Seaports are major facilitators of trade, and often described as the engine of economic growth. They are also major generators of employment. The critical socio-economic and strategic importance of ports is even more pronounced in Africa, where over 60 per cent of the government’s revenue is generated through Customs duty and taxes.
However, the efficiency of seaports is not guaranteed until there is easy movement of cargoes in and out of the ports, which turns out to be a clog in the wheel of progressive in ports system in Nigeria, and indeed Africa as a whole.
The final destination of import cargoes or the origin of export cargoes passing through a port is what is generally referred to as the port’s hinterland.
The African development report, said: “It is well-established that efficiency at ports is crucial to the overall efficiency of the transport logistics chain.
However, a port is only as good, and its development only as viable as the transport networks linking the ports to centres of production and consumption (the hinterland).”
Also, a recent report produced by the OECD/International Transport Forum, noted that no matter how much capacity a port can handle, it cannot be utilised to its full potential as long as the connecting road or rail network is not equipped to handle similar cargo volumes.
In the light of the foregoing, stakeholders at the International Association of Ports and Harbours (IAPH) conference, held in Abuja, agreed that the continent should explore the hinterland transport system, learn from global experiences, and design local solutions to effectively create a smooth and efficient connectivity between its seaports and their hinterlands.
Nigeria’s Minister for Trade and Investment, Okechukwu Enelama, said when planning a seaport, three level-game should be given due consideration. They include: domestic economy; regional economy, and the global economy games.
Enelama, who was represented by Chiedu Osakwe, said: “Our ports are strategic national assets, without them, it will neither be possible to grow, create jobs, nor will it be possible to globalise economy.”
He appreciated the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), for the exceptional reforms in the ports system, urging stakeholders to support the reforms.
The Deputy Director, World Trade Organisation (WTO), Frederic Agha, urged that ports hinterland connectivity and transports logistics be addressed to improve competitiveness, adding that WTO, through its agreements, can help with the ease of cargo clearance at seaports.
“If properly implemented, it will enhance efficiency, combat corruption, promote good governance, and cut down trade cost significantly. You may have the best ports but if you don’t connect the hinterland it will not work,” he stated.
Agha added that, “many African countries have made progress in building robust maritime and hinterland infrastructure in recent years, but from our experience, there are still much progress to be made, and WTO is ready to support you.”
Hassiba Benamara of the Transport Section, Trade Logistics Branch, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said Africa’s seaborne trade is about seven per cent (loaded) of the global trade five per cent (unloaded), according to 2017 figures.
She put the continent’s projected growth at 5.5 between 2017 and 2022.
Benamara, analysing a new report from the agency, said transport cost in Africa is currently the highest in the world, and urged agencies to take up measures that would promote improvement in the transport connectivity.
The Managing Director, IAPH, Patrick Verhoeven, said improving the hinterland connections is not merely a matter of “hardware”; it is also about investing in “software” such as people, skills, and Information Technology.
He said: “With 50 per cent of Africa’s 1.2 billion people under the age of 20, and expected workforce of 504 million by 2020, ensuring that the ports attracted the right talents as well as making the best use of innovations in digitalisation, and use of big data is of equal significance.”
The Managing Director, NPA, Hadiza Bala-Usman, said there is no doubt that Africa holds a special place in the global maritime space, with 39 of the 54 countries on the continent endowed with littoral assets, as such, the development of the continent to a large extent is tied to the optimal exploitation of its vast maritime resources.
“There is no doubt that one of the determinant factors for the relevance of ports is the speed and seamlessness with which owners of cargoes are able to move their consignments out of the ports, and Africa really does still have a lot of work to do in this area,”