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We will transform Onitsha port in two months, says Yusuf

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Managing Director of Inland Containers Nigeria Limited (ICNL), Ismail Yusuf, spoke to ADAKU ONYENUCHEYA on the impacts of bureaucracy on port businesses.

Yusuf


Can you give us an overview of importation activities in the first half of 2021?
The half part of 2021 has been very difficult, even more than last year when we had COVID-19. A lot of things have been happening in the country, and the situation is getting worse every day owing to insecurity, kidnapping, killings and banditry. When there is no peace, there cannot be development.

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Our customers are not importing as expected. Secondly, the high rate of inflation and exchange rate is another problem. Last year, the customs exchange rate was around N310 to N360, but today it is N510. How many people can import considering the rising cost?

When you cannot even plan because you are not sure of the direction of the monetary policy, people will be sceptical about importing.

Many factors encourage customers to import. You can’t borrow money to do business; you can only expect low patronage from customers because they are not getting support from anywhere.

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Onitsha River Port and Oba Terminal are crucial in facilitating import and export trade in the South East. What are the plans to make them fully functional?
You know the bottlenecks that come with government bureaucracy. When the government tells you that they are going to do something in six months, expect it to be done maybe after years.

For government, there are a lot of processes you pass through, if that is not completed, you cannot be called upon to come for a meeting. On our part, we have bided and waited for the final decision of the government. That is for Onitsha River Port.

But for an investor who wants to invest in the East, you will consider proximity to Onitsha from Oba, which is just about a 10 to 15-minute drive. If we eventually get Onitsha port, we might not need to develop the Oba terminal any longer, because it will amount to a waste of money. So the outcome of Onitsha River Port will determine what will happen at Oba Bonded Terminal’s proposed site.

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If the government gives us the go-ahead today, in the next two months, we will mobilise both the human resources and every other equipment required to do the job.

The infrastructures are there already; we have cranes. What it will require is for us to move the ridge stacker from Kaduna or Kano to the place.

We have empty handlers, the government has provided a crane, we already have a tarmac there, we have offices there also, all we need to do is buy furniture and computer equipment and start operation.

For us, when the government is planning to dredge the river port, we as a bonded terminal operator can start moving cargoes by road immediately until the government finishes dredging.

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So what we will do is to start moving containers from Lagos, Port Harcourt and Warri to the place on bond by road, pending the time the dredging will be completed, and the vessel will be able to get there.

What is the place of ICNL bonded terminal operation in Nigeria?
We are the pacesetters. When talking about the operation of bonded terminals in Nigeria, Inland Containers was the first to operate at the hinterland.

Today, we also have Kaduna Inland Dry Port, a subsidiary of Inland Containers as the first dry port to be commissioned by the federal government.

Today, we are operating in a low capacity, in the sense that there are a lot of teething problems facing the company for now. Not that the company cannot perform.

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We have been talking with the regulatory agencies, security agencies and all stakeholders that they need to give us support and policy statements to ensure things work as expected.

For instance, if you say that a dry port is a port, everybody expects what is done at the seaports to also be done there. But today, we have not been able to get shipping companies to buy into dry ports where they don’t issue through bills of laden both for import and export. The Federal Government is supposed to have made a policy on that through its representative, the Nigerian Shippers Council.

Also, rail needs to be working for less or cheaper cost of transportation. That needs to be in place, not only for Kaduna Inland Dry Port but also for all inland dry ports.

If that is not there, any of the new dry ports coming up will still face the problems we have been facing till today. That is why I said we are the pacesetters; we are the ones facing the teething problems now, and when this has been solved, it becomes easier for the new and incoming dry ports.

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What are the successes achieved so far at Kaduna inland dry port?
The success I can say that we have achieved at Kaduna Inland Dry Port today is that we have been able to have a very good rapport with some of our stakeholders, especially the Nigeria Customs Service.

Customs has been giving us full support to ensure that the dry port is working. The Kaduna State government has also been doing the same to see that the dry port works. I also commend the Nigerian Shippers Council on the aspect of sensitisation, because since its commissioning, we have done more than three sensitisaton seminars to bring in all the stakeholders and make them aware of the presence of Kaduna Inland Dry Port for their patronage and I give them kudos for that.

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What about export development?

In terms of export, the port manager has been doing a lot of jobs, meeting the exporters, agents, customs and the regulatory agencies and other stakeholders to patronise the dry port for export business.

Like I said earlier, another sensitisation is coming up on July 15, 2021; organised and jointly sponsored by the Shippers Council, Kaduna Inland Dry Port and the Tobacco industry in Zaria.

We are doing this so that customers can be aware that they can do their export right from Kaduna Inland Dry Port; they don’t necessarily need to go to Onne Port in Rivers State or Apapa Port in Lagos.

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