•Says virtual port operation is the way to go
he national President of the Association of Nigeria Licenced Customs Agents (ANLCA) Iju Tony Nwabunike at the weekend said that there is no fear of job losses in the Nigerian maritime industry even in the face of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic economic crisis.
Nwabunike, who spoke with Sunday Telegraph, described the maritime industry as Nigeria’s low hanging fruit. According to him, the industry has potentials for increased export and promotion of the country’s comparative advantage in international trade.
Making comparison with the aviation sector where government and private sector operators are currently finding it difficult to pay salaries, Nwabunike said the maritime industry can be self sustaining if properly harnessed.
He advised government to fully developed the export sector, quickly fix local fuel refining challenges, stop importation of refined petroleum products and curb wastage of government resources.
He further expressed optimism that the sector can create more jobs and expand the scope of the national economy.
“We have watched the shocking and ongoing devastating impact of the coronavirus disease on various sectors of the economy leading to massive job loss and general quake in the global economy. Though not completely insulated from effects of the pandemic, the Nigerian maritime industry holds potentials to serve as the country’s low hanging fruits for economic growth, stability and survival.
“Unlike the aviation industry where government agencies like the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria and Nigeria Airspace Management Agency including airlines are either mulling salary cuts, workers lay off and shrinking in human capital needs, the maritime industry still holds the ace as indispensable mode for global trade and commerce.
“Rather than worry over likelihood of job loss, customs brokers, freight forwarders, truck owners, chandlers and other ancillary service providers in the industry should gravitate towards keeping themselves abreast with virtual presence and operations in the ports.
“At ANLCA we have always advocated for a modern port regime with lesser amount of persons coming into port areas. This will now be a fast track drive because persons and businesses can meet virtually, submit, process and receive documents online without leaving the comforts of our homes and offices.
“While the port cannot be virtual, our presence can be. We have been partaking in Webinars where we communicate effectively, take business and corporate decisions without traveling. This is the new curriculum we are recommending as a basic training content for everyone wishing to use ports and other maritime services moving forward.
“ANLCA independent research shows that over 70 percent of persons using our ports are yet to understand these things which they need for their professional future and business survival. Over 80 percent of them do not even know the many unused business tools to advance their trade embedded inside the mobile phones they carry about.
“Unknown to them, they can set up virtual meetings to discuss all business related issues and perfect related bank transactions without moving around the cities bugged down by snail speed traffic.
“The haulage section will always be there. It cannot be taken over virtually, we only foresee a regime of improved rail services,” he said.
How best to harvest post Covid-19 benefits from the ports
•Exports: According to him, Nigeria must as a matter of urgency develop non oil exports to keep jobs up. Much more needed to be done in the agricultural sector.
“As a country, we took an unfortunate back stage position in export of commodities like cocoa, palm oil, and many other agricultural products. This must resume. The value chain from the farms through logistics to the ports for outward shipping will employ more persons than it currently employs.”
He said Nigeria should identify products for which she has comparative advantage. “Nigerian made electric cables have been noted for being of higher quality than most imported ones. Government should be the number one buyer of quality made in Nigeria products while encouraging citizens to do same without promoting monopoly and profiteering,” Nwabunike added.
•Cutting unnecessary imports: Nwabunike stated that urgent steps must be taken to refine crude oil locally and stop the importation of refined petroleum products, saying a good amount of what should have been earnings for the country from the sale of crude oil has gone into payment for subsidies on imported products.
“It doesn’t make logical and economic sense for Nigeria to be buying what she has from outside simply because she failed to process her crude, could not fix her refineries and suffering shifted deadlines in commencement of operations of expected private refineries.
“That we have cotton but still depend on other countries to produce our clothing needs is a result of fall in the local textile industry. The industry is dying partly due to lack of power as it was discovered that it is cheaper to manufacture textiles outside Nigeria than doing it in the country.
“Our textile industry alone can produce jobs running into millions for a 200 million population and exporting to other countries.Rice self sufficiency is still a struggle even after its removal from forex and ban from importation through land borders,” he lamented.
•Avoiding waste: Nwabunike also said that a lot of government funds have gone into wasteful and unnecessary spending on foreign trips, bogus seminars and conferences in costly hotels and many other avoidable expenses. He stated that cutting off such expenses will not only save cost for government but will help to get attention to relevant areas.
Need for private investment in rail coaches: The ANLCA boss further said that though the railway is government owned, there is the need to allow private investment in ownership of coaches to move cargoes from dry ports to the seaports and vice versa. According to him, this mode of transport if encouraged and open for the private sector, will bring about cheaper and safer mode of cargo movement within the country.