The President of Port Harcourt Chamber of Commerce (PHCCIMA)Dr. Emi Membere-Otaji has appealed to the Federal Government and all relevant stakeholders to give adequate attention to re- inventing Port Harcourt seaports as part of measures to sustain economic growth and development.
According to Dr Emi Membere-Otaji, Port Harcourt was originally created as a Port City and shipping hub designed to export coal and agriculture products in 1912, “however when crude oil was eventually discovered in 1956 it changed everything”.
Speaking in Port Harcourt after his return from a trip, He said: “When crude was discovered, everything in the city changed and was hinged directly or indirectly on oil, the city drifted and abandoned the ideals of the founding fathers who positioned it as a shipping and commercial hub beyond crude oil.”
He explained that Port Harcourt and indeed the old Rivers state is paying the price and feeling the pinch brought about by the weakening oil prices.
He said: “Hence, Port Harcourt Chamber of Commerce is seriously engaging a whole lot of stakeholders to see how we can get the city back to what it was originally created for; to be a shipping hub for agricultural and non oil exports, while still providing a base for the nation’s oil and gas industry”, he said.
The PHCCIMA boss recalled that old Port Harcourt port was about the 2nd largest port in the country, but however regretted that the port is now underutilized and is facing huge facility challenges.
He said: “We agree we have the Onne port managed by Intels and is acclaimed one of the biggest oil and gas free zones in the world, but the Onne port is strictly focused on oil and gas related cargo and their charges are astronomically high; even non oil cargo are charged as if they are oil related and this is not good for business in this era of economic diversification.”
The PHCCIMA helmsman particularly pointed out that another challenge is the persistence inaction on the part of the port regulators concerning disparity in rates charges between the Lagos ports and the eastern ports.
He said: “What we don’t understand is why cargo passing through Port Harcourt ports will cost more than Lagos? This high rate is taking businesses away from Port Harcourt. Most business cargo are now going through Lagos and they are killing the ports in the east. However, one sure thing is that the swamp land and oil fields and land cannot be taken from where it is which is Port Harcourt and Niger Delta, hence there is need to expedite action to ensure that seaports in the state are functional to facilitate import and export of other commodities beyond crude oil and create strings of employment opportunities for the people.