[INTERVIEW] Exclusive interview with Lawrence Oladele Alabi, Port Manager of Rivers Port Complex (RPC), Port Harcourt
Mr. Lawrence O. Alabi is the Port Harcourt, Port Manager he narrate how the Ports came into existence and its activities. In this interview with IYALLA ADAYE, he explained generally its functions so far since after the war and future plan for improvement.
How did Port business came into existence?
"Prior to 1st April, 1955 when the Nigerian Port Authority [NPA] began full operation by virtue of the Ports Parliamentary Act of 1954, Cap 155, and the country’s shipping activities were handled by the Marine Department of the Nigerian Railway Corporation.
Additionally, this department undertook the berthing of vessels as well as the maintenance of harbor channels.
Long before then precisely in 1896, European traders that wanted in-roads into West Africa but were hindered by lack of navigable waters began to open up locked-up lakes by dredging the first Lagos terminal located at the South of Iddo Island. This facilitated trading activities between Lagos and adjoining communities. By 1910, full scale work had begun on the opening up of the lakes.
Simultaneously, dredging work began on the Customs Wharf on Lagos Island in order to turn it into a deep water terminal. Three years later, the terminal was transferred to Apapa as a full-fledged Port."
What prompt Port activities to the Eastern Part and later metamorphosed to Port Harcourt?
"Following, economic activities on the Eastern flank of the country struck a vital cord with the discovery of coal on a commercial scale in Enugu, South East, and Nigeria. The necessity to export this mineral informed the conceptualization of the establishment of a seaport in Port Harcourt.
At this time, the completion of the railway line in Enugu was imminent while work had also begun on the seaport in Port Harcourt. By 1913, operations at the new port also took off in earnest having been commissioned by Lord Frederick Lugard.
In order to be able to cope with the need to export coal and on the other hand boost import trading, four berths were developed in the new Port with each being 1,920 feet long. As the Port’s distance from the fairway buoy stood at 27 nautical miles, some 83 kilometres, while its quay length measured 1,200 metres and an average of 8.5 metres draught along the quays, save berth five which was five kilometres.
All this was to prepare the new Port for emerging needs. One of such was getting it ready to berth large vessels of 15,000 metric tons dead weight [DWT] capacity. Soon, this foresight ding began to pay off as demonstrated in the ability of Gold Star Line’s chartered vessel, MV CLIVIA, which was 1,500 DWT, to berth in Port Harcourt on departing the Lagos Port."
So far how many capacities can the Port Harcourt Port berth?
"The Rivers Port can now conveniently berth vessel of 20,000 metric Tons Dead Weight [DWT].
It equally became quite convenient for the Port Harcourt Port to cope with the demands of crude oil exportation as well as demands from ancillary and other companies based in the South East of Nigeria as typified by the coal mining activities in Enugu.
A new lease of life also camefor the companies in the Niger Delta Coastal line, North Eastern Nigeria down to parts of Chad Republic. So big time manufacturing companies came into serious importation of machinery, spare parts and raw minerials for their use as Flour Mill, Patterson and Zochonis [PZ], Dangote Group of Companies and Union Dicon Salt were quick to put tanks while conveyor belts were fixed to silos became handy for the discharge of wheat for Flour Mills consumption and likewise a total of 48 jetties were put in place."
What are other facilities in the Nigerian Port Authority, Port Harcourt?
"The Rivers Port, the sobriquet of the Nigerian Ports Authority, Port Harcourt, is also equipped with 16 tanks of 3,048 tons capacity for bulk oil installation. This has a conveyor belt and a pier holding the structure while there are also seven  transit sheds with storage of 26,337.15 square metres capacity, seven  stacking areas of 27,407.15 square metres size and four  Arcons sheds with storage capacity of 12,486.15 square metres. In the Port’s dockyard also are four  units to carry out electrical, marine, engineering and construction works respectively.
Other eight  belt of some 7.8 metres deep each and quay length of 1,877 metres, the Port’s facilities include the Okrika Refined Petroleum Oil Jetty and Crude Terminal at Bonny Island. Bonny Channels Company [BCC], co-owned by the Nigerian Port Authority is in charge of maintaining the water ways lying on Bonny River that serves as it channel."
How would you described the Nigerian Port Authority, Port Harcourt Port after the war, Is it strategically position?
"With the Port already fully functional, international trade with Europe and America, especially during and after the first world war of 1914-1918 and the second world war of 1939-1945, became quite easy.
Exportation of Nigeria’s crude oil could also be accomplished when it was discovered in commercial quantity at Oloibiri in June 1956.
Again, following the end of the Nigerian Civil war in 1970, the Federal Military Government was able to import materials for post-war reconstruction exercises that were required mainly in the Eastern part of the country. All these brought the Port Harcourt Port into a very strategic position and it was able to cope beautifully, more so that the 1962 development plan for the Port had been expanded to be able to face such emerging situations."
When was the Nigerian Port owned, regulated by the Nigerian Port Authority?
"Until, 23 June 2006, Nigerian Ports were owned, operated, administered and regulated by the Nigerian Ports Authority as specified in the Ports Act of 1954, Cap 155. The Ports were then statutorily mandated to develop, maintain and operate such as harbours and safe navigation, keeping dredging activities, installation of navigational aids such as lying of buoys lighting and beacons."
Cargo handling of plants and equipment that will allow for fast loading and discharge of cargoes such as ships shore, cranes valmets, gantries and the provision of high capacity and long reach stacking equipment.
Transit sheds and warehouses for the safe-keep of cargoes, personnel for operational management, documentation and ancillary administrative services that are necessary for a smooth operation at the Ports and also provision of other services may be required from time to time."
How the Nigerian Ports Authority was assumed the position of landlord at the Port?
"The Federal Government ceded operational functions more specifically cargo handling duties to the private sector of the economy. Thus, the two private terminals came abroad. These are Terminal A, the Port and Terminal Operators Ltd [PTOL] with activities covering berths 1-4 and Terminal B which is the BUA Ports and Terminal Ltd and in charge of 5-8.
This policy mandates the Nigeria Ports Authority to assume the position of a landlord to oversee the operations of the concessionaires.
Its duties are ownership, administration of land and water within the confines of the territory of the Nigerian Ports Authority, plan, develop the Ports structure, be responsible for survey, nautical and harbor operations, take care of pollution and marine incidences, provision of safety for lives and property within its territory, ensure nautical management by harbor masters, enactment of bye laws and other regulations as well as enforcement of such laws for smooth operations in the Port."
What would say are other functions and other agency in the Port?
"The Rivers Port, is the second oldest in Nigeria after the Lagos Port, has always being in the front of delivery on its mandate as patrons have continued to take delivery of cargoes in record time. It also pays priority attention to the safety of cargoes as well as being of staff, clients and stakeholders.
In line with modern dictates, the Ports are equipped with facilities that enhance its smooth operations. With a robust security unit that guarantees safety of lives property, patrons of the Port go about their businesses with a rest of mind.
The Fire Service department has also been equipped to compete favorably with the world standard fire prevention and fighting exercises.
Also the medical department is equipped for industrial healthcare activities. These are handled by highly skilled personnel that operate with utmost sense of commitment to keep the staff in good form so as to meet the challenges of current demands in the marine time industry. It is likewise the belief of Rivers Port management that in a sound body lives a sound soul; hence it maintains a very clean environment that makes the Port homely to all.
To complement the efforts of the regular Police outfit and the Port’s security officials a detachment of Mobile, Marine Policemen all are who are sufficiently equipped to meet the challenges of modern security operation include other federal agencies, Custom Service, Immigration Department, and the State Security Service [SSS]."
Who are those already served in the Port Harcourt Port?
"They include, Mr. Funso Agoro, 1972-1979; late Chief Okon Bassey, 1979-1983; Chief G.O Adeago, 1983-1985; Colonel Sedenu A.M.I, 1985-1995; late Mr. Steve I. Mgbakogu, 1995-1997; Engr. Bryant O. Oluwole, 1997-1999; Alhaji Isa Babamkpa, 1999-2000; late Mr. Anya O.Anya, 2000-2002; Mr. Jet Sugh, 2002-2003; Dr. B.A Ahmed, 2003-2004; Mr. Sam A. Ukoha, 2004-2005; Mr. A.A Goje, 2005-2006; Mr. A.A Goje [Terminal Coordinator] 2006-2007; Mr. Lawrence O. Alabi, 2007-Date; as the present Managing Director Nigerian Port Authority,, Mallam Habib Abdullahi and the General Manager, Eastern Ports, Mr. S. Inyeinegi-Etomi."
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