•Importers now using alternative ports in West Africa
It is no longer business as usual at the Apapa and Tincan seaports in Lagos, as importers, terminal operators, and clearing agents continue to count their losses to prevailing infrastructure decay that have almost grounded activities at the nation’s gateways.
Already, a larger percentage of importers have found solace in alternative ports in some West African countries where they now choose as ports of destination.However, these cargoes are later brought into Nigeria through the land borders, particularly Seme, and Idiroko borders in Lagos and Ogun states.
To this end, many of the clearing agents are losing businesses, as tonnage shrink forces them to close shop, thereby rendering hundreds jobless. For terminal operators, this is not a time to cheer, as they currently operate under intense pressure, which they blame on the infrastructure decay, bad access roads, and manual operations such as physical cargo examination that have led to port congestion in recent time.
The Federal Government had recently approved N72.9 billion for the reconstruction of the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, but operators are seeking speedy progress as well as opening up of alternative routes throughout the period of construction.The Executive Vice Chairman, ENL Consortium Limited, and the Chairman, Sea Ports Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN), Princess Vicky Haastrup, said the port congestion, traffic chaos, among others that reign in the Nigerian ports scare importers away.
“It is not easy doing business here. People are sweating, getting depressed. It’s a lot of stress carrying out any form of business in TinCan Island and Apapa ports, so what will they come to do here? They will look for other efficient ports.
“As it were today, all trucks coming to load in Apapa and Tincan ports, including those coming to the tank farms are coming through this axis. Where is the road? We are suffering in Apapa. Nigerians are suffering. What we are going through is indescribable. You need to be in Apapa to know what we are going through. Residents and businesses are suffering. People’s lives are in danger. I tell you people are dying by the day. It is so unfortunate because this is the economic gate of the country. Money that government is looking for is here, but they are not seeing it,” she said.
Corroborating, the National President, National Council of Managing Directors of Customs Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Lucky Amiwero, said: “We are not doing anything. Our procedures are archaic and not functional, and we have not reformed our import and export regime. Our import and export regime is still analogue and not digital. So, there are lots of things that must be looked into.”
Amiwero decried the cost of clearing consignments in Nigerian ports, saying it is one of the highest in the world.He added: “When you look at our port system, the core of our Ease of Doing Business is trading across borders; you cannot imagine that Nigeria is ranked 183 of the 190 countries, so Nigeria is the last in Africa.
“Nigerian ports are becoming very unfriendly. People are just coming in; they manipulate the system and move out of the port. Most importers are now using alternative ports in the West African countries.”
On the port access roads, he said: “Imagine! Going into the port takes you as a human being about six hours, while trucks use weeks. When you go to Apapa as I am talking, more than 80 per cent of the businesses have closed down. This is a country that is going down every day; we just have to tell ourselves the truth. We are ranked 183 in trading across borders from 190 countries. Are we not ashamed?” he said.
An industry expert, Bolaji Akinola, argue that: “If we want other countries to use our ports, we will have to fix the port access roads. Our ports are efficient and we have competitive charges, but for someone who is going to Niger or any other neighbouring country with these bad roads, it’s going to be hell.“Handling of transit cargoes inside the port is perfect. What happens majorly from the ports gate to that landlocked country is the issue.”
“A container meant for Niger Republic or Chad, leaving Apapa port by road, your guess is good as mine. How much suffering that truck will go through and how many days it will take to get there. One is the sorry state of our roads; another is the constant harassment by officers on the road. Everywhere is a tollgate. You will spend over N100,000 on illegal fees from Lagos to Sokoto trying to settle officers. Is that attractive? We need to construct a rail connection from the ports to the hinterland. We need to address the core issues and the market will come, but if we fail to do that, we will only be inviting the countries to patronize our efficiency,” he said.