Political considerations have been fingered as major reasons behind the under-utilization of the Warri seaport. The Customs Area Controller of the Edo/Delta Command, Dr Babatunde O Olomu, fsi, has disclosed.
He said inspite of the claim of insecurity which has been one of the negative tags, Delta State remains one of the safest States in the country and as such, the seaport is very secured for maritime activities and for the berthing of vessels. At the moment, he said the major imports to the port are bulk cargoes while other commercial trade goods are not yet coming through the seaport.
Olomu noted that he has interfaced with the Delta State Government, Dr Okowa on the current challenges militating activities at the ports and how to revive it. He said he told the governor about the benefits of reviving the seaport and how the State can benefit from percentage of revenue or tax.
Since the beginning of this year, he said, not up to 25 containers have arrived the port inspite of the proximity of the seaports to Eastern traders. He pointed out that the cost of imports as well as goods clearing can gradually reduce only when there is patronage and vessels calling at the ports as often as possible.
“Warri is one of the safest cities in Nigeria. We have criminality everywhere; cost of clearing will also reduce if you have more goods coming into the seaports. Economies of scale will come in when they clear more goods; they can then afford to pay their staff” he deposed.
He was adducing the above reasons in view of the high freight charges on vessels stemmed into Warri seaport as well as the misconception about risk factor and insurance. “Since I came here, no vessel has been attacked by pirates, and we are doing a lot to encourage stakeholders to patronize the seaport”.
Compt Olomu also disclosed that the country can now attest to the quantity of crude slated for exports as his officers and men are now involved in the physicalisation and dephysicalisation process. He stated that soon after he arrived the command, he discovered that there were three platforms from where crude is being lifted for export. Such platforms are the Warri, Escravos and Forcados through which crude export are processed.
At that time, he discovered that Customs was not involved. He was irked by this anomaly to inform the Comptroller General, Col Hameed Ali (rtd) who approved that Customs Officers must be involved in the physicalisation process other than just boarding and rummaging.
At the moment, he said the Representatives of the Customs, the Navy, the NNPCL and other security agencies are involved and we can conveniently tell the nation what goes out and what comes in as regards petroleum products. “Now, we can ensure that our oil crude is measured by the measuring department, we also know the quality and quantity”.
All this happened after the Comptroller General’s approval and the subsequent summoning of a meeting of all International oil firms where he read the riot acts as contained in the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA), wherein he told them that if Customs was not part of the process, there would be consequences.
At the moment, a seat has been created at the Trade and Tariff Unit where all data relating to crude exports and imports are forwarded. Consequently, available data from the Edo/Delta Command shows that total volume of crude oil lifted from the area within the first quarter of this year stood at 81,085,447 barrels while that of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) was 119,600,967 metric tonnes.
“This is an emerging area of strength and I appreciate the support of the /state government towards resuscitating this vital sector”, Olomu noted. On the anti-smuggling plank, he pointed out that there are various layers to ensure that smugglers do not get away with their loots. These layers are the Comptroller-General’s Strike force, the Federal Operations Unit, Zone ‘C’, the Border Drill and the Eastern Marine Command.
He however, said they cannot look the other way when they see contraband items being smuggled within its jurisdiction, adding that towards ensuring the security of seizures and detentions domiciled in the Command, the Area was recently blessed with an ultra-modern government warehouse in Benin outstation where seizures brought in by all the anti-smuggling layers/units are being handed over to officers and men of Edo/Delta Command for proper documentation and safe keeping.
According to him, the Command currently is in custody of seizures with duty paid value in excess of N27,000 000.00 within the first quarter of this year. There are four ports within the jurisdiction of this command, namely; Buruntu, Sapele, Koko and Warri, but only the later seems to be working, though not optimally. There has not been any importation through Burutu port for many years and it’s therefore, dormant.
The Sapele port is currently being patronized by life flour mill with her factory located at Oghorode, while activities at the Koko port have been very low with a few vessels of Bitumen berthing for Customs formalities as well as export of float glass and ceramics, tile from two factories in Benin city.
The Area Controller summarized that the Command’s ports are grossly under-utilized despite all available facilities which are fast deteriorating, coupled with the low draft of the water channels that lead to Warri port which makes it difficult for any vessel of reasonable size to berth at the port.
“Perceived insecurity in Warri, has also made people outside Warri environment to still be of the opinion that Warri is not safe place to reside or do business which is obviously not so”. He regretted that the poor state of the roads to the port may also not allow free flow of traffic and movement of container laden vehicles.
Inspite of all these challenges, there is a slight improvement in the volume of cargo coming to the Command’s ports leading to improved revenue collection. With the coming of this Controller who officers and stakeholders call a game-changer, total revenue in the first quarter of this year rose to N14,323,462,221.5, an increase of N727,036,089.75 when compared with the corresponding period of last year, indicating a 6.8 per cent increase.
A stakeholder, Sir Chidi Njoku eulogized Comptroller Olomu for his unprecedented performance so far at the Command.