As the federal government continues the drive to diversify the economy, the Executive Secretary, Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Barr. Hassan Bello has said that there is no better place for the diversification of the Nigerian economy than export.
Bello who made this assertion in a chat with Primetime Reporters in Lagos on the occasion of Nigeria’s 60th Independence Anniversary celebration however said that the maritime sector of the economy had undergone some transformation even as he maintained that how the industry fared in the last 60 years was dependent on changes on the world economy.
While noting that Nigeria’s population and ambition in the 60s shaped what he called an easy aspect of the country saying that there was much cohesion at that time and that all agencies of the government were talking to one another.
He said, “The economy was also good in sense that shipping provided us avenues for export. Over the years, however, with the oil, we became, unfortunately, import dependent country, that means more import come than we export and this went on for a very long time.
“So, the disadvantage of import dependent nation is that you are looking at only one direction, which means, you are not even earning the foreign exchange, you are not spreading the nets of the nation. You are as a matter of fact exporting employment to other countries. What we needed was for us to also concentrate on export so that we build the value chain, have factories to process, package and enhance our export in areas that we have advantage.
“However, the dependence on import was really not a good thing in the sense that even our ports lost the configuration for export. You don’t even have export terminal, even in our sub-consciousness; we only depended on import economy. But there is export economy. So, over the years, even that import was disturbed by lack of planning otherwise, how could you explain that we are using this same river ports in Apapa and Tincan and we are using the same road for over many years now?
“In the 70s/80s, these ports were built, almost 50 years now, yet we are still using the same infrastructure. The United Nations says population increases by 2.5 per annum but this was not taken into consideration that our population was growing even more than UN estimate and so, we grew up, we became sophisticated in terms of our consumption and we are not producing, there was no production but only consumption. So, all sorts of things were imported into the country but a country that does not produce is no country. Besides, the cost of transportation will increase because eight containers come laden but only two go out and shipping was therefore restricted to coastal port.
“Then also, we lost our ability to own and operate ships. The Nigerian National Shipping Line, for obvious reasons, went under because it was government controlled; the private sector was not brought into control. So, these, I think was what was happening but the government has now taken, that is why there is hope, government is determined now to look at export because of the lessons we have learnt from the volatility of oil. We can’t have all our eggs in one basket and there is no better place for diversification of the economy than export.”
While urging the government to look the way of export so as to reposition it, he however praised the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for taking steps in addressing these issues stating that “for every eight containers that come, we should have eight laden, it will even reduce cost of shipping.”
“This will enlarge the whole country to be in shipping, Kaduna will have a dry port, that means you are bringing shipping to the people, Isialangwa will have a dry port, which means all the people with their export will be there, in Funtua, Ibadan, in Kano, Jos and other places. So, the farmer knows he can farm, bring his export near Kaduna, his ginger, he needs not to hire a truck to come to Lagos and clog everywhere. That is what should be done and that should spread the economy. For the dry port in Kaduna, you could see economic activities already picking up because the port economy that Lagos enjoys will now be transferred to that place.
“I think there is hope, the deficit in infrastructure is huge but not insurmountable. Nigeria is doing rail which is going to be revolutionary, Nigeria is looking at dry port which is also a very good economic decision and I think from the trajectory, we have got ourselves burnt by oil, I don’t think we will ever go back to total dependence on oil.
“The reorientation of the people for export must go on, we have to synchronize and digitize our export processes and procedures and make them transparent and easy for export and standardization of our export so that they are not rejected by people who order them because you are in competition with others. But I think government is now very serious about these things and what we are going to have is an export revolution. I tell you, it will happen”, he said.
On whether there is anything for Nigerians to celebrate in the maritime sector in the last 60 years of the nation’s independence, the NSC boss said, “There is employment; we employ our people even in the import economy. We have local manufacturers, we have truckers, drivers, they are all Nigerians. The chain supported by shipping is more or less Nigerians – freight forwarders. So, it is something to celebrate, the most important thing is to make it better.”
Going forward, he said, “The infrastructure, it very important because we have to have supremacy, we have to have economic imperialism, we have to oppress other countries, I don’t want to mention names but I am not going to sit at table with Togo, Benin and the rest. If you are a Nigerian, you have up to 200 million people, you have 80,000 coastlines, you have 925,000 square kilometers the EEZ, you have vast and fertile agricultural land. You can do mining, everything is there, human resources, you name it.
“Nigeria should dominate, so, also in shipping. This should be the hub where large ships come. Look at the Lekki Deep Seaport now, if it is done, it will solve a lot of problems because it is 16 going to 20 draughts, large, mega ships will come and then we send smaller ships to all these smaller countries.”
Photo: The Executive Secretary, Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Barr. Hassan Bello.
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