Terminal operators blame challenges on policy summersault
MEMBERS of Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN) have identified policy summersault as a major challenge confronting port operations in the country.
In a statement issued in Lagos, chairman of STOAN, Princess Vicky Haastrup explained that terminal operators need an enabling environment to operate.
Hastrup said: “Don’t forget that terminal operators have invested so much money to develop Nigerian ports. We all know what Nigerian ports used to be like before the concession. People who are regular port users know that we have made improvements”.
Explaining further, Haastrup said attention “must be paid to the issue of policy somersault, changing things suddenly without any notice. Policies are changed in the industry without giving enough time to the private operators to adjust.
“Unfortunately, this is one industry that has not been given due attention by past governments. This industry can create employment; generate revenue for the government and wealth for its citizens.
“Look at the access roads leading to the ports. It is a nightmare coming to Apapa. If you come to Apapa without facing any traffic congestion, it would be an exception rather than the norm. One can spend three to four hours on the bridge because of bad road.
“On a daily basis, you have containers falling on people along this axis. We need an enabling environment that would allow port operators come in with ease instead of the nightmare we are presently experiencing.
“Every port user coming to the Lagos ports is suffering. There are only two routes; one from Ojuelegba and the other from Apapa/Oshodi and both roads are completely bad. I find this very strange considering the volume of cargo coming through the Lagos ports.
“Then, there is the concentration of other activities in Apapa like the tank farms, which are not supposed to be in the port environment. The tank farms we are surrounded with at Apapa and Tin Can Island are almost 60. This is too much.
“The industry has performed quite well except that a lot of government policies are having adverse effects on the cargo throughput. You can see from the pilotage that fewer vessels are coming to Nigeria. There has been a reduction in the volume of cargo coming here particularly in the last few months.
“Some of these policies like the one from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) on foreign exchange which restricts access to the official foreign exchange market by importers of some 41 items and the ban on the importation of certain goods have not helped matters. A lot of us are operating at 30 per cent to 40 per cent of our usual capacity.
“We are in a situation where we are gaining something to lose something but at the end of the day, it is going to impact negatively on our economy. We hope that the situation will be short-lived because right now, importers have challenges getting forex to order for goods.
“We used to be very busy but since these policy inconsistencies set in, what we have is an occasional vessel here and there and for some terminals, they would not even have any vessel berthing there at all. That is a big challenge for terminal operators because we have a lot of responsibilities in terms of developing the ports, paying salaries and running the terminals. So, whether you have ships coming or not, we are still obliged to run the port with the same amount of money.
“Most of the policies put in place by the past government only serves to promote smuggling and diversion of goods to the ports of neighbouring countries. Apart from the CBN forex restriction, the rice policy and auto policy are culprits.”