President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday advised African Nations to take full advantage of maritime endowments within the continent as part of measures to strengthen economic development.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the first International Association For Ports and Harbours, Africa Regional Conference hosted by the Nigerian Ports Authority in Abuja, Buhari explained that Nations in Africa are largely connected by the same developmental challenges “as well as large human capital and natural endowments” and that these nations must work together and deploy resources towards solving their common challenges.
Buhari said: “A situation in which at least 39 of the 54 countries on the continent are either littoral or island states makes the formulation of policies for the effective utilisation of our waters for the growth of our economies expedient.
“This, in a sense, seems to be a divine ordination of our desire for continental integration. Even though we have physical national boundaries that separate us, the waters are a natural source of connectivity and they seem like a subtle message that we must work together for the good of all our countries.
“This is why there could be no better time than now to hold this conference. The theme of the conference: African Ports and Hinterland Connectivity is itself a testament of the determination of the organisers of the conference to, collectively seek lasting solutions to the challenges that port operations face on the continent. After the issues of adequate security and transparency, the one other important factor deciding the competitiveness of ports is that efficiency with which cargoes are evacuated to and from the ports. This, without doubt is an area in which port operations in Africa needs a lot of intervention.
“Of course, there are on-going discussions in Nigeria and other African countries on the expediency of urgently investing in infrastructure that supports multi-modal means of transportation between our ports and the hinterland, meetings like this put the issues in proper perspectives and serve as avenue for the generation of ideas that would aid our national governments formulate effective policies.
“This administration that I am privileged to lead is committed to rebuilding infrastructure that supports multimodal means of transportation from the ports to the hinterland. We understand that this interconnectivity will improve the country’s economic competitiveness as targeted under the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP). So for starters, I have directed that every port must have the full complement of rail infrastructure. Our projections is that by the end of 2021, we will have standard gauge railway across the main North-South trading route.”
Earlier in his speech, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, informed participants that the present administration of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is committed to the optimal development and utilisation of the nation’s port potentials.
Amaechi said: “Our desire in Nigeria is to have ports that are not just part of transport and logistics supply chains in themselves, but Ports which are landlocked transit corridors and directly connected through rail to the inland Dry Ports for efficient evacuation of cargoes. We are as a result committed to developing the intermodal transport system as a mechanism to reinvigorate the conveyance of maritime logistics.”
Amaechi explained that the task of opening up the hinterland becomes a challenge “that requires urgent response which this administration has provided and we are totally determined to strategically link up the thirty- six (36) state capitals with the Federal Capital, Abuja with standard gauge rail services”.
Speaking in a similar vein, the Vice President of IAPH, Africa Region, Hadiza Bala Usman, expressed the hope that the conference would inspire greater efficiency in the operation of ports across the continent.
Usman explained that with the volume of trade generated by Africa by virtue of its huge population and costal endowments, the continent stands at an advantageous position in the global maritime sector and that the conference was inspired by the need for the countries on the continent to collaborate for the development of the sector.
Usman, who is also the Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority, said the theme of the workshop was in recognition of the importance of hinterland connectivity to the effective operations of ports in the continent and expressed the hope that the three-day conference would inspire effective policies.
She said: “There is no doubt that one of the determining factors for the relevance of ports is the speed and seamlessness with which owners of cargo are able to move their consignments out of the ports and that Africa really does still have a lot of work to do in this area. For these and so many other reasons, the theme for the conference: ‘African Ports and Hinterland Connectivity,’ is one that will hopefully unleash the potential of our ports to contribute to development.”
The IAPH was established in 1955 to promote the development of ports and create a worldwide synergy for effectiveness amongst all member countries through strong relationships.
At the moment, the IAPH, which has grown into a global alliance representing 180 Members Ports and 140 Port related businesses in 90 countries, promotes collaborations and information-sharing “which helps to resolve common issues and continually improve on service of ports to the maritime industries”.