One of the major challenges hindering ease of doing business in Nigeria is corruption. In this interview with BAYO AKOMOLAFE, Chief Executive Officer, Inland Containers Nigeria Limited, Mr. Ismail Adekola Yusuf, harped on the need for government to encourage more investors into dry ports projects.
What is your take on the implementation of the ease of doing business policy?
Government has a lot to do in terms of security, because without peace and good enabling condition, investors may not be willing to remain, even if you provide easy means of doing business. Security is very important to every nation, so government should do more about that. As for Nigerians too, we need to cooperate with government to ensure that the efforts being put in place yield the desired results.
If there had been consistency, we would have gone farther than where we are today. When the current government came, they know where they met the economy and where they are taking it. Each government will come and go and it will continue like that and so on. The president alone can’t do it and that is why he has ministers and governors working for the country. Government should put infrastructure and security in place so that there will be peace and the economy can grow.
How is corruption affecting you and your business?
I think the issue of corruption affects everyone of us. Honestly speaking, government is trying its best to see that things work for the country and it is all of us that will make those policies work. If we don’t want corruption to be in place again, we should do the right thing. Take for instance, government says don’t take and don’t give, but, why are you asking for it before you do the job for which you are being paid? Why must I tip you before you carry my file from one table to another? If corruption is not removed, things will continue the way it is if corruption is still there.
Everybody wants ease of doing business, how will it work with corruption in place? We have institutions that are supposed to carry out government’s policies, we have security agencies, the Police, Nigerian Customs Service, State Security Service, Economic and Financial Crime Commission, if those people are corrupt and punished and some people are used as scapegoats, people will stop all these sharp practices.
How has the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)’s intervention on foreign exchange policy affected your company?
Before I answer that, as economic team of the Federal Government, which I believe CBN is part of, some people must have met and studied the situation we found ourselves. Thereafter, they may have agreed on the way forward, which may include injecting foreign exchange into the system. If they have not done that, the exchange rate would have been unstable by now. It was N360 before and there was a time it rose to N520 and so it was injection of liquidity that brought this thing down, but they cannot continue to inject funds without doing the other side.
That is why the president has been telling us to diversify. We rely on one product, which is petroleum and, today, the petroleum products are being sold to create alternative energy, no more buying of petroleum from you. Before the era of petroleum, we were doing something, so why didn’t we use the money we got from petroleum to grow those things we had been doing before, why did we abandon agriculture and mining? This is why I said whatever policy government is putting in place, the citizens needs to support that administration to ensure it works.
Today, they are talking about people not importing rice and if you do, it is illegal, but how many millions of rice farmers do we have now? When I was in Kano recently, I saw rice mill and in other states. But they were not there before. I saw so many people working. So, if manufacturing companies are working and mining companies are working, are we going to be crying of unemployment?
Can you explain why some of your containers were stocked on the roads for days when the rail line is there for transportation?
Well, this question is beyond me and you know why I said so? I am a user of Nigerian products, which is rail services and am not in a position to provide the equipment for myself to use. So, it is the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) that should be able to tell you, if they have been moving containers or cargoes to dry ports or bounded terminal in Kano. I don’t know what the media should be doing if they are not already asking that. I believe it is the Nigerian Railway Corporation that is also in the best position to tell you whether they have problems or not.
Has the impact of dry port policies in the country been felt?
As far as I’m concerned, when you look at big countries with vast lands such as India and Asia, they have these inland dry ports working for them and what is the reason behind introducing dry ports? It is just to bring maritime business closer to those who are far from the coastal areas. For instance, you are in Maiduguri or Jos and you are about 1,500 or 1,800 kilometres away from the port, how many people will be coming to Lagos, Port Harcourt or Calabar to clear their goods? That is why there is congestion in Lagos. But if these dry ports are working, many people will not be rushing to Lagos to do their clearance or do maritime business, so, the inland dry port will do that on behalf of the port users.
What are the effects of protracted gridlock on Apapa port roads?
It is really affecting my businesses, because my trucks coming from Kaduna, Kano and other places cannot have easy access to the port and sometimes they queue from Oyigbo to Apapa on the road waiting for about three days. So, if you have 500 containers to load and they are there for one week, then how is it not going to affect my income? It applies to everyone that has business to do inside the port. Looking at the on-going road work, government is doing a nice job, but they are very slow. You know why? We were told that this project would last 12 months, you can take a walk and access how many kilometers the construction has gone and what percentage they have done. But I am not, blaming them because the terrain they are in.
What are the implications of establishing a dry port in Kaduna?
Kaduna inland container terminal is a dry port and if you know what Apapa port is, that is how Kaduna dry port also is. The difference between the seaport and the dry port is water. Apapa port has a sea where the vessel can berth, Kaduna port doesn’t have it. That is why it’s called dry port. So, the final bus stop, I will say, is where you have the sea port and all the cargos could be discharged and that seaport becomes a transit port because that is not the final destination. The final destination is where you have consigned your cargo to, which is the Kaduna dry port and, it’s the final port you are expecting your cargo to come and that is what dry port is all about.
The benefits to the people is that people that are coming from far north will no longer come to Lagos to do clearing business. The business is now brought closer to them. So, they don’t need to go far distance. Also, the time spent will reduce and cost is also reduced to them and maritime business is also brought to their doorstep. To the government of Kaduna State, it will grow the economy of that state, because all the manufacturing companies in that state will make use of that port to bring in raw materials for their factories.
The farmers around that place will also be able to ship their agricultural produce outside Nigeria and manufacturing companies after their production will also be able to shift their produced materials to other countries. Government will also generate tax from there and benefit from employment generation.
The Kaduna State government was willing to have a dry port. They resolved that if they want to go about it, to make it faster, why don’t they engage the authorities concerned? They did and eventually when they were thinking of that, they discovered that a bounded terminal was in operation with facility that we can make use of as a port. That was what prompted them. On getting to the authorities, the regulators said the facility was not enough to be used as a dry port. They were then given certain criteria and requirements, which were listed up to 10.
So, in collaboration with Kaduna State government, we put all the requirements in place before we went back to the Nigerian Shippers Council, which supervised the project and ensured that is works. What has helped Kaduna port to come on board first is the pack of facilities that were already in place.
The owners of Kaduna dry ports operated that place as a bounded terminal before and they put that rail gage in their terminal for railways to bring in cargos from the seaport. So, whoever wants to do dry ports must have such in his terminal, otherwise there is no way the railway will move their cargos to the dry port. People will not know the benefits of it until it starts working. For me, it’s a good project that Shippers Council is working on dry ports, transit parks and other things.
Do you think that the transit park being introduced by Nigerian Shippers Wouncil will consolidate the dry port projects in the country?
These transit parks will encourage and even grow the business more. Drivers will have a place where they can relax peacefully with every facility in place regulated. If you are travelling from transit A to B, you have the number of hours you spend and you don’t drive throughout the night. By this, there will be safety, accidents will reduce, drivers will be regulated and anyhow drinking won’t be allowed. By the time the Road Safety people are checking on the road, where you ought to have stopped and you didn’t, they will definitely know because the tracking system will be monitoring. So if you default, you will be punished and there will be sanity.
What is your assessment of the maritime industry?
Maritime generally is moving forward. Do you know why? These ports you are seeing today in Lagos, Calabar or Port Harcourt, they were not like these in the early 1900s. From my experience, that is why some people say government is slow in running business. When NPA was running the ports and you know the problems we had then.
You can spend 30 to 40 days and your containers won’t move out, but I think government somehow set up a committee to review all these things and they came up with privatisation or concession of the ports to investors and some investors came in, bided for it and some won, some lost and those who won it are running it today.
They brought in their money, equipment and expanded the place and they are using it. We can see the outcome of it today. Without this gridlock in Apapa, under 48 hours, three days, your container would have been out of port. Is that not a sign of growth and better development? If we have been coming from 30 days before to seven days and now three days, one day it will be 24 hours and you are out of the port, it is a matter of time, we will grow it. Let’s learn from our past mistake and correct it.
How do you perceive the current port charges?
It’s too outrageous. That is why they said Nigerian port is the most expensive and government will have to regulate the charges. Concerning the outrageous billing that’s still climbing, government needs to take a drastic action. Nigerian Shippers Council is already in court to tackle the high charges. The council said there should be no increment in any charge until the court decides. If you are not pleased with that as an operator, then you can leave because we can’t go to their country or other places and you have regulators and you say you are not accepting government regulator as your regulator. Where does it happen?
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