient like former PHCN through legislation.
– The NPA should be unbundled and broken down into smaller bodies like the Americans have American Association of Port Authority.
– Look into the lingering TINAPA free trade zone legal debacle which has a “Dubai-like” potential if properly resolved.
– More inland ports like the one being constructed at Lokoja should be built to encourage the movement of freight up north by freight trains or light ships.

His Excellency should be going on anonymous train rides in Mumbai and Shenzhen for a feel of recently developed and working high-speed train services.

The entire operation of railways in Nigeria is under the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC), which is another inefficient monolith like the NPA. The past administration recorded slight improvements in this sector like the launching of the trains for which Amaechi later took credit for by hanging his posters on them. This sector needs urgent legislative reforms as the Federal Government is financially incapable of building rail infrastructure for the whole country, given that one Kilometre of high-speed rail costs 6 to 15 million Euros to build.

Surveyed and prepared tracks could be concessioned to local and state governments or private companies to develop and run train services at very competitive fares. Investing in roads might be problematic for investors as we aren’t used to tolls, but rails is a good investment option as Nigerians are prepared to pay fair prices for high-speed train services. Imagine jumping on a high-speed train ride from Calabar to Kano or Onitsha to Lagos? Bliss!

Like its counterpart above, the NRC should be unbundled and broken down into two; a railways corporation for construction and management; and railways administration for inspection, safety and regulation. The railways corporation should then be further broken down into smaller bodies through legislative reforms to make it investment friendly.

Federal airports should be remodeled and upgraded to avoid embarrassing incidents like the one currently on video that occurred at Bauchi State where passengers had to disembark with the aid of a ladder.

The Aviation school should be upgraded to a university while another academy is sited in a different section of the country (Nigeria should eye exporting aviation manpower).

As a matter of state policy Nigeria should build roads and railways running diagonally and parallel across extremely positioned states; to intersect at the centre.

Given the recent global crude oil price crunch, the proposals are unrealistic with the current economic outlook. Pension Funds as proposed by Fashola in his recent paper at the pensions retreat is a veritable and transparent funding pool for infrastructural development, but all funds taken from it must be returned with interest.

Hence, markets reforms that will allow pension funds to be invested in infrastructural development should be enacted. Transparent concessions must be negotiated. Tolls and fees made on pension funded infrastructure must be fairly priced not to deny vulnerable citizens usage rights or subsidized without detriment to the entire system if need be.

  • Follow this writer on Twitter: @Udimobong

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