Heritage Bank Plc has unveiled plans to provide financing for building critical maritime infrastructure and other transport sector projects once policies driving the projects are well articulated.
A statement issued by the bank’s Divisional Head, Corporate Communications, Fela Ibidapo, indicated that this funding support would be provided by the bank through a partnership with the Nigerian Port Authority (NPA).
The Managing Director of Heritage Bank, Ifie Sekibo, was quoted as giving this hint in his remarks as one of the panelists at the day-one of the International Association of Ports and Harbours (IAPH) Africa regional conference, with the theme ‘African Ports & Hinterland Connectivity’, held Tuesday in Abuja.
He explained fure necessary financing and other supports provided the operators are focused in their business drives for the purposes of growing the maritime sector.
According to him, to attract the needed funding, government will need to develop policies that will manage infrastructure programmes.
While assuring the government of the lenders readiness to give support, Sekibo said that the banks can only provide funds for maritime industry projects if they have an understanding on what the industry wants.
He said Heritage Bank decided to sponsor and attend the conference to understand the focus of the industry.
Sekibo said that banks were willing to offer, and are working on the possibilities of developing long term loans with lower interest rates for operators in the industry.
On the cabotage fund window, the banker said: “There is the cabotage fund and shippers are taking advantage of it. We are still struggling with the kind of long term funding shippers need to attain the level of optimization they need and talk is in progress. We are engaging the relevant stakeholders to make sure we get loans at cheaper interest rates for them but that can’t happen overnight” he noted.
“The commercial rates today are in the neighbourhood of 20 ts today are in the neighbourhood of 20 to 23 percent but the cabotage is between 9 to 13 percent interest rate. But how many of them have been able to borrow from the cabbotage funds given the requirements?” Sekibo queried.
Earlier, President Muhammadu Buhari, restated the need for ports in the country to have the complement of rail infrastructure.
He explained that to complement the improvement in trade facilitation, the Federal Government had improved on upgrading infrastructure, adding that government’s projection is that by the end of 2021, Nigeria will have standard gauge railway across the main North-South trading route.
The President said that the same level of serious attention was being given to the improvement of road infrastructure with about 25 major highways and 44 roads currently under construction across the six geo-political zones in addition to simulation activities on Nigerian inland waterways.
The President clarified: “Major inland river channels are being dredged with adequate channel markings for ease of navigation all the way through the Eastern and Northern parts of the country. That is the only way to go if we plan to remain competitive in the maritime industry.”
The Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi affirmed that Federal Government was committed to the multi-modal system of transportation from all her ports by improving on the extension of the railways to facilitate the ease of transportation from ports to hinterlands.
He said: “We have started test operations in Warri and other places two months ago. We have reconstructed some railways for standard gauge to further open up the nation’s hinterlands. With the development of dry ports in Kano and Kaduna, with direct rail connection, cargoes and containers now easily transmit to Northern Nigeria.
“This also extends to Chad, Niger Republic in our determination to promote transshipment of cargoes to Niger Republic. We are also partnering with the government of Niger Republic in the reconstruction of Maadi, Niger Republic, from Kano to promote regional motivation of trade,” the minister added.
The Managing Director of NPA, Hadiza Bala-Usman, said that the development of the African continent was to a large extent, tied to optimal exploitation of its vast maritime resources.
To this, she said, there was no doubt that Africa holds a special space in the global space with 39 of the 54 countries on the continent endowed with littoral assets.
The NPA boss, who is also the Vice President of IAPH, listed the critical factors for determining ports as the speed and seamlessness with which owners of cargoes are able to move their consignments out of the ports.
The MD of IAPH, Patrick Verhoeven, in his welcome address, said that improving hinterland connections was not just a matter of hardware but of investing also in software, namely people skills and smart information technology.
He said: “With 50% of Africa’s 1.2billion people under the age of 20 and a workforce of 504million expected by 2020, ensuring that the pet industry attracts the right talent as well as making best use of innovations in digitisation and the use of big data is of equal significance.”