For Nigerian ports to attain hub status with capacity to attract transshipment cargoes (meant for landlocked countries), there is need for the Federal Government to invest in building supporting infrastructure, address waterways security concerns and improve efficiency in service delivery, experts say.
Landlocked countries are countries that lack territorial access to the sea and are geographically secluded from international markets. They, therefore, depend on neighbouring countries to transit their export and import cargo to other markets.
Owing to Nigeria’s location, its ports can serve as transit for import and export cargo for landlocked countries like Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Chad.
But Nigerian ports are currently recording low throughput volume due to inefficiency, high cost of doing business, poor infrastructure and difficulty in hinterland connectivity.
“Infrastructure is critical to attaining the hub status. For example, Apapa and Tin-Can Island Ports were planned over 20 to 30 years ago. The supporting infrastructure has not grown but the volume of cargoes in these ports has grown tremendously,” said Aamir Mirza, managing director, West Africa Container Terminal (WACT) located at Onne Port, Rivers State.
“The entire hinterland connecting infrastructure has to be upgraded along with the upgrading of the terminals to enable the handling of increased volume of cargo,” he said.
Nigerian-billed cargoes are currently diverted to other West African ports that run more efficient system with deeper depth and capacity to accommodate mega ships with 8,000-20,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), findings show. Nigeria runs the risk of losing even more cargo if the challenges are left unaddressed.
Compared with Apapa, Nigeria’s premier port, which has 13 metres draft, the Port of Lome in Togo has draft of up to 15.5 metres, Cotonou Port has draft of 15 metres, Tema Port in Ghana to has draft level of 19 metres at the completion of the expansion, and Cameroon Container Terminal has 16 metres draft, according to a study tagged ‘Nigeria Poorest Rating of 183 on the Ease of Trading Across Borders’. The study did a comparative analysis of the waterways infrastructure of five West African ports including Nigeria.
Lucky Amewiro, managing director, Eyis Resources Ltd, promoters of the study, said the state of the nation’s seaports allows most Nigerian shipment to be shipped through other West African ports.
Amewiro said Nigeria lost the transit status to neighbouring West African ports due to lengthy and cumbersome procedure involved in cargo clearing, outdated procedure, lack of modern transit facilities, lack of transit module, and lack of coordinated government agencies.
“There is need to re-claim our cargo from neighbouring countries’ ports that are hub for Nigerian cargoes, by working out mechanism for a better developed regional hub to consolidate on the destination of Nigerian cargo that has been siphoned by regional ports,” he said.
Amewiro, a former member, Presidential Taskforce on the Reform of Nigeria Customs Service, said Nigeria needs to look into the issues of port inefficiency associated with unwholesome practices and manipulated delays by providers of shipping services and other government agencies which result in payment of high demurrage, rent and transaction cost.
“Nigeria Customs has not deployed the scanners that are required. An additional tool we need to deploy for trade facilitation is the single window. That is also another infrastructure ports in neighbouring countries have that make cargo clearance fast and seamless. If you deploy single window, every agency will now key into that,” said Hadiza Bala Usman, managing director, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA).
The port operational activities from the NPA show the number of vessels that called at the ports dropped by 7.3 percent to 969 in the third quarter of 2018, from 1,045 recorded in the same period in 2017. Containerised imports dropped by 9.9 percent to 368,976 TEUs, from 409,454 TEUs recorded in 2017.
Mirza of WACT said terminal operators were investing massively in terminal development to attract more cargo. However, the effort would be futile if the connectivity from the port to the hinterland was not reliable due to lack of government investment in fixing the roads, he said.
“Addressing the issue of waterways security for the shipping lines will help reduce the premium charge paid to vessel owners by importers due to security threats from pirate attacks. Dredging of channels will aid navigation, and investment in road construction will attract bigger ships to come to our ports,” he added.
Jonathan Nicol, president, Shippers Association of Lagos State, said Nigeria needs to bring back its importers who have taken their businesses to other countries by making the trade platforms simple.
“This government needs to look at the Ease of Doing Business by making reasonable adjustment in the system. We need to focus on removing risks and bottlenecks in the supply chain. Cargo clearing process is another problem we must address, and it includes the road problems,” Nicol said.