Prioritising Nigeria’s Port Development

Nigeria remains in the spotlight after many of the continent’s leading business minds met at FT Africa Summit in October, with the country’s economic outlook presenting itself as the prominent topic of the day

October, 2015 marked the second consecutive year for the lucrative business event, Financial Times (FT) Africa Summit held in London, UK. With standout themes including corruption, infrastructure reforms, mining, shipping and commodities, Nigeria quickly surfaced as the country at the epicentre of debates, sparking talk of what the future holds for a nation that continues to show no signs of slowing down.

Since the event, there has been ample coverage of many of the above sectors as the country’s leading minds work together to demonstrate that Nigeria has all the right ingredients to overcome challenges; putting to the test several new expansion plans, infrastructure and regulatory improvements to battle corruption in order to emerge above the parapet as Africa’s biggest economy for many more years to come.

One of the most significant factors that Nigeria is dependent on to facilitate its future success stems from its import and export activities, which is something that the Nigerian Ports Authority continues to make a priority heading into 2016.

Boosting intra-trade

Speaking at FT Africa, Aliko Dangote, Chief Executive Officer of Dangote Group was among the advocates for not only fighting against the country’s ongoing corruption problems, but boosting West African intra-trade by addressing inefficiencies in Nigeria’s port infrastructure.

Shortly after the event, Mallam Habib Abdulahi, Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) also advocated for the provision of adequate port infrastructure by the Federal Government and the private sector to facilitate stronger export activities through the nation’s seaports; designed to change the trade orientation of the nation from import dependent to export leaders.

In his opening discussion with Lionel Barber, Editor for the Financial Times, Dangote cited that costly West African intra-trade was also hindering business growth for indigenous companies, with expensive charges at West Africa’s ports that “do not allow Nigerian businesses to thrive”.

“Intra-trade represents only 16 percent of the country’s trade, the rest of the country’s goods are exported,” he commented.

Speaking at the International Seatrade and Investment Convention (ISIC) 2015 which followed this event, Mallam Habib also agreed that addressing other factors which might be extraneous to the Authority, such as corruption are also critical towards achieving enhanced export activities in the nation’s seaports.

Stressing that the provision of appropriate port infrastructure was necessary to enhance trade in the economy, Malam Habib assured that it was imperative to explore new international trade frontiers. He reiterated that as globally-accepted seaports account for more than 80 percent by volume of international trade and commerce, a Nigerian seaport must have a robust infrastructural base amongst other requirements to be competitive.

Acting on foresight
Both Dangote and Malam Habib identified that major infrastructural improvements were needed across key sectors, and with the help of public-private partnerships (PPP) the country’s visions and goals could be achieved.

“PPPs are a crucial element to Nigeria’s success, and we are demonstrating our commitment to Nigeria through a $12 billion injection into the construction of an oil and petrol chemical refinery located just outside Lagos, to be completed by 2018.

“We must all do what it takes to maintain growth...all of us want to be challenged,” said Dangote at FT Africa.

Malam Habib said that the Authority has embarked on reinforcing its ports and harbour in all its four pilotage districts, coupled with the impending 25 year port master plan which has reached an advanced stage, which will position the organisation to properly meet the demand of all categories of port users for both imports and exports.

The Authority will continue to consolidate and entrench the gains of the port reform by facilitating and synergising the activities of all port users and stakeholders, promising additional efficiencies to the nation’s seaports as well as making the system competitive, effective and user friendly on the world stage.

“Sustained efforts at providing the enabling port infrastructure is impacting the overall port operational efficiency, in a good way,” Malam Habib added.

In his goodwill message at the opening ceremony of ISIC, he further stated: “I feel we are the first of our kind in our nation’s maritime industry to act on foresight and this event could not have come at a better time than now as the nation strives to promote export trade, in that way changing the orientation of our nation’s seatrade which is import dependent.”

Remaining realistic
SeaIntel’s latest report, ‘Port Overview Africa 1H 2015’, alludes to the fact that there are many factors out of the Nigerian government’s jurisdiction that are responsible for creating a sustainable economy and port ecosytem in the country.

According to the report, “improved schedule reliability is marred by infrastructure deficits in African hinterland connections, limited improvements in vessel waiting time and an overall increase in average vessel size calling at African ports” are just some of the challenges that Nigeria will have to manage going forward. Even then, some of these activities could breed corruption which will have a negative impact on the economy.

Speaking at FT Africa, Dangote firmly reinforced the opinion of many African business leaders: “It is zero tolerance when it comes to corruption, and as a nation we remain resilient in the face of offenders,” he said. “But I am confident that the new government will be able to block loopholes because the President is very serious about it...And Nigeria is a place where most of the people misbehaving are well known.”

Delivering perhaps the boldest take-home sentiment of the day, Dangote reinforced his belief in the Nigerian economy with the statement: “If you are a business in Africa but not in Nigeria, then you are not serious about being on the continent.”

In summary, there has been an overwhelming sense of solidarity coming from Nigeria’s government and many of its business leaders during 2015; and, as we approach the end of the year, the theme of continued investment in, and commitment to, the country’s future is set to bolster its position as the leading African economy on the continent.