Port Notel is an industrial tool deep seaport, whose objective is to increase reliability, efficiency and effectiveness in port terminal operations. As a port of the future, it guarantees a functional healthy ecosystem and local community empowerment.
Behind this project is Mr. Victor Bassey Akpanika, its Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer (CEO).
Akpanika is a 1984 graduate of History from the University of Benin. He worked briefly with the then Federal Ministry of Post & Telecommunication as a Postal Controller but later switched over to the private sector in 1991 and worked with various firms, involved in logistics, telecommunication, engineering construction and maintenance services and oil and gas exploration and production businesses. Shell Petroleum Development Company, Port Harcourt, was his last place of assignment before he pulled out in 2004 to start Toolspushers Nigeria Limited, an oil and gas engineering servicing firm that specialises in on/offline rotary and static equipment maintenance, repairs, manpower supply and foreign procurement.
Akpanika, in this interview, fielded questions on a variety of issues in the maritime industry including the declaration of Nigerian waters as a high risk area, job creation in the blue economy and the challenges being encountered by Port Notel, among others.
Objective of Port Notel
Port Notel was conceived as a mega regional multi-modal and multi-purpose industrial tool deep seaport with the following objectives: increased reliability, efficiency and effectiveness in port terminal operations, and decrease cost of port services charges. Other objectives include to decrease government funding in the port sector as well as to increase tax revenue, to attract private sector funding into greenfield port development and make Nigeria the maritime and shipping cluster centre for West and Central Africa. There are other objectives, which are: infrastructure modernisation (e.g., moles, quay walls), providing standard marine fuel (bunkering), supplying location for bunker traders with low fuel cost advantages as a sub-regional bunker port. Also, it is aimed at assisting in combating the various challenges the country’s maritime domain is experiencing, especially piracy.
Impact on the maritime industry
According to the 2016 statistical data report, Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy, having a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of over $406 billion, an estimated population of over 186 million people, which is projected to grow by 2050 to over 300 million. Port Notel is the “port of the future”, which guarantees both sustainable port growths, a healthy functioning ecosystem and local community empowerment. It is an innovative solution for deep seaport development in harmony with the ecosystem, which is robust and adaptable to future changes and expansion. The mission is to unlock Nigeria’s and sub-Saharan Africa’s maritime domain value through a Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement in a sustainable manner, with a natural minimum draught of 17 meters, without ariel limitation, urban growth enclosure, having a multi-modal transport network systems to connect the hinterland (air, rail, road, pipeline and waterways) to prevent port congestion. We are poised to provide economic empowerment, skills development and technology transfer to benefit our local communities, create job opportunities, as well as provide a reliable platform for combating regional maritime crimes and a modern faster turnaround time in port operations, as well as deliver infrastructure of global standard and repute.
Grappling initial challenges
Being a new and innovative concept, the major challenge is marketing the project to various stakeholders, especially the Nigerian public. Some view the project as being too ambitious because of the high construction cost of the artificial island, with a connecting multi-modal bridge in the middle of the ocean. Foreign investors believe the size of the artificial island should be expanded to accommodate more industries as a viable Free Trade Zone (FTZ) area for easy and faster payback period of the investment. It is a learning process for all of us as a country venturing into the greenfield deep water port development for the first time in our history. We are testing, gathering and collating all suggestions and new ideas as part of the project knowledge bank, which would be further reviewed, challenged, criticised and interrogated by the technical, legal, financial and development experts as we progress with these very exciting planning and development activities.
How old is Port Notel in the maritime industry?
The project was conceived in 2007 when the local promoters started sensitising the immediate host community in Ibeno Local Government Area (LGA) in Akwa Ibom State. We held series of community development sensitisation and enlightenment meetings to secure proper buy-in. This led to land acquisition and reaching out to the state and Federal Government in 2009. PNL was officially incorporated and authorised to commence pre-feasibility planning development activities and global market sensitisation by Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) as the country’s technical regulator of the industry. The draft preliminary technical, engineering port master plan, market investigation study reports performed by a consortium of Nigerian and Dutch Port Engineering Consultancy firms, started in May 2014 and the reports were submitted to the Federal Government in December 2017 for further review and approval.
Corporate Social Responsibility efforts
The community has, through its incorporated registered entity, been allotted some percentage equity shares in PNL, meaning, they have voting rights to influence decision-making as one of the key internal stakeholders of the company in perpetuity.
We are in the development planning phase of the project. As a result, we are working with consultants and their staff. It is envisaged that at least 5,000 direct and indirect jobs would be created during the actual construction phase, while during the port operational and maintenance phase, several more highly technical and none technical jobs would be added to the figure.
Nigerian waters declared high risk area
This is a matter of perception, depending on who you are talking to. Our security agencies, particularly the Nigerian Navy, are performing excellently well, considering the type of tools currently at their disposal. The lack of necessary infrastructural amenities to enhance operational capacity and capability for effective response to crime at sea is a fact known to all stakeholders. We need a secured Land Forward Basing platform on the high sea, not on the coast. Our shallow and constantly silted hinterland waterways and river mouths, as well as the numerous meandering creeks within the Delta are serious hindrances to speedy security vessel traffic movement. In order to make our waterways safer, we need to provide the necessary land, logistics and technology infrastructure, which our annual public sector budget circles cannot effectively accommodate. The private sector extended reach network capacity can assist in collaboration with the public sector to drive a robust and effective plan for efficient and profitable safe waterways.
Effect on our operations
We are not there yet. When we start or have completed the port construction and are fully operational, we would be able to determine this particular cost component. However, the kind of question many of our external stakeholders have been asking us in places like Asia, Europe, Middle East, the Americas, South Africa and Australia borders on governance guidance support, which directly impacts on the successful execution of the project.
Some of the foreign potential investors, technical partners and terminal operators are concerned about mitigating political risk, especially as a growing democracy. They are interested in having a stable interest rate regime, foreign exchange price stability, effective regulatory framework, government enacting the right policies to support maritime development, enforcement of the rule of law, parties keeping to terms of agreements and contractual obligations, guarantees and assurances for foreigners bringing their liquid capital into the country.
We plan to realise the project within 36 calendar months of obtaining licence approval from the Federal Government as a PPP development.