Wike: Investors cry out over continuous closure of Rivers’ ports

Nyesom Wike

Investors who use Rivers and Onne Ports in Rivers State have called on the governor, Nyesom Wike, to consider reopening the ports to save their investments and perishable consignments.

The 24-hour lockdown imposed on Port Harcourt and Obi Akpor local government areas over the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic resumes on Wednesday after a two-day break, with the governor bent on not categorising port workers under essential duty.

The governor’s decision runs contrary to the provision of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 which classified port operations as essential services.

The task force based its decision on opening trade in order to facilitate importation and delivery of essential goods, such as foods and medical supplies.

The state government has, however, in the past week, arrested port workers, members of staff of the Nigerian Ports Authority, terminal operators, shipping agents and dockworkers.

It has also impounded vehicles conveying them to work on claims that they broke the lockdown order.

Recently, the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) threatened a nationwide protest after 20 dockworkers were arrested in Rivers.

The association, in a statement signed by its president-general, Adewale Adeyanju, said that because seaport workers were classified as essential services providers, they should be allowed to work, more so as the Federal Governments controls most seaports in the country.

“We were informed that the affected dockworkers were returning from essential service operations to BUA/PTOL terminal, Port Harcourt and were unlawfully and forcefully arrested, and detained by Rivers State Taskforce on enforcing COVID-19 Lockdown,” the statement said.

“We wish to use this medium to state that if nothing is done to effect the release of our members, the union will have no option but to withdraw our services in the entire nation’s seaport, terminals and jetties in solidarity with our detained members as an injury to one is an injury to all.”

Investors in perishable goods like frozen fish and wheat for food processing have been the hardest hit since the lockdown began in Rivers.

Managing Director of Africa Atlantic International Agencies, Daniel Kalu, said he might run at a loss as the vessel transporting his consignment of 4,500 metric tons of frozen mackerel fish worth millions of euros have been unable to berth at the Rivers Port for about two weeks.

Mr Kalu said the same vessel had discharged cargo at the Lagos ports before heading to Port Harcourt.

“Even if we get the consignment out now, we already would have lost half of our investment because the fish has lost quality and we won’t be able to sell at the standard price,” he told TheCable.

“That is not to speak of the demurrage that we must pay to ship owners for keeping their vessels longer than expected. We pay a demurrage of 7800 US dollars per day.”

The governor’s continuous refusal to designate port workers as essential services providers, many say, could generally affect the availability of perishable goods in South-South and South-East markets.