By Stephen Ubanna
When Uche Increase, Chairman, Council For Regulation of Freight Forwarders of Nigerian, CRFFN, Research and International Liaison Committee, and who is incidentally the President, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, NAGAFF, warned about a possible pressure on port facilities and congestion, with the Closure of the Common borders with neighboring countries of Benin, Niger, Tchad and the Centrlal African country of Cameroon, not many people took him serious. Maritime stakeholders particular, officials of the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA and ministry of Transportation saw him as an alarmist.
The CRFFN , Council member , had warned that there might be a possible increase in the volume of cargoes traffic at the nation’s seaports. His worries became more pronounced when importers who had earlier planned to take delivery of their cargoes at the Benin Terminal , Cotonou and Bollore port, also in the French speaking country of Benin and the other neighbouring ports in the West African sub-region, started rerouting their transit cargoes into theNigerian ports which they had abandoned over the years, blaming it on the country’s ports unfriendliness, high -handedness of security operatives including Customs personnel, terminal operators and the shipping Companies.
The outrageous shipping Companies Charges and the gross inefficiency at the ports , which was worsened by the broken down Scanning machines may have forced some of the Nigerian importers relocate to these other West African neighbouring countries seaports which are re-exported by road or smuggled into the country through unapproved routes.
Olufumilayo Olotu, Port Manager, Lagos Port Complex, LPC, Apapa, had told the visiting members of the Hose of Representatives Committee on Ports and Habour led by Datti Mohammad recently that’’ there had been a phenomenal increase in the number of ocean-going vessels carrying cargoes that have been sailing to the port in the since the border closure by president Muhammadu Buhari last August.
The Port Manager was said to have cited a Brazailian vessel which in the past would discharge part of the cargoes meant for the LPC, at Benin. According to her, the Brazilian vessel, would discharge 200 Container load of cargoes at Benin ports and sail to Nigerian with remaining 600 Containers . The Port noted that since the border closure about two months ago, the Brazilian vessel no longer sail to any of the Beninese ports to discharge cargoes meant for Nigeria as it sails to the country’s ports to discharge the full cargo load of 800 Containers, an indication that both NPA and he terminal operator are making now getting the maximum revenue from the transactions..
Recall that prior to the border closure, NPA, had a working arrangement with the terminal Operators where it was said to have put some measures in place to encourage the operators to excel. One of such measures, according to sources, was that that any operator which exceeds its yearly target of cargo throughput would be given bonus .For the operators which fail to meet their target, the Authority made it clear , that there is a punishment for the: payment of an undisclosed amount as fine. Prior to the introduction of the bonus policy, it was learnt that all the terminal operators were granted bonus by the Authority whether they met their yearly cargo throughput or not. The policy may have been abandoned by the agency when it was found not to be in the interest of the nation.
The Border closure appears to have become a blessing in disguise to the terminal operators as they are no longer running after the shipping Companies to convince their importers that patronise their services to take their cargoes to their terminal.
From AP. Moller Terminal,popular, APMT, ENL Consorium, Greenview, Port and Lylipond Container Terminal, Port and cargo Terminal, Port Multi-services Terminal, PMTL, regarded as a one ship terminal, Grimaldi, ECM terminals, to West African Container Terminal, WACT , the story is the same: increased patronage.
Many believe that the increase in the volume of cargoes discharged at the various ports in the country translates to more money coming into the purse of NPA and the terminal Operators.
Investigation by The Value News shows that that the Authority had individual lease and throughput agreement fees with the Concessionaires, an indication that that it is not what APMT pays that the ECM or Port and Cargo Terminals pays to the Authority Single Treasury Account with the Central Bank of Nigeria,.CBN. There is no gain saying the fact that there are services provided by the agency at the ports that are paid in dollars while others are paid in the local currency.
Given the increased volume of cargo traffic which are being witnessed in all the seaports across the country, there are indications that WACT, one of the terminal operators ,at the Onne port Complex, south East Nigerian, which could no longer bear the pressure, was said to have found a way out to solving the problem of Congestion at the terminal by diverting some of its cargo vessels to the Central African country of Cameroon.
The situation in the south east ports may be different from the Lagos ports which have a way of evacuating its cargoes from the port to stem Congestion. Olotu, the LPC Manager, may have gladdened the heart of the Port and Habour Committee members who were worried about the problems of congestion at the ports when she disclosed that they have an efficient intermodal transport system.
The House Committee members who were impressed when the LPC Manager gave them a Comprehensive and an elaborate overview of the activities of the port Complex and what had been done in the last four years by the Hajia Hadiza Bala Usman led Management to improve on its facilities to attract bigger ocean going vessels and sanity that had returned to the port.
An elated Olotu, who was could not hide her feelings when she received the Committee members in the port,Conference room, was said to have laid much emphasis on the intermodal transport system,during her presentation. She stated that Containers discharged at the port are evacuated by rail, waters and road to various locations to avoid congestion at the port.
Ony recently, Hajia Usman, the Authority Managing Director, revealed at a joint press Conference with Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, that there are about 1,729 unclaimed cargoes at the port.
The House Port and Habour Committee members were worried how the Authority are handling the evacuation of Cargoes at the ports in the recent with the on-going reconstruction of the Rail lines, a contract currently being handled by the Chinese Civil Engineering and Construction Company, CCEC.
Stakeholders believe that if the Rails are effective , it could at least evacuate about 90% of the cargoes discharged at the LPC, to various destinations in the country, particular, to the approved Customs recognized Inland Container Terminals for Destination Inspection and release. Olotu confirmed the much the rail Coaches could take out from the port prior to the reconstructionof the rail lines by the CCEC, was a mere 10%. The last one month, the rail had been out of service , because of the reconstruction, an indication that no Container had been out of the port by rail. This may have have informed by while the port Authorities had concentrated on the use of barges and trucks to carry Containers from the port to its destinations in different parts of Lagos and beyond..
The Magazine cited one of the barges loaded with about 32 overtime Containers sailing to Ikorodu Lighter Terminal , IkLT. At some other time times the barges are with Containerised cargoes going to Mile II which is expected to serve the interest of Bonded terminal operators within the area .
Maritime analysts believe IF eko bridge be worked on where there could be an opening where the barges are coming with stacked Containers , it could be opened and closed after it had passed as obtained in the North American Country of the United States, US, and other Industrialised nations, it would reduce the heavy dependence on trucks to move Containers out of the port. They noted that it could be achieved if the government is desirous to do it. At present cargoes taking out of the port to the IKLT are laid flat for easy passage on the EKO bridge. Olotu, the LPC, Manager, alluded to this when she addressed the Lawmaker before their facility tour of the port on Tuesday, November 5, 2019,that this can be achieved if the government is ready to it. This is where Muhammad, the Chairman of the Port Habour Committee may have to take it up with Femi Gbajabiamila, Speaker House of Representatives and who in turn should liaise with Lawan Ahmad, the Senate President , in order to take up the matter with the Katsina born Nigerian President in order to impress it upon him to make budgetary allocation for such a fund Consuming project if the country is ready to reduce the heavy dependence on trucks to move Containers from the ports to their various locations in the country. Moreso, it would reduce the pressure on Nigeria roads which are n a sorry state.
Iis instructive to note that after a tour of the LPC, which saw the Muhammad led Committee members visiting APMT terminal where they had opportunity of witnessing for the first time, particular, the new members a Maersk line vessel which had berthed awaiting to discharge their cargoes. Note that the draft of the port is about 13.5 meters, which had made it difficult to accommodate bigger ocean –going vessels to call at the port but only transshipment vessels.
TAPM officials Managing Director who had received the team in his brief was said to have told them why there are delays in the release of cargoes at the port and why Customs personnel rely on physical examination, which he blamed lack of functional scanner machines. Virtually all the scanners inherited by the Service from COTECNA, and other service providers in 2013, were said to have broken down no sooner they handed over to the former Customs Management., It is not surprising why the ports are littered with broken down scanners and thus the delay in the release of cargoes at the ports.
The question on the lips of most people: Is it the responsibility of government or the terminal operators to replace the broken down scanners? The NCS may be enjoying the physical examination of cargoes, as Ali, the Customs Comptroller General is not making any moves to impress on the importance of scanners from prompt service delivery at the ports.
The service providers must also not forget that they have a role to play to ensure that the scanners work instead of shifting the whole blame to the government. This is because of the terms of subsisting Agreement which gave ‘’ the mandate to build, operate and transfer ‘’ the port which also include provision of cargo handling equipment and other machines needed to speed up the process of clearing cargoes at the ports. This is an indication that the terminal operators had failed the nation.Note that prior to visiting the Apa port on a facility tour, Mohamma led Committee were at the Authority Marina office where they were received Mohammed Bello-Koko, Executive Director, Finance and Administration as Hajia Hadiza was said to be in the United States on official engagements.