How FG frustrates ICD operators out of business in Nigeria – Nweke

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Chief Emmanuel Nweke is the Chief Executive Officer of ITC Bonded Terminal, a freight Forwarder and operator in the maritime industry. He bares his mind in this media interaction with newsmen on how inconsistent government policies have been responsible for the dwindling fortunes of the Inland Container Depots (ICDs) in Nigeria and how the terminal operators do not help in any way to alleviate the plight of the ICD operators. He however hinges the hope of ICD revival on the mercy of the new government of President Muhammadu Buhari who he has called upon to revise the policies establishing ICDs and to come up with an enduring policy that will engender growth and development in the sub sector. Excerpt

What do you think is responsible for the decline in the fortune of ICDs in Nigeria?

First and foremost, we have to look at the reasons that brought about the creation of ICDs before you begin to go into causes of the dwindling fortunes of ICDs. The fact remains that the reasons that brought it to life are still present with us even when the Federal Government has taken the decision of  compelling ICDs to individual company but that has not helped because of the goal which that would have achieved if strictly followed in the right way is not achieved.

This means that the processes that would have brought the ICDs and the concessionaires together was not adhered to or followed at all; that is why as at today, we still experience the jam in the port and issues around the port because ICDs are made to relieve the port of congestion and also spread  the possibility of importers accessing their goods in closer places and getting Apapa free from the jam of trucks and traffic and also make our ports free or vessels to call for quick turnaround. That we have lost because the major policies that created these things have not been looked into very well or have never been allowed to endure.

When policies are made and people are there to think of how to work with those policies at least within the first one year and arranging how it will work with their businesses, not more than one year or within two years, new government is seen or new CEOs, Ministers, new management are being brought in and they are changing the entire policy all over again meanwhile, investment has been made by the investors who now cannot recoup their money or unable to work with the new policy that is being introduced by the new management.

These are major problems but I must say that until we begin to understand the reasons for making policies that it is for the development of the economy and other areas of the nation. That is the absolute reason for making policies and the policies must be checked before they are being published as policies that will guide either the businesses or other arms of the nation’s growth. If that is not checked before making them public for people to abide to them, we will only be seen as a chaotic nation where business cannot thrive, as a place where government has no interest about development of their economy because of the policies made without consideration to the day to day running of the affairs of the country.

Can you tell us the effect of these inconsistent policies affecting the ICDs on the maritime and the country at large?

Emphatically, the effects are glaring. You can see the constant logjam we have in Apapa; the unbelievable situations that always rear their ugly heads in Apapa or in our entire ports within the Lagos axis. I must tell you that if you look at those things that are happening, they are from the policies that have been made here. Then if we continue without looking into all these policies and retracting ourselves from making wrong policies, it is obvious that we will continue having all these issues. No matter the decrease in the importation into the country, we will still experience congestion in our ports.

What are the actual roles of ICDs in the first place?

The roles of ICDs irrespective of the place or distance, the most important thing is that it helps the industry expand more; it helps the economy to get to various points that will be beneficial to the people. As you know, once there is an ICD outside the port area, people are meant to commute to the new area where the ICDs have been established. Within that time, workers are being made to work in those points; all the government agencies are being made to work in those points and it relieves the port of pressure and stress and also creates job opportunities for the teeming Nigerians. And again, it makes it easier for the importer because he can process the clearance of his goods faster without congestion.

Is it the terminal operators or the government that should be blamed for the problems of ICDs?

It is the government and not the terminal operators. Terminal operators have come into the country because they were welcome, invited into it, they were made to participate as partners but the government has along the line left their partnership.

Let’s look at the area of terminal operators refusing to stem containers to the ICDs.

Unfortunately, the terminal operators within the port who are the concessionaires have come to make money; they have seen it as a money making venture but it is the regulator that should be of the responsibility to see that there is understanding in bringing the duo of the ICD operators within the state or country and the concessionaires together with solid arrangement on sharing the cargoes that come into the country. If that was done, there is no way we will be in this situation. It would have saved our roads and also contribute to the GDP of the nation because in all areas, there will be opportunities for people to make a better turnaround of their businesses.

What is the relationship between ICD operators and concessionaires?

There is none. It is like a master-servant relationship. In other words, the master does not want the servant to even remain, he says I am done, I can help myself. You take a walk. That is the kind of relationship that exists between ICD operators and concessionaires because they see themselves as very large, international, well established organizations.

But here, the ICDs are more of indigenous companies which should be the reason why government should see that they completely rescind the ambiguous policies so that they can grow their entrepreneur and grow the businesses and also grow the people that are going to use these ICDs to grow their own businesses.

Is it lack of legal framework or will that is the problem?

It is more of policies because without policies, there won’t be any need for enforcement or legal default. If the policies are gotten right abinitio, we won’t be seeing all the ICDs being closed up.

What about the roads and transport means of carrying the goods to the ICDs?

Before the advent of the concessioning and the approval to establish ICDs, the road issue has been there but as you know, many of the ICDs take their deliveries in the night when the roads are free. So, by morning, roads will be free for people to commute to their various working places but today, it is not the same.

At that time when the NPA was the manager of the ports, it made it easy for vessels to come in and get a good time of turnaround . Then, an importer was able to access his goods in good time. The entire country benefited in different ways by having opportunity of generating employment in those ICDs and also has opportunity of growing the market with the commercial nature of goods that come in.

So, as it is today, we are losing in all ways. The roads are still not good, the ports are congested and the people do not have jobs and monies are not kept with us. All money that is made by the concessionaires is shipped out of the country before you know it. No investment as expected has been made in those areas that were given out. But I am a firm believer that hopefully, the new government that has come will look into all these and make an amendment that will benefit the nation.

In clear terms, can you state exactly where you want the government to intervene in resuscitating ICDs?

The first amendment is to take a holistic look at the laws and revise them and see how beneficial it has been to the nation; look at the policies and see where they are inimical to the nation. When these things are done, it will bring a turnaround to the industry definitely.

Now that the Nigerian Shippers’ Council is laying more emphasis on ICDs, do you see light at the end of the tunnel?

Absolutely, majority of the countries in the world have ICDs, they have river ports, that makes it easy for commerce to grow, for people to get jobs. This is very clear.

Can ICDs serve as ports of destination?

Of course, it is clearly written in our Form M, that is why I said there are policies and there should be ability to drive the policies and also put a square peg in a square hole.

What awareness are you carrying out for people to know and utilize the opportunity?

That is why I said the government has a role to play. All government agencies that have to do with port operations have roles to play to that effect starting from Shippers’ Council to NIMASA to NPA even the Nigeria Customs Service to the ICD operators, they all have to come together in making sure that the public is aware of the position of government as it regards the importation and the destination of cargoes that come in.

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