With its long coastline, unique location, large oil and gas deposit, large and growing population, among others, Nigeria is well-positioned to transform its ports into attractive destinations and maritime hub, not only for regional trade, but also worldwide.
The maritime sector provides vast window of business opportunities in several maritime-related activities that offers commensurate returns on investments to potential investors.
Unfortunately, government has not given much attention to Nigerian ports especially the ports in Lagos that garner the revenue the government is using to take care of many things.
The ports in Lagos are said to account for almost 90 per cent of government’s revenue in the whole country. But the numerous challenges ranging from bottlenecks in the nation’s ports system that include bad roads network, cumbersome transit procedures, inefficient logistics systems and poor infrastructure substantially increase the cost of doing business.
Thus, this situation has cost Nigeria so much adrift in terms of revenue as cargoes meant for the country are now being diverted to ports of neigbouring countries. In 2018, Nigeria’s ports dropped down the global ratings, basically owing to bad infrastructures.
Its major competitors in the West African region; the Port of Lome, Togo, Port of Dakar, Senegal, Port of Cotonou, Benin, all deliver better and more efficient services than Nigerian ports and take Nigeria’s weakness as their strength. Now, there is an inter-port competition along the West African coastline, as well as an increase in private investments in those ports.
Ironically, port of Lomé, Togo presently hosts West Africa’s leading container port, taking away the position from Lagos ports in the last quarter of 2018. Presently, the size of ships that can come in at Lome, Togo are more than double the size of the vessels that are currently passing out in Nigeria.Investigations by Daily Sun revealed that the port of Lomé in Togo has rapidly expanded from 311,500 Twenty-Foot Equivalent (TEU) containers in 2013 to 1,193,800 TEU in 2017. The surge was as result of the commissioning of the Lomé Container terminal (LCT), which handles containers shipped through the port of Lomé. LCT actually handles nearly 890,000 TEU yearly, which is about 75 per cent of containers that transit via the Port of Lomé.
Aside the LCT’s commissioning, Lomé benefited tremendously from the congestion hampering activities at the Lagos ports. Apart from the congestion at Lagos ports, low quality services also caused Lagos to lose its position as a leading port in the region. Indeed, the flaws cost Lagos port close to 30 per cent of its container traffic over five years, bringing it to 1,050,000 TEU at the end of 2017.
With a depth of 16.60 meters, the Port of Lomé is the only deep-water port on the West African coast that can accommodate modern ships while Lagos port is between 12 and 13 meters draft.
However, since 2016, Nigeria has been experiencing downward trend in traffic at Nigerian seaport. Presently, Nigerian seaports are no longer transit corridors for goods heading for landlocked countries in West Africa. Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Cote D’Ivoire provide a better route for moving goods to land-locked countries like Mali, Burkina, Niger, and Chad than Nigeria, because of overall cost.
However, maritime experts said there is need for dredging of the Nigerian channels as the shipping world has shifted attention to economies of scale, thereby focusing on building bigger vessels. This will eventually need dredging of channels, spiraling quays and introducing larger cranes for efficient delivery of cargoes. Therefore, Nigeria must not be left out of these developments because having deeper channels will place it in a position of becoming an international standard maritime destination, such that huge vessels like the Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCC), and the Ultra Large Crude Carriers (ULCC), will have the opportunity to sail smoothly through the nation’s channels.
Speaking with Daily Sun, the National President of National Council of Managing Directors of Customs Licensed Agents (NCMDCLA), Lucky Amiwero, said Nigeria, is now becoming a centre that is not attractive when it comes to transshipment-preferred port of first generation as the nation is being far behind.According to him, Nigeria has so many ports that cannot accommodate mega vessels, adding that for the past few years, the country has been going backward instead of going forward, which is a terrible situation.
He said Ghana for instance, in the next two months, will be accommodating one of the biggest ships because their drafts will be moving to about 19 metres while Cotonou draft is almost 16 metres, Cameroun is almost 16 metres, Togo is almost 16 metres and they are increasing while Nigeria draft is between 12 and 13 metres.He added: “With this Draft, Nigeria cannot accommodate bigger vessels. I have been saying it and I have written it to government but they are not interested. I think they are interested in politics and governance. In the last few years, we have lost our transit cargo to Ghana. Our transshipment is between Chad, Niger that is our domestic cargo. We are sharing it with them and Cameroun while the hub station is in Togo. Togo is higher than Nigeria in terms of throughput of containers.
“And we experts are not there, we play politics and at end of the day all these things moves up because our phase component now is going to places like Togo, Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana, Cameroon and some other areas. The ships that meant for Nigeria are being diverted to these countries and our ports are not attractive because of our procedure. Our procedure is so archaic. We have not been able to comply with most of the rules.”
He lamented: “We have hiccups here and there and too many documentary checks. We have many other areas where we have duplication of checks. These checks are actually creating a lot of problems here with the customs. So you find out that we are having a port that is not predictable, not consistent, and not transparent and it does not conform to the international reality in terms of application. It is a port that is written ambiguity, lengthy and cumbersome procedures.“We need to address them by reforming the system. If we don’t reform the system and bring in experts, in the next few years we will be losing out and Nigeria will be in a sorry state because other countries around us are building their ports for Nigerian cargoes. And it is not the situation of trying to bring one person and tell you it is APC or PDP, that is not how it is run, we just have to look for experts who will now put the port in right perspective.”