In recent times, restructuring has assumed a pivotal position in national discourse around Nigeria. The devolution of powers, or true federalism which is based on the need for Nigeria to be weaned from its unfolding experience of dictatorial control under colonial bondage and military impunity has continued to garner wide support.
It is regrettably sad that Nigeria is till date still strongly tied down to the unproductive centralised command on which its economy is anchored simply because it appears to benefit a few privileged and powerful people and their cronies to the detriment of the dynamic economic growth that benefits the ordinary Nigerian on the street of the country.
A few weeks ago, Nigeria’s Ex-President Muhammadu Buhari approved constitutional amendments which were passed by the National Assembly to transfer the power to set up electricity grids outside the purview of the national grid, as well as the establishment of railways which was moved from the Exclusive to the Concurrent List. What this meant was that state governments in Nigeria were now permitted to make laws setting up their own local grids and rail networks. This commendable gesture, however, did not go far enough to scratch the restructuring question.
To truth remains that, Nigeria as presently constituted cannot work if the country is not restructured in its totality. Beyond the power shenanigans, the country actually does need a holistic programme of power devolutions and the recalibration of the federal revenue allocation formula to meet the needs of the present and that is an undeniable fact. To get this done seamlessly, one area that cannot be overlooked is the issue of devolution of power to establish seaports and river ports to the subnational governments. It is obvious that the present system which is centralised is not working.
Today, only the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), is empowered to govern the port system in Nigeria. The concession arrangement it adopted has failed to ensure the development of new seaports and riverports and the optimal functioning of existing facilities in other parts of the country except for Lagos.
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The country is presently choking from its over-dependence on Lagos ports. Only those who lack any iota of integrity will deny this. With this in mind, It is unfortunate that the effort made in 2021 by a House of Representatives member, Onofiok Luke (PDP Akwa Ibom State) to acquire the power to establish ports transferred to the Concurrent List was actually suspended by the powers that be in the country for ‘further consultations’.
The big question on the minds of most concerned individuals is; when will the consultations end? When will the Federal Government of Nigeria create the long-proposed Ports Master Plan to give states and private investors the freedom to establish ports as done in advanced countries? When will Nigeria do away with politics when it comes to critical matters of development? When will Nigeria begin to prioritise the growth and advancement of its economy when taking decisions of critical national importance?
No matter how one chooses to look at it, concentrating all the functional ports in the country in Lagos defies every commonsensical logic. It lumps economic advantages to one part of the country and that’s plain stupidity. In fact, people who are struggling to understand the root causes of the trampling of the human and constitutional rights of a section of non-indigenes in Lagos, shouldn’t look too further away.
Diversification of power to build seaports in various parts of the country will not only create more economic opportunities and ease off growing socio-political tensions in Lagos, it will also ignite the economic potentials of the waterways in the country which are currently underdeveloped
It is incomprehensible and unjustifiable why all the seaport projects are focused on congested Lagos when other equally viable ports that should be developed to decongest the metropolis have been curiously abandoned. That all the functional ports – Apapa and Tin Can Island’s are all western ports yet new ones are being planned for Lekki and Badagry, is tantamount to abandoning the other important seaports in the South-South axis that should be developed to decongest Lagos.
Presently, it is no secret that the ports in Calabar, Port Harcourt, Warri, Burutu, Sapele, Escravos, Forcados, and Onne are lying fallow and undeveloped and unused while the country puts all her eggs in one basket. Doing that is plain foolish. For security reasons, there is no wisdom in having all the ports belonging to the country in Lagos. A good Ports Master Plan should create alternative ports for efficiency and national interest.
A visit to the Lagos Port in the Apapa district and at Tin Can Island will show how cargo ships form a constant line to dock. Averagely, it takes about 5-7 hours to manually check each container. According to estimates by the Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN) these delays at the country’s ports are currently costing the economy of the country $55m per day.
To make matters worse, the Apapa Port which began operation in 1970 has not been upgraded to modern standards despite the billions of dollars generated from it yearly. The port was only built for 30,000 cargoes but now it has over 80,000 cargoes yet no infrastructural development has channelled to it.
With the horrifying traffic gridlock plaguing Apapa ports in Lagos, it takes an average of one month for container-bearing trailers to access the ports owing to dilapidated roads. This has negatively impacted on port operations and made importers and exporters incur huge overhead costs.
The only way out is to decentralise port operations by opening up the other ports outside Lagos. There is deadly congestion in Lagos because the other ports are not functional. This is what restructuring is all about which is essentially the ability of the country to give power to local authorities to manage their resources and critical infrastructure more efficiently. Over-centralisation of management and control of critical infrastructure in Nigeria has held the country down and Nigerians must now begin to speak out against these absurdities if they ever want their country to work for them.