The Executive Vice Chairman of ENL Consortium, Dr. Mrs. Vicky Haastrup has said that she met more than 150 touts and hoodlums also referred to as ‘wharf rats’ living inside the terminal with members of their families when she took over the terminal after the port concession in 2006.

ENL is the terminal operator in charge of the berths C and D of the Lagos Ports Complex, Apapa, which handles a large chunk of the dry bulk cargo imports into the country such as wheat, cement, iron rods, fertilizers and bulk rice, among several others.

Haastrup, who relieved her harrowing experience in terms of the horrible state of the ports before Federal Government’s Port Reform programme, said the ports were in terrible shape before they were handed over to the private terminal operators after the concession programme.

According to her, there was a very high level of lawlessness and insecurity at the ports to the extent that more than 150 hoodlums were residing in the terminal with members of their families.

The direct implication of this was that there was very high level of theft and pilfering in the terminal, as imported cargo were vandalised at will and made away with.

“There were over 150 wharf rats living in berths C and D with their families and they even formed an association called National Association of Wharf Rats, which points to the level of decay and dilapidation of the port infrastructure before they were taken over by the private terminal operators”

In terms of equipment and cargo handlers, she said that the position was zero, saying that most of the plants and equipment used by the Nigerian Ports Authority were hired, with the attendant delay in the turnaround time of vessels and even the dwell time of cargo.

Haastrup, who doubles as chairman of the Seaport Terminal Operators’ Association of Nigeria STOAN, umbrella body for all the 25 port concessionaires, however observed that this situation has changed drastically, as all the concessionaires have made massive investments, which have transformed the ports.

She said that these investments, which significantly transformed the port terminals, have also brought about a high level of efficiency to ports, as turnaround time of ships, which was in excess of six weeks, has reduced to less than five days while cargo dwell time has also reduced tremendously.

She said: “We have done our part, the government should also do its so that the ports will take their pride of place among their peers both in Africa and across the maritime global. The ports need expansion but we cannot because of mistakes associated with the location of the ports, which are now surrounded with residential areas so the government has a lot to do”.

She however regretted that these huge investments and sacrifice by the terminal operators have not been appreciated by both the government and Nigerians, as they are greeted with condemnation instead of praises

“We the terminal operators have done so much, yet we are not appreciated, we are called various names, blamed for the gridlock and high cost of doing business at the ports whereas only 1.8 per cent of the total cost component comes to the terminal operators. It is not our duty to provide truck terminals, it is those of the shipping companies”, she said passionately.

She also lamented Federal Government’s lacklustre attitude to the development of the port industry despite the huge revenue it collects from the industry annually.

“There is huge revenue accruing to the government from the port industry. I was stunned recently at the amount of revenue generated by one of the commands of the Nigeria Customs Service, which runs into several billions for only six months and yet the same government does not want to pay attention to such an industry”

“The Federal Government should change its current state of mind and focus on developing and harnessing the potential of the maritime industry because I am sure the government will even make more money if it converts the Lily Pond Terminal to a truck park”, she argued.

She noted that government’s neglect of the maritime industry led to the licensing of over 26 petroleum product tank farms in a port area, which already has in excess of 123 private jetties without considering the possible effect on the road infrastructure, which remain the only means of moving goods in and out of the seaports, given the total absence of other transport modes, especially the rail.