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Port infrastructure deficiency threatens Nigeria’s import, export drive

By Sulaimon Salau
31 December 2018   |   3:04 am
The unfortunate condition of access roads to the Lagos ports complex has created a major setback for business operations in and around the busiest maritime gateway in Nigeria. The ports are congested and hundreds of businesses around Apapa have closed shop.Notwithstanding several promises from the Federal Government, importers, terminal operators and other businesses around the…

Trucks parked indiscriminately at Liverpool, Apapa

The unfortunate condition of access roads to the Lagos ports complex has created a major setback for business operations in and around the busiest maritime gateway in Nigeria. The ports are congested and hundreds of businesses around Apapa have closed shop.Notwithstanding several promises from the Federal Government, importers, terminal operators and other businesses around the Apapa ports continually suffer hardship from the deplorable state of the roads and the attendant traffic gridlock that have characterized the route.

The terminal operators at the seaports are now bemoaning the dire implications of the gridlock, which has taken a toll on the over N200 billion investment at the ports. The operators are groaning, and saying they can no longer meet their Guarantee Minimum Tonnage (GMT) on which their payment in benchmarked.This is just as truck owners and drivers lament the unpalatable situation on the roads coupled with extortions from officials that are stationed to manage the traffic.

The Guardian investigation revealed that hundreds of small and medium scale enterprises have closed shop around the area. For example the Eleganza complex that used to be a beehive of activities has now become almost a ghost town.SIFAX Group and many other terminal operators have opted for off-dock terminals due to the condition of the road. This is a sharp departure from the practise where vehicles are cleared from facilities in and around the port area.

Recently, the Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN) estimated that the nation was losing N20 billion daily to the avoidable situation.It noted that the two seaports in Lagos (TinCan an papa Ports) handle more than 60 per cent of goods imported into the country. While the volume of cargoes imported has been on the rise, increasing from about 35 million metric tonnes in 2006 to more than 80 million metric tonnes 12 years later, the roads through which these goods are taken out of the port to their final destinations have gone from bad to worse.

They however, claimed that the bad roads have caused unnecessary cargo congestion at the ports as goods could not be evacuated to the hinterland.The terminal operators said the bad roads and the menacing Apapa gridlock constitute a monumental national disgrace, frustrating operations at the seaports.

The association said many functional businesses around the ports have either shut down or are operating well below capacity due to persistent gridlock on the road, thus turning the once booming port city into a ghost of its former self.The Federal Ministry of Works, Power and Housing had recently kicked off construction works on Apapa-Oshodi-Oworonshoki Expressway, having secured approval of N72.9 billion from the Federal Executive Council.

Investigations revealed that palliative measures have commenced on the road, but the container-laden trucks and other vehicles are still unable to access the ports. However, repair works have been completed on Ijora-Apapa Wharf Bridge which has been opened to traffic.The traffic gridlock is worsening daily. The trucks have dominated major highways, imposing untold hardship on motorists. The long queues from Tincan Island Port have extended to Second Rainbow bus stop in Festac Town.

From Ijora to Surulere, Eric Moore, Brewery, National Theater, Iganmu, the trucks also still parked indiscriminately on the busy roads.
Western Avenue also in Surulere is not spared while the bridges are being overburdened with excessive weights of the trucks. The truck queue has also stretched to Onipanu bus stop on Ikorodu Road. The indiscriminate parking, according to stakeholders, has contributed to the increasing traffic on Lagos roads threatening businesses in those areas.

For the terminal operator, it is the worst moment for their business since they took over the management of the ports 12 years ago.The Chairman, STOAN, Princess Vicky Haastrup, said terminal operators are working under the harshest business environment in spite of the huge investments they have made towards developing the ports.Haastrup wondered why successive governments in the country allowed the port access roads to progressively degenerate until they became impassable.

She said: “The situation in Apapa particularly as it relates to access to the port is a monumental national disgrace. How can a sector that has such huge potential and that generates billions of naira for government be left to so degenerate? Government is looking for oil but we have a sector that has the capacity to give you all the revenue you need yet the sector is suffering. Why has it not been attended to?”

The STOAN chairman said the large number of tank farms located within Apapa has also compounded the chaotic gridlock, while more licences are still being issued to new tank farm owners.She also asked the ministry to urgently reopen the bridge exiting Apapa at Leventis/Area B, which has been shut down for several months without any visible sign of work being carried out on it.

“Without reopening that bridge, the inflow and outflow of trucks will remain a major challenge in Apapa. Many jobs and wealth creation opportunities have been lost while the economy loses more than N20 billion daily as a result of this avoidable situation,” she said.

The Africa Communication Manager of Maersk, Augustine Fischer, said the poor condition of roads in and out of the Apapa area remains a major blight on port operations.“The poor road condition coupled with a lack of parking lot for trucks and proliferation of tank farms in Apapa, means these trucks have to spend days, sometimes as much as 10 days, to cover a short distance of less than 5km to enter the port to drop off or take delivery of cargo.

“The resultant effect is a backlog of cargoes at the port. Cargoes that should ordinarily exit the port within three days after discharge from the ship could remain in the port for as long as 21 days, waiting for trucks.“The best solution to the Apapa traffic congestion is to fix the roads and seek alternatives to cargo evacuation. The port has increased in efficiency and capacity but the port access roads have deteriorated progressively since they were built,” Fischer said. He said while the Federal Government is working to address the situation especially as it affects Wharf Road, which is the major road leading into the Apapa Port, and has also flagged off repair of the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, there is need for some immediate short-term measures to address the plight of commuters and ensure free flow of traffic.

The short-term measures that government can take to address the gridlock, he said, include fixing alternative roads, such as the Leventis road, “which many now rely on to exit the port city”.Also speaking on the gridlock, the General Manager of PTML Terminal, Tin Can Island Port Complex, Tunde Keshinro, said: “As Nigerians, we all know that for our ports to attain the desired efficiency, the roads need to be at that great and functional level, which unfortunately is not so.”

Equally, narrating the traumatic experiences from the lingering Lagos ports access roads gridlock, Chief Remi Ogungbemi, of Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO) said: “We are hereby using this platform to beg the federal and Lagos State governments to urgently look into our plight, which has resulted in the following: untimely deaths of truck drivers while on the queues of parked haulage vehicles; and inability of the drivers on those parked trucks queues to bathe, eat, sleep and rest adequately.

“Others are: exposure of the truck drivers on the queues are to regular harassment by street urchins, commonly known as area boys; truckers on the queues are being subjected to wanton extortion by countless security agencies at alarming rates ranging between N80,000.00 – N120,000.00 on each truck, depending on the particular operator’s power of negotiation”.

Alhaji Wasiu Oloruntoyin of the Container Truck Owners Association of Nigeria (COTOAN), said the trucks on the queues are also routinely exposed to vandals who constantly damage the vehicles and steal various critical parts, which replacements further drain the lean purses of the operators; and the drivers on the queues are subjected to serial brutalisation and dehumanisation by security operatives.

In the season of Christmas, he said the Containerised Truck Owners are angry and distressed over their lot, going by past records of increased delivery of imports and congestion at Nigerian ports in anticipation of huge sales at Yuletide.

According to him, apart from the seasonal spike in imports, Nigeria also contends with increased security challenges caused by marauding criminal elements as well as high incidents of extortion by rampaging unscrupulous security operatives along the ports access roads.He stated: “Ideally, the Christmas season spells good tidings and joy, but, in the current poor conditions our members are contending with on Lagos ports access roads, the Yuletide can only spell sorrow, tears and blood for us, except the federal and Lagos State governments hearken to our cries and save our lives and means of livelihood.”

Oloruntoyin appealed to the concerned authorities to do the needful by introducing an automated system to regulate movement of trucks in and out of the ports.The proposed automated system, he said would effectively help keep the ports access roads clear by ensuring that all the trucks would not be heading for the ports at the same time.He urged the shipping companies to provide adequate functional holding bays for receiving their empty containers being returned by trucks, adding that no matter the capacities of the existing or future container holding bays, the facilities will always contend with under-utilisation because conveyance of the boxes still rested so much on overcoming the traffic gridlock.

“We are also appealing to the Lagos State Government for the expansion of the Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu (ABAT) Trailer Park at Orile Iganmu that was faithfully started this year. If completed, it will reduce the volume of trucks going to the ports for business purposes. “We passionately appeal to the Lagos State Government to call back to site the contractor handling the expansion of the ABAT Trailer Park at White Sand, Orile, because the contractor has evacuated all his equipment from the site,” Oloruntoyi stated.

Worried by the situation, the Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Ms Hadiza Bala-Usman, called on terminal operators, shipping companies and allied stakeholders to eradicate the present congestion at the nation’s seaports.Bala Usman said port congestion should be of concern to all stakeholders and therefore, they should look into the issue of evacuation of empty containers and increase in free days of storage.

“Port operators should look into wavering of demurrage for a definite period of time and creating a window of some period to accommodate the concerns of importers,’’ she said.The managing director said the directive was in compliance with another one from the Vice President and Chairman, Ease of Doing Business Council, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, on the need to find lasting solution to the issue of port congestion. She said that the NPA would do everything possible to facilitate ease of trade in the maritime sector.

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