By Kingsley Anaroke
The Kaduna Inland Dry Port, since commissioned by President Mohammadu Buhari in 2018 to ultimately operate as Port of Origin and Destination, meaning the capability to receive and export cargo directly from countries of shippers’ choice. But five years after, the Port Manager of the facility, Mr. Rotimi Raimi, a certified logistics and port management expert says, the status is far from being achieved. He says that Inland Container Depot(ICDs) or dry port operations in Nigeria still experience challenges of Customs bureaucracy, shipping companies’ human bottlenecks and cargo evacuation hiccups, majorly the rail system non-connectivity. He spoke with MMS Plus. Excerpts:
There was the problem of transportation of cargo from seaport to dry port between terminal operators and dry port operators. Has it been resolved in terms of charges and procedures?
The Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) stopped the movement of cargo by rail since the inception COVID -19 and they are yet to lift the ban. The movement of cargo by rail to Kaduna dry port from Lagos was flagged off in July 7, 2019 by Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State. The point of note here is that without the rail the Inland Container Depots(ICDs) cannot break-even and remain in business. Three months before COVID -19 they wrote to us that they were working on Ibadan rail corridor. So, halted rail services to Kaduna. Now Ibadan has been completed. And since then we have been mounting pressure on them to assist us because ICDs need rail connectivity to thrive.
You mean you don’t get cargo by rail now?
No. We receive cargo now by trucks and it is not good for the business.
How many trucks do you receive in a week?
We receive an average of 30 to 40 trucks in a week.
Which of the terminals are you in partnership with?
We have relationship with all the sea port terminals, especially in Lagos and Onne. Some people ship to Onne because of the congestion in Lagos ports. But because of security problem some of our Northern hinterland shippers are moving back to Lagos. Recall what happened in Enugu where they burnt some containers. So the security challenge is beginning to instill fear in them. The essence of ICDs is to decongest the ports and bring shipping services nearer to the people in the hinterland and reduce cost. Now, because of the spike in prices of goods and services the cost of transporting container by road from Lagos to Kaduna for a 40 feet box is between N1.8m to N2m. So you can imagine if it is rail, it cannot take half of this price because it is mass evacuation.
I am still surprised that people route cargo to Onne and then move to Kaduna!
The port access road crisis in Lagos pushed people to Onne.
Kaduna is in North West, what is the attraction? What is the price difference?
It is just like N100,000.
Why not link Onne to Kaduna by rail?
The problem is that there is a rail line in Port Harcourt but it is not linked to the North. Onne is a new port. Now, the challenge of NRC is lack of coaches and wagons for operations . So, they believe in short services:from Apapa to EBJ; Alagbado to Ewokoro or Ibadan. If you are taking cargo from Apapa to Ewokoro or Alagbodo or Ibadan, it will not be done free and it is an added cost because taking cargo there and pull it out to get crane and transport it to Kaduna does not make sense. So we are appealing to government to commence movement of cargo by rail to Kaduna. I learnt that Dala Dry port is coming up soon, end of this month. By the time they begin operations how do they want us to operate? Is it by road? I have said it and I will continue to say it, there are three things affecting adversely the dry ports now. They are: Shipping, Customs and Rail.
Why is Customs a problem?
You know for now there is no template for ICD operation, Customs is trying to work on this. We cannot be using bond that is transire. A container that is destined for Kaduna port you asked that it should be processed from Apapa port on transire with the long days and delay involved. It does not make sense. There should be in the Customs clearing process system a model for cargo delivery for ICDs. So that as the cargo is coming down, you know the number of containers you separate the manifest. Shipping companies would have done that and send it to all the stakeholders and then put it on the truck with an escort and down to Kaduna. It is still the customs that will sign the escort paper. But why use escort ? It is an additional cost. We are looking at using a tracker , a device to monitor the container down to destination.
Do these containers have insurance at all?
Containers must be insured. What the Customs is guiding against is the duty. Since it is leaving one end to another end, the giver and the receiver should be able to tally. We the operators should ensure that the seal is not broken.
I am surprised at what you are saying. I thought your ICD had been granted the status of Port of Origin and Port of Destination?
We are still operating a bonded terminal warehouse in ICDs instead of dry port. So we are appealing to government to review the operations of the ICDs in the countries. After five years, Kaduna ICD still runs like a bonded terminal. It frustrates a lot of customers who ought to be enjoying the services of cargo destined to Kaduna directly. They wonder why their cargo still go through Apapa hiccups with its attendant cost. The shipping companies too are not helping matters. They keep telling the shippers that want to destine their cargo to Kaduna that Kaduna is sensitive and unsafe and therefore they cannot carry their boxes. It is all lies because the same cargo gets here and begin to attract demurrage because they have to process the cargo and release it to the carrier- ICD. ICD operation should be a seamless one. I was privileged to go to Dubai and Johannesburg, South Africa, where I got trained on ICD operation. But what we see in Nigeria is that somebody who resumes today will take delight in changing a lot of things. Although it is still the same process,he ends up creating a lot of obstacle in the process. So no template at all, things are done at one’s whims. These challenges are not beyond the government. There has to be the political will to address them.
Do you now have an association of ICD operators, at least, a voice to champion you causes?
We are working on having a pressure group to have a say. Dala Dry port also uses bond and experience the same thing we are having in Kaduna dry port. I learnt it will be commissioned by the end of this month. You notice that the ICDs are more in the Northwest because it is a commercial hub of the North. Also, when you import you can find something to export because of the emergence of many export groups.
How does the barge operation affect the ICDs?
In Lagos, barges are used for cargo evacuation from ports. But what bothers me is the cost. However, the patronage of barges has dropped.
Why did it drop?
Apapa is currently perfect in moving cargo by road from port. So why use barges? That is an extra cost. It looks like their operation is seasonal. Imagine those who have terminal use barges to move containers to their terminals. Some of the terminal operators now have their own barges. It is still very lucrative.
You are five years now, would you say you meet your targets, how has it been?
Basically, anything that happens in the port has a multiplier effect. In comparison, we are doing better than when we started but we have not hit our target. We met about slightly over 50 per cent of our target last year. As for this year, you know is an election year, nothing will happen until after the election.