Border closure may worsen ports’ congestion
• Fear Grip Importers Over Imminent Delay Of Cargoes
• More Vehicles Imported Through Seaports
Barely five days after the complete closure of Nigerian borders, there are palpable fears that the increasing volume of cargo to the seaports may worsen the congestion phenomenon.
Already, port operators have confirmed increased patronage, but there are rising concerns that the prevailing challenges at the seaports may hamper swift cargo clearance and evacuation.
The Guardian investigations revealed that many of the terminals in Lagos ports are currently experiencing congestion, with about 80 percent of the freight belonging to government agencies. The situation may worsen, as more ships are expected to berth in the coming weeks.
President, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Increase Uche, told to The Guardian, yesterday, that with the border closure, adequate plans must be made for an efficient port system to avoid the looming congestion.
He said: “The unfortunate aspect of the closure is that importers that earlier planned for their goods to arrive neighbouring ports will now have to re-route them to Nigerian ports, prompting the question of our capability to cope with the increased volume, considering the congestion already witnessed in the ports.
“There are strong indications that the massive routing of cargoes will compound the congestion in the ports. So, in the next one month or thereabouts, the congestion in the ports will increase and that is a very bad omen,” he said.
Uche said the government needs to do something fast, stressing that, “now that borders are closed, the seaports, which are also entry points, should be made efficient. They should ensure that businesses in the ports are not hindered in any way.
“We need to know that there were reasons why people diverted their cargoes to ports in neighbouring countries, which simply has to do with the unfriendliness of our ports and the high-handedness of government officials, terminal operators, and shipping companies,” he said.
Uche added that the high local shipping charges and inefficiency at the ports compounded issues that made the nation witness low patronage over time.
“As it is now, the government should look into those problems and find a lasting solution,” he said.
He, however, confirmed that the policy on motor vehicle import has revived the ailing RoRo terminals in the ports.
“One thing that the government has done that is worth commendation is the restriction of cars from passing through land borders. Now, we have more cars coming through the seaports. That policy has helped us to revive our RoRo ports, which were about dying. They have started witnessing increased patronage,” he said.
General Manager of PTML Terminal, Tunde Keshinro, recently confirmed that vehicular imports at the port have gone up by an average of 25 percent since August when the borders were partially closed.
He said, “Import statistics have recorded steady growth since the beginning of the year, and it has been a positive trend until date at PTML Terminal. This has also reflected in the Customs Command’s revenue profile.”
President, Shippers’ Association, Lagos State, Jonathan Nichol, said although the NPA has denied that the ports were congested, the rising cargo volume would surely trigger congestion if urgent measures were not taken.
Nichol, who told The Guardian that more vehicles were coming in through Apapa and Tin Can port, emphasised the need to improve ports’ infrastructure, particularly access roads and the cargo scanners.
He said: “The performance of 100 per cent physical examination in our ports is old fashioned. In most countries, those goods are scanned before they leave their port of origin. So, why can’t they bring the documents to Customs for verification? Besides, why can’t we fix our own scanners here to fast-track the process?
“Another key issue is the poor access roads to evacuate these cargoes. Unfortunately, even with the bad roads, some Customs’ officials still waylay those transporting these goods about 15 kilometres away from the ports complex and claim that what was done inside the ports was wrong. They will then begin to cross-check the cargoes afresh, and thereafter conclude that duties were not duly paid. How many times are we supposed to pay duty on one consignment? This is very discouraging and must stop because it is not done anywhere else. We are working for the economy to grow, so the Customs should stop treating us as enemies,” he said.
Nichol continued: “It’s not too good for us to shut our borders against our neighbouring countries. Borders points should only be shut over major security issues, not because of the importation of rice, or other food items. The rice that is being imported is being consumed by Nigerians because some are of the opinion that most locally produced rice is of low quality,” he said.