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Lekki Port will unlock Nigeria’s economic potential, says Smith

By Sulaimon Salau
30 January 2022   |   4:06 am
Lekki Port, its shareholders, including the Nigerian government, have been working tirelessly with the objective to receive our first vessel by fourth quarter (Q4), 2022. Construction work on the project is on course and as scheduled.

Chief Technical Officer, Lekki Port, Steven Heukelom (left); the Chief Operating Officer, LPLEL, Laurence Smith;<br />Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi; Acting Managing Director, Nigerian Ports Authority, Mohammed Bello-Koko and the Director<br />Maritime Services, DMS, Federal Ministry of Transportation, Awwal Suleiman, during the minister’s inspection of the port site in Ibeju-Lekki, Lagos.

The Chief Operating Officer, Lekki Port, Laurence Smith, is optimistic that the multi-million dollar project would come on stream by fourth quarter 2022. In this interview with SULAIMON SALAU, he spoke on its economic benefits to Nigeria, among other issues.

With the pace of construction moving fast, are we likely to witness the commencement of commercial operation from Lekki port this year?
Lekki Port, its shareholders, including the Nigerian government, have been working tirelessly with the objective to receive our first vessel by fourth quarter (Q4), 2022. Construction work on the project is on course and as scheduled.

Already, the dredging and reclamation works has reached 89.93 per cent completion, Quay Wall is at 85.65 per cent completion, Breakwater is 79.66 per cent completion, the landside infrastructure development is 67.82 per cent completion, thus bringing total works carried out on the project to approximately 80 per cent completion stage.

In what way(s) is the Lekki Deep Sea Port assisting Nigeria through the African Continent Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) to become the manufacturing hub for the continent?
Yes, I do see Lekki Port playing an essential part in this. One of the main objectives of the African Continent Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) is to promote industrial development through diversification and regional value chain development. One major research carried out recently by the IFC AfCTA is the Pan-African Payment and Settlement System (PAS). This will further streamline trade across the Pan-African countries. With a more streamlined supply chain system, mobile materials can be brought into the country due to economies of scale and further cost reduction to manufacturers from Lekki Port. With such infrastructure, Lekki Port acts as an economic enabler for manufacturers to meet foreign and local demands by removing port delays and acting as the gateway into the free trade zone. Therefore, Nigeria can be competitive in Africa and the global market itself. This will also attract more skills, and Nigeria could become a haven of growth and a cache of talents across the globe.

The project has reached 80 per cent completion, and road construction linking the port has not reached substantial level of construction. Don’t you foresee replicating the traffic challenges being faced in the existing ports?
When Lekki Port is completed, there will also be challenges to start with in the face of construction regardless of what the road system around Lekki Port looks like.

Today, we are talking with contractors, and they have been mobilized. The roads from Ajah to Lekki and other roads are due to be completed in line with the opening of the port. This high level of construction is done to ensure the evacuation of containers in a timely fashion. The future alternative evacuation options such as barging and rail will also help relieve the pressure around the Lekki Port axis.

How much local manpower have you engaged in the delivery and management of the port?
Yes, there is no doubt that knowledge transfer is critical in the successful operation of Lekki Port. This can be seen in Lekki Port’s past and current recruitment policy.
Our recruitment of local talents is unfazed. Local talents are employed to manage port operations. From what I have seen, I think they are learning fast.

Overall, with their excellent background, career prospects are assured, and we expect that the manpower ratio will be in the region of about 15 per cent foreign expert and 85 per cent local. Besides, there is also a succession plan for local talents to be promoted in handling and managing the port.

How ready are the terminal operators, and what will they do differently to make the port operations a lot faster and seamless for users?
The readiness of the terminal operator is such that there is a strong, committed training plan to ensure that they can operate the state-of-the-art equipment that will be installed in the port. This will put Lekki Port at the forefront of the operation of excellence when dealing with customers.
These investments include ship-to-shore cranes that can deliver more than 30 moves per hour and 15 rubber-tyre gantry to handle the containers in the yard. The ship-to-shore cranes are a new type of handling equipment that has not been seen in Nigeria before.

The operators will have a terminal operating system that will be more integrated not only to drive the functionality of the port but e-commerce as well. The competitive edge that Lekki Port has is the ability to discharge ship twice as fast, thereby reducing the overall port stay of a vessel by potentially 50 per cent like the one we see today in Tin Can and Apapa. Thus, ultimately passing on the savings to us as a consumer.

How is Lekki Port’s delivery helping Nigeria attain its regional maritime hub agenda?
Of course, Lekki Port, being the first Deep Sea Port in Nigeria and one of the deepest ports in West Africa, would enable us to service some of the largest sea containers vessels today. These are the new generation and have post-Panamax vessels that cannot pass through the Panamax canal. Since Nigeria is a gateway to landlocked countries such as Chad and Niger, the delivery of Lekki Port would, therefore, open further economic potentials.

To what extent will the birth of Lekki Port impact on the volume of international trade?
With the ability to accept larger vessels, the commencement of the port operation at Lekki Port would undoubtedly enable us to accommodate or look at the economies of scale. This means that larger vessels with larger volumes would now potentially reduce costs for importers and exporters minimally while savings are handed to the consumers. When we talk about export, Lekki Port is geographically located at the Lekki axis; this would mean that it would be easier to get exported goods to the terminal in a timely fashion rather than going through the heart of Lagos. As we all know, Lagos can be very congested at times. Therefore, we would drive to look at how we can further facilitate export trade in Nigeria.

What are the unique features of the Lekki Port and its handling capacity?
The unique feature of Lekki Port is that it is the deepest port in Nigeria with a draught capacity of 16.5metres. It has a turning circle of 600 meters, enabling us to handle the largest generation of container vessels we see today. Finally, we are the largest terminal with capacity in Nigeria. This will certainly expand to accommodate future needs in the Nigerian market.

Is there any consideration for an inter-modal transportation system as obtained in developed countries?
Yes, there are plans underway to study the intermodal transport system. When we talk about intermodal systems, we talk about rail and barging. With an intermodal transport system, the evacuation of containers will be available for the markets and cheaper for the market.
However, this would require future government and private sector investment. There will also be a need to have a new strategy that allows the rail to be standard gauge rather than narrow gauge like we see in Apapa.

One major challenge port operators face is the absence of a truck park. Is there a provision for truck parking to avoid the congestion associated with existing ports in Nigeria?
Absolutely, there is a provision for the truck park in Lekki Port. We understand the challenges faced by the existing ports in Nigeria and the congestion communities around daily encounter. However, at Lekki Port, we have designed a truck park to accommodate no fewer than 200 vehicles, thereby decongesting the road and making it safe and operational for the local communities.