Sarumi breaks 12-year silence, says Nigeria’s port concession transferred public monopoly
BY FRANCIS EZEM
Former Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority NPA, Chief Adebayo Babatunde Sarumi at last broke his 12 years of silence, admitting that the nation’s port concession programme concluded in 2006 merely transferred public monopoly to a private monopoly, thus lacking in competitiveness.
As the CEO of NPA, Sarumi played a crucial role in the port concession programme, which stakeholders believed was hurriedly carried out by the NPA in conjunction with the Bureau of Public Enterprise BPE and the National Council on Privatisation NCP, which led to the sack of over 7, 000 workers out of the 12, 000 workforce of the authority.
The main objectives of the exercise, which Federal Government canvassed as reasons include enhance efficiency, promote competition, attract private sector investment to develop port infrastructure and ultimately reduce cost of operation.
The former Managing Director, who spoke for the first time on the port concession programme at the third edition of the Taiwo Afolabi Maritime Conference, held at the University of Lagos at the weekend, also admitted that the ports needed to be concessioned, given the monopolistic posture of NPA, which was both a regulator and a sole cargo handling entity at that time, which did not make for efficiency in service delivery.
He also revealed that the port tariff structure introduced in 1993 was still in use in 2004, which he described as unrealistic, a development that gave room for the deployment of obsolete equipment with the attendant poor service delivery evidenced in high dwell time of cargo, long turnaround time of ships that call at the seaports, poor infrastructure and shallow depth of the water channels.
“I can tell you that government is not a proper person to run a seaport because it is a business venture between producers and consumers of port services.
“NPA was using the funds that would have been deployed for the development of port infrastructure to subsidise tariffs, which was unrealistically low and so this badly affected efficiency is port service delivery”, he said.
Sarumi, who was the Managing Director of the Nigerian Shippers Council before transferring to NPA, also disclosed that at the end of the concession exercise in 2006, one of the cranes handed over to one of the concessionaires was acquired in 1978 and had stopped over 10 years ago, which depicted the level of infrastructural decay.
On the processes that led to the emergence of the 25 concessionaires that took over the 25 terminals spread across the eight seaports of the nation, the former NPA-boss admitted that the exercise was a mere transfer of public monopoly to another private monopoly.
Pointing at the Executive Vice Chairman of the ENL Consortium, the concessionaire that won the terminals C& D of the Lagos Ports Complex, Princess Vicky Haastrup, who was also present at the event, Sarumi said: “She had always wanted to handle containers and I repeatedly assured her that there was no problem with that but when I want to ensure that was done, I was told only one company, AP Moller Terminal will handle containers and that was order from above.
“APMT also must not handle all the containers, where is the competition we wanted to create by stripping NPA of its cargo handling functions? Port service users would have been the ultimate winners if as many companies as possible were allowed to handle the containers by not allowing the transfer of public monopoly to private monopoly because there is no competition”.