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How $3bn investment in barge transport’ll boost GDP

By Steve Agbota                                    [email protected] 08033302331

Despite being a maritime nation, blessed with abundant resources in oceans and seas to support its economic diversification and development drive, Nigeria is yet to tap its abundant marine resources to boost its Gross Domestic Product .

Indeed this was further demonstrated by the fact that 28 out of the 36 Nigerian states are connected to water, with 25 per cent of Nigeria’s total population sharing the Atlantic Ocean coastline.

The country also possesses fresh and mangrove swamps, creeks, coastal rivers, estuaries, bays with close and offshore waters.

Unfortunately, Nigeria is yet to take full advantage to harness enormous potential abounding in the ocean economy. This explains why Nigeria is yet to tap into huge barge resources worth over $3 billion. The barge industry of the maritime sector for instance has yet to reflect in the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) due to lack of investment and support from the government towards indigenous operators.

Economically, there are many opportunities in barge transport system as it capable of generating massive revenue, creating jobs and move thousands of cargoes through the water.

Investigations by Daily Sun revealed that tugs and barge  industry contributed $33.8 billion a year to the US national economy. Also the subsector contributed a total of 301,550 direct and indirect jobs, while the industry directly paid or collected nearly $1.2 billion in federal, state and local taxes.

Barges moved more than 760 million tons annually of petroleum, farm products, chemicals, coal and manufactured goods in US.

Barges provide efficient and environment-friendly transport. One inland barge hauling 1,750 tons of cargo is the equivalent of 16 bulk rail cars or 70 tractor trailers. A liquid barge can haul 27,500 barrels of liquid, the equivalent of 46 rail cars or 144 tanker trucks.

Barge operations is capital intensive but Nigeria has the capacity to replicate what the US has done over the years through massive investments and solid regulation of the barge industry.

Today, use of moving cargo through barges has come to stay in the nation’s maritime sector. What the industry needs is financial support and regulation from the government in order to harness the huge potential embedded in the barging industry, according to stakeholders.

Daily Sun also learnt that barge operators in the last three years have moved three million TEUs of cargo in and out of the ports in Lagos, a development that decongest the ports, reduce gridlock around the ports and ease pressure of the nation’s roads.

Operators who spoke with Daily Sun identified lack of  access to finance and regulation against  foreigners in the industry as the major challenges facing the industry. They are seeking legislative law to protect the local operators against the foreigners.

Identifying the importance of barges in the maritime sector, recently, the Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Bashir Jamoh said that a well-regulated barge operating industry in the maritime sector is critical to ending gridlocks on ports access roads in Nigeria.

“Barge operations have helped to reduce gridlocks in Apapa, as they are involved with the transportation of container goods from one point to another within the inland waters, thereby putting less pressure on our roads, while also contributing their quota to national economic development,” he noted.

He urged the operators to invest in modern state of the art barges that can enable them compete favourably with their foreign counterparts, as it would help them remain in business and protect them from foreigners taking over their jobs.

Speaking with Daily Sun, the President of Barge Operators Association of Nigeria (BOAN), Dr  Bunmi Olumekun said that barging is an industry with the total investment of $3 billion, which can reflect in the nation’s GFP if given proper attention by the government.

“Barge operation is $3 billion investments added to the GDP. We have not tapped what we are supposed to get from the industry. Barging requires a lot of capital; we cannot do it alone. Government needs to come to our aid. We will appreciate it if government can dedicate 20 per cent  of the maritime funding to water transportation especially the barge industry. It would go a long way and reflect in the nation’s GDP,” he said.

He said that such financial commitment would help the government to tap the huge barge resources that worth over $3 billion for the country.

He said Nigeria is so blessed that out of 36 states, about 28 were covered with water, which is an advantage for barge operations. 

“Barge can move from one state to another. If we can develop these barges on coastal areas, instead of moving goods by the roads, we can move them through water. And you know the employment we are going to create.

“If we are talking about barges, it is not meant to be in Nigeria alone, it can move goods from Nigeria to Cotonou, Ghana and other neigbouring countries, it is an advantage,” he added.

However, he said if government can support barge operators by committing 20 per cent of maritime sector budget into barge operations, it would go a long way.

“Barging has come stay. You see what we have done so far, we did so well. We have to legislate it especially concerning the goods move by waters so that we can discongest our roads so that they can last longer. The main challenges facing barge operation is the access to finance because barging is capital extensive. Then we should know that barge is a typical example of cabotage business because everything about barging is local,” he said.

However, he lamented that port terminal operators and some foreigners mostly Asians are taking over their job even as he called on the Federal Government and the National Assembly to legislate and domestic barge operation strictly for Nigerians.

“Barge is made here and the tugboat is made here in Nigeria. So you can see that we are local set of business, we should allow the indigenous to have control in this business. They should not allow the foreigners to do the same because you can’t be terminal operator and say you want to be barge operator.

“We will not allow them to come into barging because we have local content and they should allow us. We didn’t say they should not set up a jetty but they should not set up the key aspect of barges, we should be their vendors. “We need a legislation to regulate barge operation to make barging a local content strictly for Nigerians.  All our barges are locally made in Lagos, Warri and Port Harcourt and a lot of companies are coming into barge construction. The industry must be protected to save over 5000 jobs in the industry,” he said.

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