Francis Ezem

Nigeria’s seaports are currently faced with massive congestion, worst of it all in the last 50 years and comparable only to a similar congestion suffered by the Lagos Ports Complex, Apapa in the post-civil war era of 1970s popularly called the cement armada.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian Ports Authority NPA and the APM Terminals Apapa limited, the biggest container terminal in the country are currently trading blame over who should bear the cost of transferring nearly 4,000 units of overtime containers trapped at the terminal, some of which had been there for four years and above.

Recall that following the end of the Nigeria-Biafra civil war in 1970, the Military Government of Gen. Yakubu Gowon commenced its Reconciliation, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation RRR policy, under which it embarked on a massive importation of building materials, especially cement to rebuild the infrastructure destroyed during the 30-month war. This had led to massive congestion at the LPC, the only seaport in Lagos then, which gave rise to the need to construct the Tin Can Island Port Complex, also in Apapa to increase capacity to handle more cargo and reduce the pressure on the existing port facility

In the current situation, which stakeholders have attributed principally to incompetence and lack of experience on the part of the management of the NPA, the port terminals, the quay apron, the berths and even the anchorage are massively congested with cargo and ships, thus leading to long waiting time for vessels that call at the nation’s seaports.

Available statistics show that vessel turnaround time, which reduced to less than 48 hours after the port concession programme in 2006 has increased to over two months while cargo dwell time which declined to less than 10 days within the review period is more than four months in some cases, a development that has placed many importers under heavy financial burden, having secure bank facilities to execute their import and export businesses.

For instance, a Maersk vessel; MV Colombo, which was billed to berth at Apapa middle of October last year could not secure a berthing space until December 24, 2019. Similarly, MV Constatine, another container vessel also belonging to Maersk was scheduled to berth at the LPC, Apapa on January 1, 2020 but could not berth until February 10, 2020 due to non-availability of berthing spaces.

One of the direct implications of this rather ugly development is that apart from making vessel owners and charterers to pay more, it also makes importers lose their free-rent period and also attract payment of demurrage to the shipping company and other storage charges the terminal operators.

“Many of these additional costs are passed down to the final consumers of the products because there is nothing the importer can do in this circumstance. It slows down our business no doubt, because sometimes you might need to do three or more trips in a year but these days it is very difficult to do two trips because of the congestion, which does not make for high turnover, so our businesses are suffering”, an importer, who pleaded anonymity lamented.

Investigations show that manufacturers and other importers of raw materials and semi-finished goods are the worse hit by this rather ugly situation, as some of their raw materials spend up to four-six months in the course of the shipment of the cargo and the clearing processes at the ports, which reduces the lifespan of the product in question.

It was however gathered that stakeholders’ expectations that the congestion may ease off anytime soon has been dashed, as the NPA has engaged in an arm twisting policy designed to compel the APMT to undertake the cost of transferring about 4, 000 overtime containers to the Ikorodu Lighter Terminal, which is a government warehouse designated for such cargo

Competent sources at the Marina headquarters Transport Unit of NPA told BUSINESS AND TRANSPORT that the management has asked APMT to undertake the cost of the transfer and apply for refund on a certain benchmark basis, an offer the company vehemently rejected.

The company, it was further gathered argued that it was the responsibility of the NPA as technical regulator and landlord to transfer the abandoned consignments not the concessionaire, who has lost huge revenue on account of the overtime consignments.

This current position of the authority however contradicts the earlier claims by the Managing Director, Ms. Hadiza Bala Usman, that the authority does not have a budget for the transfer but would approach the National Assembly for a budget virement in order not to expose the government so much.

 The MD had told stakeholders at a stakeholders’ forum organised by NPA and attended by the Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs Service, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd.) and representatives of shipping companies and terminal operators sometime in October last year that everyone should be willing to make sacrifices to ensure that the congestion was addressed, pledging that the authority would raise funds for the transfer through a budget virement.

Efforts to reach the NPA General Manager, Corporate and Strategic Communications, Jatto Adams were unsuccessful as he neither picked his calls nor responded to SMS sent to him on the position of the NPA.