Dr. Taiwo Afolabi, Group Executive Vice Chairman, SIFAX Group, has explained the rationale behind SIFAX Group’s proposed investment in Gambia. He noted that the desire to contribute meaningfully to the rebuilding of the country’s economy was responsible for the inroad being made into the West African country.
The SIFAX Group boss made this known during the courtesy visit and facility inspection tour of Ports & Cargo Handling Services Limited, one of the subsidiaries of the company by Mrs. RoheyMalick Lowe, first female Mayor of Banjul, the capital of Gambia recently. Lowe’s visit is part of the build-up to the SIFAX Group’s multi-million dollar investment in The Gambia.
According to Afolabi, the country is just emerging into a new dawn and deserves all the support it could get. He said: “Gambia has a new leadership who is willing to open up the country for foreign investment so the economy could be developed. I believe so much in the economic growth and development of the continent by Africans. Africans should be a major stakeholder in the economic transformation of Africa. The new president has also promised an enabling environment that is conducive and inviting.
“Aside, before we ventured into this, I personally embarked on a research to find out about the country. Of all the African countries we have visited to do business recently, The Gambia offers a unique business proposition that seeks to keep investors business running with good returns on investments.
“We want to replicate the successes of our business models here in Gambia too. Our 30 years’ experience in the maritime industry will be very useful in building the economy of Gambia. Our promise is that the country’s economy will feel our impact as we don’t intend to limit our interventions to the maritime sector alone. We have identified other key areas we will be willing to invest in the nearest future.”
In her response, Rohey Malick Lowe, the visiting Mayor commended Ports & Cargo Handling Services for its giant strides in the Nigeria’s maritime sector.
Lowe, who was obviously impressed by the state-of-the-art facilities at the terminal, urged the company to bring same positive effect to her country. “I must commend Ports & Cargo for a job well done. I am very impressed. So many critics back in Gambia are skeptical of SIFAX Group’s capacity to handle the job, but with what I have seen today, there is no doubt that the company can successfully transform our economy. I am going back to Gambia to propagate the gospel of SIFAX Group brand back home,” she said.
Lowe thanked Dr. Taiwo Afolabi, who conducted her round the terminal, and management team for the opportunity and said the tour has added to her wealth of knowledge.
Dr. Taiwo Afolabi, Group Executive Vice Chairman, SIFAX Group, a multinational corporation with diverse interests in Maritime, Aviation, Haulage & Logistics, Oil & Gas and Hospitality, and other maritime experts have proffered solutions to address the challenge of rising port costs.
These solutions were identified at the third edition of the Taiwo Afolabi Annual Maritime Conference which was held in honour of Dr. Taiwo Afolabi, Group Executive Vice-Chairman, SIFAX Group, in collaboration with The Maritime Forum, University of Lagos and SIFAX Group.
Otunba Kunle Folarin, Chairman, Nigerian Ports Consultative Council, who delivered the keynote address titled: Port Costs and Port Charges: Issues in the Port Reform Policy” noted that a typical shipping company debit note in Nigeria contains nine different charges which includes- shipping line/agencies charge, container cleaning/maintenance, container deposit, MOWCA charge, NIMASA sea protection levy, MOWCA Fee, freight levy, document release, demurrage charges, NIPOST Stamp Tax and Value Added Tax (VAT). He further explained that disputed charges between the Nigerian Ports Authority and shipping companies include- provision billing, under declaration of weight and volume, excessive extra service charges between NPA and Terminal operators, throughput charges, royalty, lease fees, use of foreign currency in computing charges, berthing fees.
To curb the effects of these charges on the port system, Folarin submitted that there must be a deliberate government policy to reduce Customs duties and taxes and that the revenue target placed on the Nigerian Customs Service Commands should be discontinued to reduce port cost and charges, the setting up of an effective and efficient single window platform and regulation of the port and shipping sector to include both service and costs, port infrastructure development especially in port environment and common user areas.
He also advocated the establishment of a port community system as a framework for stakeholder dialogue to improve service quality and reduce costs and the encouragement of Public-Private partnership in port business, investment in modern facilities and IT enablers and provision of good quality human services.
“The issue of rising port costs and charges which has soared unabatedly can be solved if political will which includes the implementation of all agreed process and terms without delay and transparency is entrenched. The landlord model must be administered in the very technical, ethical and objective structure such that concessionaires obligations are not to replace the responsibilities of the port authority and including an inclusive port reform strategy. In his opening remarks, Chief Adebayo Sarumi, former Managing Director of NPA and the Chairman of the occasion, explained that the regulatory agencies should formulate policies that will be beneficial to every player in the maritime sector. He said: “To curb the rising port costs and charges, operators should determine appropriate cost of services in the maritime sector. This is because, at present, terminal operators are going through a tough time meeting up with their lessee obligation due to a volatile exchange rate order between the Naira and the Dollars. The private sector should be allowed to run the port because the government is not adequately equipped to run it.”
Dr. Taiwo Afolabi, Group Executive Vice Chairman, SIFAX Group, in his own speech highlighted that there is a need for the regulatory authorities to harmonise and balance the conflicting viewpoints in order to satisfy all who do business in the maritime sector. “I am very hopeful that a suitable framework for determining the appropriate costs of services in the Nigerian port system will be developed very soon without making our ports unfriendly to users either internally or within the sub-region”, he said.
SIFAX Group, a multinational corporation with diverse interests in Maritime, Aviation, Haulage & Logistics, Oil & Gas and Hospitality, has commenced ferry service operations from its newly-concessioned terminal, Ebute Ojo Jetty, in Ojo Local Government Area of LagosState.
Two 30-passenger capacity ultra-modern boats have been deployed for these operations.
The ferry service operates on Ebute Ojo-Apapa (Liverpool) and Mile 2 (Capital Oil Jetty) – Apapa routes from 7am to 7pm every week day while charter services are also available everyday for private individuals and fun seekers who want to explore the Lagos water fronts.
According to Captain Olugbade Ibrahim, Managing Consultant to SIFAX Ferry Terminal, Ojo, the desire to increase transport options for commuters and to support the efforts of the Lagos State government to develop the state’s water transportation sector, accounted for the new venture.
He said: “We are conscious of adding value and bring new innovations to the waterway business. Our business goals and objectives are well aligned with that of the Lagos State Government in the massive development of the waterways. This has prompted us to acquire these two ferries, which we are starting with, as we have plans to increase the number soon. The ferries we use are the same with what is obtainable in advanced countries. It is safe, fast, convenient, spacious, durable and manned by experts with tested experience. Our onboard safety procedure is excellent.”
Speaking further, Olugbade noted that the ferry service alongside other facilities at the terminal would passengers excellent customer service experience, which is the hallmark of the SIFAX Group brand.
“The two boats that service the Ebute-Ojo ferry terminal to Apapa and Mile 2 have 500 horse power engines each. As a company that is safety conscious, we have acquired the best brand of life jackets too. Inflight entertainment is also guaranteed for our customers that come on board. We have excellent customer service personnel to also attend to customer’s complaints and suggestions too. In no time, we will add more ferries and open up more routes across Lagos waterways. We also want to make the service first class. The terminal building itself will be equipped with wi-fi, eateries and also banks,” he said.
While corroborating Olugbade’s position, Mr. John Jenkins, Group Managing Director, SIFAX Group,said the company’s massive investment in the water transportation is part of the overall strategic plan of SIFAX Group to deepen its commitment in the country’s transport sector, thereby, providing more jobs, solving a social problem, supporting government’s initiative and helping grow the country’s economy.”
Some of the commuters interviewed gave kudos to SIFAX Group for the initiative and urged the company to increase its fleet without delay in order to take care of the expected surge in traffic.