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AMES Edo Inland Dry Port capacity can service South-south region – Charles Akhigbe

Atlantique Marine and Engineering Services (AMES) is a private firm, promoting the establishment of AMES Edo Inland dry port located in Benin City, Edo State. In this interview with Businessday, the Managing Director of the port speaks on the huge potential of the project, current status of the port and delays in getting operational license from the Federal Government. brings excerpts:

What are the objectives of AMES inland dry port?

The objectives of the project is to bring shipping activities to manufacturers and drive industrialisation in Edo State and by extension neighbouring states. The project would be designated a custom port after receiving the federal government approval as a port of origin and destination. This project has a multiplier effect, especially on the socioeconomic aspects for growth and development of Edo state.

In September 2018, government agencies led by the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, Infrastructure Concession Regulation Commission (ICRC), federal ministry of finance and transportation, visited the site after the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) workshop for a final inspection. The agencies were all fully briefed and informed about the project. I am sure the Nigerian Shipper’s Council has not relented in continuously interacting with the agencies to ensure that there is value added service to the populace.

The Nigeria Customs Service is a government agency under the ministry of finance, upon approval of this site as an inland dry port, then it becomes a custom port because the custom will move in here to perform their duties. So, the approval we are looking for from government is to grant us license to be able to import and export which is called origin and destination.

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What will be the benefits of the inland dry port to Nigeria’s economy and manufacturers around this region? Manufacturers and industrialists automatically will have no need to go to Lagos to bring their goods and containers to this part of South-south because Edo State is a logistics hub. This means that industrialists and manufacturers in the South-east, South-west, and here in the South-south, as well as the northern part of the country will have absolutely no reason to go and get congested in Lagos.

All the necessary facilities and equipment will be provided for the industrialists and manufacturers to offload, load their containers either for import or export. The whole idea is to bring shipping much closer to the people, to manufacturers and industrialists. The freight forwarders, clearing agents, shipping line officers will be here. As a matter of fact we plan to build a freight forwarders’ house which will accommodate all these stakeholders in the maritime industry. Apart from making it closer to manufacturers, it will also make outputs and products cheaper. That is why we are hoping that the federal government will consider rerouting the rail line either from Agbor to Benin or reroute the coastal rail line from Lagos to Ore to Benin, Warri and then Onitsha to Calabar. We are looking forward to that because the project is of strategic national importance and we know that if government supports us with also support from the state government within the next few months the governor will be able to invite President Muhammadu Buhari to commission the dry port, so that all industrialists in SouthSouth, South-east, South-west will have an inland dry port where the shipping lines will bring the containers directly to their doorsteps.

The Inland Dry port will contribute tremendously to the economy. First, we anticipate that it should be able to create more than 30,000 jobs both direct and indirect within the next three years. This is a custom port. So, if you want to export you do not need to go anywhere but come here, fill your forms, interact with customs and export your agricultural products, solid minerals, and other things allowed by the government.

Also, the urban generation that will take place with a lot of buildings, construction, and various aspects of the maritime value chain that will be set up especially warehousing, logistics, training, and freight forwarding, clearing agents, growth of the community, and all kinds of stakeholders that will be involved.

Our plan is to imbibe them in our activities. So, both the social and economy parts we see a spike in increase. Revenues to federal, state and local government will increase.

One of the key things that excite us so much is the socioeconomic impact. Based on the feasibility study we did we know that the social impact will be great, and even from the Environmental Impact Assessment we did, we are confident that the federal, state and local government will benefit from the project tremendously.

What capacity of containers can it handle?

The port has a capacity of 20,000 twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU). So at any point in time you can fit it in here at a height of four containers per stack which I believe is a very good start to be able to accommodate the capacity and volume looking at the huge number of Edo people in the diaspora, and the fact that we are central to the South-south. We have Warri port around here, this Inland dry port will further energise economic activities around the Warri port. Why ship your containers to Lagos when you can bring it to Warri port and consigned to the Inland dry port where you can load new containers. At any point in time, we have the capacity to be able to support all the regions that are around us. The port is made to service neighbouring states effectively.

What phase is the project?

At the moment, we are in the phase one of the project, phase two will commence as soon as we get license from the federal government.

The grant of the license is the precondition given to us by our potential investors to be able to complete it. It will not take us six months as soon as we get the necessary funding to complete phase one, and hopefully after that, we will invite the regulatory authorities such as the ICRC, Nigerian Shipper’s Council, and every other stakeholder.

The phase one is 80 per cent completed and so at this stage, we need the support of the federal government to be able to get the necessary approval so that international investors will be interested and they will know that there is the hand of the government on the project. If we don’t have that license it is difficult to get major investors to get any iota of belief or confidence for them to be able to invest their money on project. So, we are talking to a few organisations that can help us to raise funds but we are eagerly waiting for our approval from the federal ministry of transport to be able to approach these investors to come and join hands with us so that we can finish this project. And thereafter, look forward to the President Muhammadu Buhari to come and commission it to start accepting containers into Edo State.

Which partnership options have you explored for a successful business operation?

We are looking at a lot of stakeholders to partner with us. We will partner with everybody for the success of this inland dry port which is the first in South-south Nigeria. We are open to partnership or joint venture with anybody to make sure that this project gets the necessary funding and expertise that will ensure that the country begin to reap benefits from it.

We have had investors who wrote to us for partnership but unfortunately, because of lack of our federal license, the investors are on hold right now. One actually offered to give us about N6.5billion ($20million) in 2018, to finish the few works that need to be done and also ensure that we put all the necessary security which will give us our International Maritime Organisation ( IMO) license to ensure goods and services are not tampered with.

Unfortunately, everything is on hold, until we get the federal government to do the needful, and we are working with them very closely, and hopefully they will issue us the license very soon.

Edo State government under the leadership of Godwin Obaseki has been of tremendous help and support to this project. The governor approved the Certificate of Occupancy for this project which we eventually issued to the federal government to show that there is no encumbrance.

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