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Over 500,000 expired containers litter Nigeria, pose environmental risks

By Adaku Onyenucheya
12 September 2022   |   3:59 am
The absence of effective regulations (especially at Nigeria’s seaports), high disincentives, and poor road networks, among other factors, are aiding the littering of Nigerian roads...

A stack of containers at Apapa port, Lagos. PHOTO: ADAKU ONYENUCHEYA

Lack of effective regulations at seaports compounds challenges 
• Nigeria remains a dumping ground, stakeholders lament 

The absence of effective regulations (especially at Nigeria’s seaports), high disincentives, and poor road networks, among other factors, are aiding the littering of Nigerian roads and streets with expired and damaged containers.

The Guardian gathered that an estimated 500,000 such containers are said to have been abandoned or are being used for sundry businesses across the country.
On many occasions, importers and freight agents have accused shipping lines operating in the country of using container deposits to rip off importers and turn Nigeria into a dumping ground for expired containers.
Already, stakeholders said over 70 per cent of the 1.5 million Twenty Equivalent Units (TEUs), valued at $6 billion in Nigeria, are expired containers used by shipping lines to transport cargoes into the country’s seaports.

Although some old containers have been converted into offices, shops and houses, among others, environmentalists say this poses danger for the country if the menace is not properly tackled.

This practice of dumping expired containers, according to stakeholders, is only peculiar to Nigeria, as there are no policies or regulations to monitor the activities of the shipping line, despite international best practices on container quality.
Checks showed that the 1972 Container Safety Convention (CSC), an instrument of the United Nations (UN) and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), outlines the regulation for testing, inspections, approval and maintenance of shipping containers, as well as the structural safety requirements and tests.
According to the IMO regulation, a container has to be thoroughly inspected by a competent professional and is considered safe for use for a given period by the inspector before a CSC plate is attached to it, which certifies the container for shipping services.
For emphasis, the CSC plate is fixed onto a container by the factory, which has had its container design thoroughly tested to meet all international standards. It is then the responsibility of the container owner (shipping line) to ensure the containers are periodically examined and kept up to standard.
This is even as some stakeholders further alleged that the foreign shipping lines found it convenient to concentrate the expired containers to Nigeria since they are not allowed to ply expired ones in their home countries and other developed nations, whose governments have efficient control systems against unacceptable standards.
Information at the disposal of The Guardian showed that some of the containers were 12 years out of use due to a lack of standard regulation on container types shipped into the country.
The General Secretary, Association of Bonded Terminal Operators of Nigeria, Haruna Omolajomo, said it is no longer news that most shipping companies in Nigeria have a high rate of expired containers that they shipped into the country.
He said: “These expired containers are scattered throughout the country and not in one place for one to be able to take the accurate stock of such containers. One certain thing is that the littered containers are noticeable anywhere you go in the country. It is now a nuisance sight.
“This is very painful as our government, through the maritime agencies, is not taking the bull by the horn to address these challenges. This is unacceptable,” he lamented.
Omolajomo said the government and its agencies’ lack of regulation and monitoring is responsible for Nigeria being used as a dumping ground not only for these expired containers but also scrap, toxic wastes or chemicals, among others. 
“It is a known fact that most often than not, vessels would carry containers into the country and leave empty without carrying the corresponding empty containers out of the country.
“What mostly accounted for this is the fact that these shipping companies believe it is cheaper, as it cost nothing for them to bring these expired containers into our country and dump them than keep them in their countries or destroy them there. Then, it would cost them huge money.

“Also, there is no place to keep the containers in their countries as there is a conscious policy in some of those countries that must be complied with, otherwise, they would be penalised. This is not so in Nigeria,” he said.
According to Omolajomo, the implications of this on the environment and the nation’s economy are enormous as it makes the environment to be hazardous and unhealthy to live in.
He said it is also causing the country to lose economically, as places, which should be used for healthy and good container warehouses are used to store these expired ones that add no value to the nation’s economy.
The Association of Bonded Terminal Operators of Nigeria official said it also makes other serious countries see Nigeria as noncompliant with maritime regulations.

The acting National President, Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Dr. Kayode Farinto, observed that containers go for quality control tests every four years to check their durability at sea, adding that those containers that fail the tests are not allowed to be used for the conveyance of goods.
He said, unfortunately, these containers that fail the tests are what shipping lines bring into Nigeria and abandon in the country.
“These are containers that need to be demolished or sold for private use. There is a particular duration you can use them for and they will never pass quality control. Containers are expected to go for a quality control test every four years abroad to see if they will still conform or have issues.
“If it does not pass, the system will inform you if it is something redeemable or what can be done on the container. If it is beyond that, the system will tell you outright that the container cannot be used to transport goods. 
“Unfortunately, most of the abandoned containers here in Nigeria are the ones that did not pass this test at all and that is why these shipping lines are flooding our country with them,” he said.
On the abandoned containers constituting a nuisance, the President of the Committee of Maritime Truck Union and Association (COMTUA), Adeyinka Aroyewun, said these expired containers are stacked in both authorised and unauthorised places without efforts of removing them by the shipping lines.
“The containers that are brought into the country are in a recovery state. We have old containers in various holding bays and even on trucks littering around. These shipping lines find it convenient to keep them here because they are making money from container demurrage recovery and collecting damage on containers already damaged.
“Before you return the containers to the port, the shipping lines will identify that there are scratches and rusts and that the containers are broken. They generate money from the containers they keep here willingly and the truth about it is that these containers cannot serve the purpose of import or export again.
“It is not out of place to say they use Nigeria as a dumping ground because they leave the containers here without removing them,” he said.
The National Coordinator Port Consultative Committee (PCC), Vincent Ajanowu, said containers have a lifespan of about 15 to 20 years, adding that the cost of keeping the expired ones in Nigeria is cheaper than moving them to their country of destination. 
Ajanowu, who is also the Chairman Western Zone Association of Registered Freight Forwarders of Nigeria (AREFFN), said these containers have become a menace to the port industry.
“The cost of carrying these containers back is expensive, a ship captain will not want to spend more than three days because he knows that vessels are on time charter. It can take a vessel up to one week to fully load the empty containers and that is the cost on the part of the charterer, after three days they will prefer to leave,” he said.
However, environmental experts have said the expired containers littered around the country pose a negative impact on the environment, especially as they are abandoned and not properly maintained.
Former Professor of Chemistry at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Prof. Babajide Alo, lamented the environmental impact of expired containers. 

He said, while these containers are built of metals, constant rainfall on them would cause toxic metals to leak out, which contaminates the soil and water. 
An environmental activist, Desmond Majekodunmi, said people using these containers for shelter is a form of recycling as they maintain it, rather than just dumping them and having them deteriorate within the dump site.

Majekodumi said the challenge is the disposal of the containers after use due to their negative environmental impact.
“The challenge is what happens when you are finally finished with the containers, will they be disposed of properly? Remember they are made of metals and when they get rusty, it can give a lot of toxic elements and this is where there is a challenge because it can add to the pollution that entered the groundwater, which is already badly polluted by a lot of other elements such as discharging of oil in the mechanic sites and different kinds of pollutants that comes from chemicals that are just thrown away.
“Majority of us consume groundwater in form of drinking water. If the containers are not responsibly disposed off, it could hurt the environment, but if it is used responsibly, the impact won’t be as bad as one would have thought, because you are providing a service and it is part of the sustainability programme that we encourage,” he said.

COMPOUNDING this challenge, stakeholders have said there is no law to checkmate the illegal functions of shipping lines in the country. They allege that agencies saddled with regulations to checkmate activities into the country are sleeping idle.

To Omolajomo, lax local regulation shows the inefficiency of government agencies in effectively handling the basic minimum safety operations procedure.
“The maritime government agencies should live up to their expectation and do their primary assignments of safety control measures. They must not over-pamper these shipping companies. They should ensure that the right things are done by giving them close monitoring.
According to him, the government should also enforce or ensure appropriate and uncompromising laws to deal with anyone who violates the law irrespective of who the person is. 
Omolajomo added that all the shipping companies should be given a maximum date to remove these containers from Nigeria, noting that shipping companies that fail to do should be penalised heavily or sent packing from Nigeria.
On his part, Farinto submitted that Nigeria lacks quality control tests for these containers, which he said is the duty of Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) to ensure shipping lines bring durable containers into the country, especially when using expired containers to bring in edible goods.
Far into said although these containers are painted to make them look new, painting them could be dangerous and bring other reactions such as corrosiveness.
He also stressed the need for the National Assembly to pass laws that would ensure Nigeria is not a dumping ground for expired containers.