PHCCIMA President Harps On Re-Inventing Port Harcourt Seaports to a Shipping Hub

Posted on November 1, 2016. Filed under: news | Tags: |

PHCCIMA President Harps On Re-Inventing Port Harcourt Seaports to a Shipping Hub

emiPresident of Port Harcourt Chamber of Commerce, Dr. Emi Membere-Otaji has stressed the need for the federal government and all relevant stakeholders of the shipping industry to give adequate attention to re- inventing Port Harcourt seaports to ensure they are brought back to their original status as a bustling shipping hub as envisioned by the founding fathers.

The PHCCIMA helmsman who made this assertion while speaking shortly after his return from a trip at the Port Harcourt airport said this has become necessary in the light of weakening global oil prices and as a response to the Nigerian government’s new mantra of diversification.

According to him, Port Harcourt was originally created as a port city and shipping hub to export coal and agriculture products in 1912, but however when crude oil was eventually discovered in 1956 it changed everything. He said the city moved from export of non oil products to a major industrial center with a number of large industrial firms and particularly to businesses related to the oil and gas industry.

“When crude was discovered, everything in the city changed and was hinged directly or indirectly on oil, the city drifted and abandoned the ideals of the founding fathers who positioned it as a shipping and commercial hub beyond crude oil” he said.

Consequently he disclosed that the decision had ensured that Port Harcourt and indeed the old Rivers state is paying the price and feeling the pinch brought about by the weakening oil prices.

“Hence, Port Harcourt Chamber of Commerce is seriously engaging a whole lot of stakeholders to see how we can get the city back to what it was originally created for; to be a shipping hub for agricultural and non oil exports, while still providing a base for the nation’s oil and gas industry”, he said.

He recalled that old Port Harcourt port was about the 2nd largest port in the country, but however regretted that the port is now underutilized and is facing huge facility challenges. “We agree we have the Onne port managed by Intels and is acclaimed one of the biggest oil and gas free zones in the world, but the Onne port is strictly focused on oil and gas related cargo and their charges are astronomically high; even non oil cargo are charged as if they are oil related and this is not good for business in this era of economic diversification”, he opined.

The PHCCIMA helmsman particularly pointed out that another challenge is the persistence inaction on the part of the port regulators concerning disparity in rates charges between the Lagos ports and the eastern ports.

Hear him: “What we don’t understand is why cargo passing through Port Harcourt ports will cost more than Lagos? This high rate is taking businesses away from Port Harcourt. Most business cargo are now going through Lagos and they are killing the ports in the east. However, one sure thing is that the swamp land and oil fields and land cannot be taken from where it is which is Port Harcourt and Niger Delta, hence there is need to expedite action to ensure that seaports in the state are functional to facilitate import and export of other commodities beyond crude oil and create strings of employment opportunities for the people.

Further speaking on the effort of Port Harcourt Chamber of Commerce, he said PHCCIMA has been doing a lot to remedy the situation, we are engaging government and other stakeholder’s to see how we can change the situation and ensure we stop businesses from moving out of the city.

He said the call for more effort has become necessary because virtually all the importers from Onitsha, Aba, Port Harcourt and environs now pass their goods through Lagos and this shouldn’t be so. “The Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA and Nigeria Shippers Council, NSC as regulators should strive to bring down their prices so that the likes of Intels Limited will follow suit. They must acknowledge that payments for non oil cargo should not be tagged along like an oil cargo – so basically Port Harcourt Chamber is engaging across board from the various levels of government, Ministry of Transport, Agencies and Intels Limited to see how we can work closely to revive the Port Harcourt ports.”

“Similarly, there has been a lot of presentation to us by the Nigerian Export Promotion Council, NEPC we are interfacing with the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission, NIPC and we have sustained engagement with the Nigerian Shippers Council, NSC. Furthermore, we are setting the tone to engage Nigerian Ports Authority who are one of the critical regulators to say that something need to be done to make the old Port Harcourt port fully functional again while Onne with world class facility needs a review on its rates to accommodate non oil cargo because what we have in place now as rates are astronomically high.”

Dr Membere-Otaji who reiterated the need to stimulate the state economy said Port Harcourt need to go back to shipping which is the idea of the founding fathers, he said we must take a cue from the Singapore and Mauritius model that had nothing but were able to identify their potentials in shipping and today they are among the best and sustaining their economy with that.

“We can solve the problems by first getting the old Port Harcourt port back on stream; how? by dredging and further expanding the ports, which in turn will open up the channels to accommodate and allow various size of vessels to come in. We must as matter of priority review our stifling policies to create healthy competition, engage the various stakeholders to work on reviewing charges to reflect realities and create soft landings to encourage businesses.

“While oil and gas related cargo is unavoidable in Port Harcourt businesses, we must as a matter of main concern ensure we also encourage the non oil related cargo to increase shipping activities; when you do that there is a value chain in oil servicing, shipping servicing and others services which ultimately will trickle down to the least businesses”, he was quoted as saying.

Stemming from the fact that Port Harcourt is acclaimed to be an oil and gas enclave, the global fall in oil prices drastically affected the city, oil businesses came down, contractors were not longer getting jobs, people were being laid off from job and the effect is massive unemployment and hardship which have consequently led to the usual socio-economic issues we are abreast with that spirals to other problems.

Looking at the gains of re-inventing Port Harcourt ports he said, “if we strive to take Port Harcourt back to the idea envisioned by the founding fathers, we stand to gain a lot as there will be in-country trading, for example Dangote Limited and others are exploring coal and other solid minerals in Kogi and other states and we will need marine haulage in-country that will contribute to stimulating the economy. We must take advantage of our natural potentials to better our economic life; look at Mississipi in the US, a River that span across so many cities and states, and has been instrumental to stimulating those economies – we should be able to replicate this. We must take advantage of our stretch of coastal lines, intensify effort on our non oil export, agriculture, industrial fishing and agro allied products and explore the value chain on petroleum in the form of petrochemicals and fertilizer plants and it will be a plus for our economy.

Also, PHCCIMA has sent a proposal to the Rivers State government to set up a Multi-Sectorial State Export Committee.”

Speaking on Security he said, “While security remains a critical issue not only in Port Harcourt but the Niger delta as a whole; strong concerted efforts from the major stakeholders especially the oil companies and strong political will on the part of the national government will ameliorate the issue.

Hear him: “Only recently the Somalian pirates made the horn of Africa’s shipping lane impassable but today, that is history because of strong efforts from key stakeholders. Also we are advocating that government should put in place a medium to long term development plan for the oil producing Niger delta beyond the stop gap Amnesty Programme and NDDC.

According to him, from the time of the pre-independence Willinks commission report, stop gaps have never provided permanent solutions. Since every business in Nigeria cannot gravitate in Lagos, a so called ‘safe haven with good infrastructure’, efforts should be made to develop other cities like Port Harcourt, Kano, Jos, Enugu, Ibadan, Warri etc. to become excellent economic centres. Anything else will be likened to playing out the ostrich game.

Source: Aderson Hart


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