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Funtua Inland Dry Port will ease import and export from North – Mutallab

Alhaji Umaru Mutallab is a foremost industrialist and financier, whose inland dry port in Funtua, Katsina State, will be inaugurated today by President Bola Tinubu.…

Alhaji Umaru Mutallab is a foremost industrialist and financier, whose inland dry port in Funtua, Katsina State, will be inaugurated today by President Bola Tinubu. In this interview, the Chairman of Equatorial Marine Oil and Gas Ltd., explains the benefits of the investment, especially for importers and exporters, considering that they mustn’t have to go to Lagos or other places to carry out their international businesses.

 

The President is finally commissioning the Funtua Inland Dry Port, what impact will it have on the economy of the zone?

We started this journey a long ago, as a matter of fact. The whole arrangement is what we call BOT, Build, Operate and Transfer. Because of the situation in Nigerian ports which you know better than I do, they are congested. The federal government at the time of Olusegun Obasanjo decided to undertake a study. So, they invited a famous consultancy firm, I think it was in Denmark, to carry out a study to see what is the solution to decongest the Nigerian ports.

It came up with some ideas of inland ports in different parts of the country. Five locations were identified. In the South West, they identified Ibadan; in the South East, they identified Aba.  For the North East, they identified Maiduguri; for the North Central, they identified Jos; for the North West, they identified Funtua. When this study was completed, it was put into an international tender so that any company, within Nigeria and outside, can bid. When we saw the bidding guidelines and felt that one of the sites picked to satisfy the North West requirement, we applied and met all the requirements. It was a very stressful bidding process and ultimately, we won the bidding for Funtua Dry Port.

This happened in 2003, and it is more than 20 years now. So, the process did not start just yesterday. When we won this bid, we had to sign a concession agreement that was signed three years later, in 2006, and since then, we have discussed and met with ministries, particularly, transportation. I believe we must have met seven to eight different ministers of transportation. It was during the period of President Obasanjo, Yar’adua, Jonathan and now Tinubu.

This particular project is under the supervision of The Nigerian Shippers Council, who is the regulator.

Why did it take up to 21 years to complete the project?

It is because of the policy each minister has come up with and the whole thing kept on and on until 2006 when an agreement was signed. When you have a new government, it will come up with its own idea and policy and all these will impact on how the project will move.

I must say that during the period of the last but one Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, it took a very speedy path because we had a series of meetings and we were given attention.

We have consultants who designed the way the project will be constructed, managed, supported and it is a Public-Private-Partnership.  The government did not invest any kobo in the project. So, we have to find the money to do the entire various infrastructure and they gave us the concession for 25 years from the date of the commissioning, after which the ownership will cease. Of course, It can be extended, but at the pleasure of the government. So, it is really the issue of the various policy changes and policy somersaults that made it took so long before we could come of this particular thing.

For us at Funtua, the state government where the project is located is supposed to give a piece of land but we didn’t rely on that because there is a piece of land that is readily available with all the infrastructures and so on and so forth. If any of the state governments offers the land, they have to provide accessible roads, water, power and others. So, we didn’t wait for that. We felt there is an old commercial site in Funtua which we can utilize and we applied to the Shippers Council to give us permission to utilize this land as a first site. We were later given another piece of land which was 74 hectares but this is without any infrastructure. So, this is how we tried to utilize this land which is available. We have water, roads, power and accessible roads are all there.

That was how we tried to quickly develop the infrastructure that is laid down by the consultants of the Shippers’ Council.

Now, we have completed the entire necessary infrastructure that is needed, and we have different inspections from the Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy as well as the Shippers’ Council. So that to satisfy all the requirements, we’ve done all that needs to be done. That is why, now, Mr President has agreed to commission the dry port. But earlier, about five to six months ago, the then minister of transport had already done what we call the declaration, to declare that the Funtua Dry Port is a point of destination and origination. But this one, the president is the one that will give you the time when the concession will start to click, which is on May 9.

That means from that day the port will be operational?

Yes, the port will be operational and anybody can come to see if he can export and import. The whole thing has been gazetted and it will offer an opportunity to people not to go to the South, either Lagos or Port Harcourt. They can do it in Funtua.

How about the logistics of bringing the cargo to Funtua since the old narrow gauge railway is not working?

At the moment, the only way we can operate is through the road transport system, which of course, is very expensive and inefficient. We will be appealing to the Minister of Transportation to find a means to rehabilitate the narrow gauge, which has been in existence for decades but it can still be used. I think. So, it is just a question of the ministry to provide the necessary resources to rehabilitate all the areas that have been vandalized or washed away.

I believe this will be very good for the country and will bring down the cost of logistics considerably. If you can imagine all the rail lines we have across the country, used to carry all the bulk of cargo like cement, cattle and containers, it will bring down the cost of living.

It is one of the issues we want to raise with the Shippers’ Council that they should, through the Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy, appeal to the Ministry of Transport, to try and see how they can rehabilitate these old rail lines which are still there and not written off. Just that in some places, washed away or bridges not working. Even if it is done just to Kano, I believe that the inflation rate will come down considerably.

Apart from the inflation rate, do you have some specific targets you want to achieve in terms of the business prospects in the dry port?

We are going to supply services to our customers in the North West area and other parts of the country. We are in discussion with Chad and Niger, because they find it more convenient to come to Funtua with exports and imports. Basically, anybody who has anything to export can come to the port. Everything will be done for the person and when they pay the fees, we will take it to the seaport in any part of the country.

With other ports in Kaduna and Kano, aren’t you concerned about the competition?

No, there is enough for everybody. We feel that people have the opportunity here instead of going to Lagos that will generate hotel cost, transport cost and the inconvenience, but these ones are close to them where they can see the port manager to state what they want to do and they will be advised exactly what to do. At the end, the products will be put in a container and just loaded on the ship.

As an experienced businessman, what advice do you have on the development of Northern Nigerian enterprises despite all these challenges, especially insecurity?

The security is in the purview of the government and it has to take it seriously as where there is insecurity, businesses will not flourish. People will not be employed and there won’t be 24/7 activities and even now, people are careful to go out in the daytime.

The current situation has affected the agriculture sector and we can’t feed ourselves, and then to even feed other places in Africa.

What message will you give your potential customers?

We are open for business and on May 9, we will start working with all infrastructures there. We hope that people will utilize these facilities to engage in import and export of their goods.

 

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