Stories by STAN OKENWA
Current Chairman of Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN), Princess (Dr.) Vicky Haastrup has frowned at the recent forex access policy of the Central bank of Nigeria (CBN), saying it has weakened the speed of investments and growth in the sector by local investors.
Reviewing the effects of government policies on port operations in Nigeria, among other issues, she said even though the sector has performed quite well, indications are rife that several government policies are having adverse effects on cargo throughput.
According to her, “You can see from the pilotage that fewer vessels are coming into Nigeria. There has been a reduction in the volume of cargo coming here particularly in the last few months. Some of these policies like the one from the Central Bank on forex and the ban on the importation of certain goods have not helped matters. A lot of us are operating at 30 per cent to 40 per cent of our usual capacity”.
“We are in a situation where we are gaining something to lose something but at the end of the day, it is going to impact negatively on our economy. As it is, the impact is not being fully felt now but in another two months, we would definitely feel it. We hope that the situation will be short-lived because right now, importers have challenges getting forex to order goods.
“For instance, at the ENL, in the last one week, only two vessels called at our terminal and this is how it has been with other terminals.
“You have an occasional vessel here and there and for some, they would not even have any vessel berthing there at all. That is a big challenge for terminal operators because we have a lot of responsibilities in terms of developing the ports, paying salaries and running the terminals. So, whether you have ships coming or not, we are still obliged to run the port with the same amount of money. This has serious consequences on our operations and income.
On how best the government can ameliorate the situation, Haastrup said “I know the CBN policy is meant to shore up our national reserves but this should be done with a human face”.
“It shouldn’t be a drastic change to the effect that these things would become unaffordable for people. Already, the costs of some imported goods are going up. For instance, Nigeria is not yet a producer of iron rods; so, we are still importing iron rods and pipes. What we are producing locally cannot meet the demand of the nation. All we are doing with this policy is creating a situation where these goods will become very expensive and unaffordable for the ordinary Nigerian.
“Ultimately, the cost of building will increase because the price of iron rods has gone up. Even when you have the money to order for these goods, it is a serious challenge because the CBN is not making the money available for anybody to order for goods.
Continuing, the STOAN chairman pointed out that even members of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria are feeling the pinch because a lot of raw materials that are used for their products have been banned. You just need to look at the pilotage and see that the volume of cargo has reduced drastically. It is affecting everyone now including the government through the Ministry of Finance because they are in charge of the Nigeria Customs Service. Other countries of the world don’t joke with their maritime industry, so we shouldn’t.
While calling for a review of the forex policy that will give it a human face, she argued that government should be implemented with the welfare of the ordinary Nigerian in mind.
Giving example with the nation’s auto policy, she queried how many cars do Nigerians use and what is the landing cost of such locally assembled cars? It is still unaffordable.
To her, “This is a nation of 180 million people. Right now, second hand cars are expensive except we want people to suffer. This policy should be executed with a human face. It should be gradual until our local capacity can meet up with the demand in the country. If we don’t do that, two things will happen and the populace will suffer. The first is that goods will be diverted to the Republic of Benin.
“That is exactly what is happening now. Ships containing rice and other cargo are being diverted to Cotonou and their government is smiling. This same cargo will find their way back to the Nigerian market. Nigeria is not ready for the auto policy until certain things are put in place and we have the capacity to meet demand. Let us first get to the stage when we would be able to produce our own cars and they are offered at affordable prices for most Nigerians. We have not developed to that level, so why are we implementing the policy?
“The RoRo terminals like Five Star Logistics and Grimaldi are suffering because of this. It is cheaper for importers going to neighbouring countries to clear their cargo there. First, the customs duties are minimal compared to the custom duties being paid on cars coming into Nigeria, especially new cars. Even second hand cars, the minimum amount you can clear one is N300,000, it doesn’t matter if the car was bought for $500. We should first work towards developing the auto industry to about 70 per cent before implementing the auto policy.