At the weekend hope that the $1.5bn Lekki Deep Seaport will begin commercial operations in September was rekindled with the delivery of three Ship to Shores(STS) and 10 Rubber Tyre Gantry(RTG) cranes at the port facility by a vessel, ZHEN HUA 28.
This happened two days after the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Sanwo-Olu had promised residents and road users that the on-going rehabilitation of some major roads on Ibeju/Lekki/Epe environs and Marina would be completed in two months to end the hardship road users go through.
The Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), on Friday, received the first vessel that called at the port with project cargo and she berthed at about 1:30 PM. The cranes will help in the evacuation of cargoes from vessels to shore but no means of evacuation yet from shore to cargo destination.
The Lekki Deep Seaport and the multi-million dollar Dangote Refinery and Petrochemical Plant located at the emerging new Lagos on Lekki axis lack rail and pipeline connectivity. Surprisingly, the roads the governor meant hold no promises for the kind of cargo expected to be evacuated from the deep sea port and oil refining plant. This project oversight has continued to cast a blight on the September commercial operation take off date.
Just recently, it was learnt that the promoters of the project just sent a memo to the presidency on rail connectivity, which should have been one of the earliest considerations as an alternative means of cargo evacuation. However, the memo is as good as dead because the Federal Government had said it had neither funds nor made any budgetary appropriation in 2022 and 2023 fiscal years for rail line construction on that corridor. Considering that rail project has long gestation period even if the government makes a volte-face today, it will take at least another one year for the rail line to become operational. The question remains: How does cargo get evacuated? The Lagos State Government promised Super-highway to link Sagamu and Ijebu-Ode from Lekki corridor is still a pipe dream and the only accessible road under construction is riddled with too many sharp turns that require demolition of buildings littering the road shoulders as it were. The quality of the road presumed to have been completed by the Ogun State Government linking Sagamu cannot withstand the weight of the heavy duty vehicles for long. As it stands today, no truck or trailer bearing product from the port facility can evacuate cargo east-wards-back to Lagos Mainland;it has to be north-wards-towards Sagamu, meaning that Shippers in Lagos will have to pay more for freight cost of making a 360 degree movement. Who bears this cost? Can the owners and operators of the ports bear this cost component? This may make business sense for cargo routed outside Lagos.
The truth therefore remains that Barge services could top the feasibility and realism plans of Lekki Deep Seaport now pending the completion of the road and rail connectivity to hinterlands and other market space.
With this, how realistic is the September date?
Recall that the seaport has an annual cargo tonnage of four million tons per year and container volume of 2.5million TEUs with three container berths equipped to handle more than 1.8 million TEUs annually.
Speaking at the event, the Managing Director of NPA, Mohammed Bello-Koko, said Lekki Port, when it commences operations, will be the first fully automated port at take-off in Nigeria.
He further stated that the successful delivery of the three STS and the RTG cranes was critical to the commencement of operations of the deep seaport.
He said, “The successful delivery of these three state-of-the art STS cranes and 10 RTG, are very important equipment which are critical to the commencement of operations of the Lekki Deep Seaport. This is historic as it moves us a step closer to birthing Nigeria’s first Deep Seaport and also demonstrates our readiness to take trade facilitation a notch higher.
“The commitment of NPA to providing every support necessary to place Nigeria on the global list of countries with Deep Seaports is unflinching. This is why matters related to the operationalization of Lekki Deep Seaport before the end of this year have been placed on top priority.
“For us at the Nigerian Ports Authority the coming on stream of Lekki Deep Sea Port symbolizes a lot of positives. Apart from being Nigeria’s first Deep Seaport, Lekki Port will also be the first fully automated port at take-off. This provides an insight into the path we are already toeing as a management team to govern the operationalization of not just the forthcoming Badagry, Ibom and Bonny Deep Seaports, but also of the reconstruction of the aged Tin-Can Port, where work is set to commence once we secure the necessary approvals from the Federal Ministry of Transportation and FEC respectively.”
Bello-Koko, however, reiterated that the Authority was working assiduously under the technical guidance of the International Maritime Organization(IMO) to deploy the Port Community System (PCS), which will make Nigeria optimise opportunities of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement to which Nigeria is a signatory.
“Let me reiterate that automation remains the most veritable tool for assuring Port efficiency, and as most of us are aware, the NPA is working assiduously under the technical guidance of the International Maritime Organization to deploy the Port Community System (PCS), which will enable us respond squarely to the dictates of global trade facilitation and optimize the opportunities of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement to which Nigeria is signatory.
“Our strategic intent of becoming the maritime logistics hub for sustainable ports services in Africa rests heavily on how well we are able deepen our efficiencies through a construction of deep seaports in order to leverage the concomitant benefits of economies of scale. Let me seize this moment to specially appreciate His Excellency President Muhammadu Buhari and the Federal Ministry of Transportation for the tremendous backing the NPA has enjoyed leading to this historic exercise,” he added.
Speaking earlier, the chairman, Lekki Port, Abiodun Dabiri, who stated that the port will become operational before the end of the year, added that the delivery of the evacuation equipment, will make Nigeria a shipping hub in West and Central Africa.
He stated further that aside from Lekki Deep Seaport, no other seaport in Nigeria can receive the 14m deep vessels that brought the crane into the country.
He said, “today’s event, will deliver Nigeria as a regional hub for maritime business. The vessel came with major cranes that will help the port operate optimally. No port in Nigeria can receive this type of vessel, also these cranes will transform Nigeria Port and make it a regional hub for shipping.
“When the port becomes operational, it will add value to people’s life, diversification of foreign exchange, and turn around the nation’s maritime business. The port will begin operation before the end of the year.
What has reinforced this doubt, unless there is a “miracle” is that an Engineer working at the Port had gone as far as reemphasizing that the September date is not realistic, asking someone to stake a million naira to that. Can you beat this! However, readiness of the port is one thing, preparedness for cargo evacuation is another thing. On both ends, there are miles to go before we sleep!