By Rev Richard Peters

The sea is considered one of the cheapest and safest means of transporting goods from one place to the other compared to other means of transportation. As a result, many industries in the world are located in the coastal belts, in the vicinity of major ports to enhance foreign exchange.

Seaports therefore are important for the support of economic activities between countries, serving as a strong factor for economic and regional balanced development and growth, as well as also having a great influence on national integration to the world economic market.

Jouili (2016), identifies Eight key importance of a Seaport to include: first, a form of a transportation development system which facilitates the progress of international trade; second, that which promotes the exportation of goods and logistic services; third, a focal point for regional development; fourth, a crucial factor for generating employment opportunities through effects associated with seaports and logistics activities (storing, distribution, container freight station function; fifth, an enhancer of increased economic activities which takes place in the vicinity of seaports; sixth, a promoter of the domestic economy in the international economy; seventh, an attractor of new industries and eight, a pillar to develop the rest of economic activities.

Notably, trade between nations which dates back to the biblical age (and which was still majorly seaborne) has always made a significant contribution in terms of increasing wealth among the world population. Also notable is the fact that from times. Stopford, 2009; UNCTAD, 2015 agree that over 80% of all trade is seaborne today.

Given these indices, the need to strengthen Nigeria’s Ports ability and delivery system cannot be underscored.

At the last count, Nigeria has 21 seaports (oil terminals inclusive) including Tin Can Island, Apapa, Kirikiri (Lagos), Warri (Delta), Port Harcourt (Rivers State) and Calabar (Cross River). These cargo Ports which are sparsely dispersed however, are not without their challenges.

Scholars record that Nigerian ports are currently classified among the worst ports in the world due to challenges such as delay of import/export processes, traffic congestion, poor access roads and security concerns.

For a Port which carries out over 70% of Nigeria’s Port activities, one would expect the Lagos Port to be devoid of the delays, gridlock and unwholesome billings it is associated with yet, it remains so while our economy continues to elicit interest among local and global investors.

The Lagos State Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCC) in a publication titled “Cost of Maritime Ports Challenges in Nigeria”, 2018 notes that “it is a well-known fact that efficiency in ports operations has become an incentive and one of the major drivers of trade and investing activities across countries. Yet, the Nigerian ports are currently classified among the worst ports in the world due to challenges bordering on delay of import/export processes, heavy human and vehicular congestion around the ports, difficulty in gaining access to the ports due to bad roads, security concerns…,traffic congestion, poor access roads and security concerns…”

It adds that “the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Economic and Country report shows that Nigeria is the largest economy in Africa with GDP of $413 billion in 2017. Yet, it trails far behind many smaller economies in Africa in terms of ports and maritime activities”.

The situation, the LCC said “has created avenues for gross misallocation of resources and imposes tremendous costs to the economy; distorting development policies and undermining confidence of foreign and local port users in the Nigerian port operations”.

In a related epistle, Olusanya Anjorin in a publication of the Punch (January 3, 2020) titled “As Apapa Gridlock Lingers”, narrated that “Nigerians are frustrated with the bottlenecks at the highway entrance to the Apapa seaport” and that “while a stopgap remains a mirage, a permanent solution appears like a movie with episodes”.

He recalled the LCC’s lamentation sometimes back about the $19bn and 5% Gross Domestic Product Nigeria loses annually to delays, traffic jams, illegal charges and insecurity that are common place in the Tin Can Island Port, not excluding “the massive environmental impact and huge amount of time it causes commuters to ply the route” which he noted drains their pocket “as well as kill them softly as a result of inhaling carbon monoxide”.

He concludes that the nightmarish gridlock on the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway which “seems to be defying solution despite repeated efforts of government and well-meaning individuals for the trucks to vacate the road leading to the nation’s sea gateway…might take a bit longer, until a fowl grows teeth.’’

In view of this hellish experience, comes the Ibom Deep Seaport as a solution. Strategically located to serve West and Central African Region, JDZ Sao Tome, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroun, Angola, Gabon, Congo, Congo DRC, Chad etc, the Ibom Deep Seaport will occupy 2,565Ha of land area of the 14,517Ha available for the industrial city project.

The approximate location of the project site scaled from the British Admiralty Chart No. 1387 are Latitude 04 32’ 35” N: Longitude 080 14’ 07” E. and UTM coordinates 415168 m E; 502,199 m N (UTM Zone 32N).” as 2nd para.

It key features are: Greenfield port project, Deep water access (18m in the channel, allowing >15m+ vessels in the port), 5,129 hectares for port development where the Port is part of the 14,400 hectare Ibom Industrial City, Proximity to major shipping routes, Operations protected from waves, currents and winds; Combined deep sea port and FTZ development in Akwa Ibom State, Short distance to destination markets to minimize, feeder transit and costs; large gateway market size to attract direct vessel services as well as sizeable transshipment cargo hinterlands for feeder, shipping network connection.

The Ibom Deep Seaport (IDSP) is well positioned to offer a value proposition superior to other ports in the region. No port in the West African region has yet to be established as a major transshipment hub.

IDSP is designed for very large vessels, vessels that can load over 13 thousand containers in one voyage. It will be a transshipment port as smaller vessels will re-distribute cargo from the mega vessels to sea ports, river ports closer to the consignees in Nigeria and West & Central African Region.

IDSP is a Federal Government project driven by the Federal Ministry of Transportation, Akwa Ibom State and the Nigerian Port Authority while the Global Maritime & Port Services (PTE) Limited is its transaction driver.

According to the Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Works, Akparawa Ephraim Inyang-eyen, the road networks at the IDSP are exquisitely designed and constructed to link the entire states in the south south. He explained that at the completion of the Seaport, one of the dualized road takes materials cleared from the Seaport directly into Uyo, state capital.
“The state government is also building a super Highway from Ibeno axis to Uya Oro where one can link up to the East-West road leading to Bayelsa, Port-Harcourt and Warri or drive the opposite way to get to Oron, Eket as well as Calabar”.

This, he said is to take care of palpable traffic decongestion around the Seaport.
Mr. Inyang-eyen gave insights on the road interconnectedness when, a delegation from the Presidency consisting the Director General of Infrastructure Concession Regulating Commission (ICRC), an official of the Ministry of Transportation, Finance and the Nigerian Port Authority (NPA), visited the project site on Friday, January 31.

Accompanied by Inyang-eyen were the State Information boss, Sir Charles Udoh and his Economic Development counterpart, Mr. Akan Okon.

The visiting team who were obviously overwhelmed by the network of roads the Ibom Deep Seaport has, with links to the Onne Port, Mobil Oil Producing as well as the Atlantic Ocean, expressed satisfaction with the progress of work at the project site.

The delegation announced the full adoption of the project and commended the state and federal government for its focus and commitment towards ensuring that the seaport becomes functional within stipulated time.

The DG of ICRC, Mr. Chidi Audu-Izuwah, who led the team, commented that the project further confirms Governor Emmanuel’s determination and promise to industrialize the State and thus, make it a regional commercial hub, adding that the IDSP would unleash additional port capacity by decongesting Lagos.

He projected that with the natural depth of the seaport and the sophisticated facilities it hopes to have, the project on completion will be able to create minimum of 5,000 and maximum of 10, 000 employment opportunities and thus, impact positively on revenue generation for the country.
“I am so delighted to see these things by myself today. Ibom Deep Seaport will be the best seaport in Nigeria and the sub-region with natural depth, and it will also help to decongest Lagos, Port Harcourt and other seaports. I’m amazed at the level of work recorded so far by the Akwa Ibom State Government”, Mr. Izuwah expressed.

“This is both crucial to the Nigerian economic survival and the development of the South south”. He particularly commended the transportation links of the Seaport, saying it only implies that the port will have intermodal connection and assured that the federal government was going to do everything possible to support the state government towards driving the project to its completion within the set time frame.

Relishing the beauty of the road network outlay designed for access and evacuation of goods and services from the deep seaport, the federal official and Chairman, Technical Committee, Mrs Mfon Usoro, described it as world-class visionary project, adding that it will be harnessed by the Federal Government in collaboration with the Akwa Ibom State Government, the National Assembly, Technical Partners and core investors to decongest Lagos when it becomes operational.

She relived that they were happy to see with their eyes what they have been documenting on paper for quite a while and dismissed fears that the Federal Government will play politics with the project, while insisting that President Muhammadu Buhari is totally committed to transforming all parts of Nigeria with positive infrastructural development without political bias.

She described the project as a nonpolitical mega infrastructural project which cannot be completed hastily in one or two years but in phases, adding that the IDSP is going according to timelines set for it.

“With the level of work done so far, the federal government has agreed that there should be a ground breaking in March”, she said.

Other visiting nationals who spoke at the site were full of admiration as they continued to pour accolades on the governor and lauded his initiative in embarking on such project.

Definitely, the siting of the IDSP inches away from the Atlantic Ocean makes the coast clear for international exchanges.

Towing the line of the federals, the Commissioner for state Commissioner for Economic Development and Ibom Deep Seaport, Mr. Akan Okon had said that the project will be done in phases and will be ready for use within the lifespan of the present administration.

He noted that the coming of the NPA, ICRC, Ministry of Transport, Ministry of Finance and all agencies responsible for the development of the site, to witness the progress rate was an assurance of the federal government’s involvement in the project.

It would be recalled that the Akwa Ibom State Governor, Mr. Udom Emmanuel had from the onset of his administration stated his commitment to the industralisation of the state, giving priority to the Ibom deep seaport and industrial city projects.
“We will aggressively industrialise this State and continue to attract foreign investors, ensuring that the environment is made ferment for investments. We hope to make Akwa Ibom the industrial hub of Nigeria. Ibom industrial City and Ibom Deep Seaport will be our signature projects this second term.”

He added that his administration will raise the bar of performance in all areas and lift Akwa Ibom State to an enviable height, to be the pride of the nation. “Akwa Ibom in my second term will move from a fast industrialising society to a great and rich society, and will witness an unprecedented growth in all spheres of development and capacity enhancement.”

With these top gear preparations, the IDSP is set to recover the gradually glooming glory of Nigeria’s Seaports, triple the enhancement of economic development and create more avenues for the existence of commerce and industries.

Furthermore, foreign investors will be attracted, maintained for sustained global trade and commonwealth as forecasted by the State Governor.

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