By Steve Agbota [email protected]
The wearisome gridlock on the Tin Can Island and Apapa ports link roads in Lagos, two of the nation’s premier seaports, appears to be getting worse everyday.
The persistent gridlock that has been unswallowable bone in the throat of port users continues to defile every basic solutions throw at it, from Navy era to Presidential taskforce headed by Vice President, Yemi Osibanjo, then, Lagos State Taskforce and the recent electronic call-up system introduced by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), which has practically collapsed. The gridlock, with its vice-like grip, has caged all the effortss due to corruption.
It was so outlandish that at a point several businesses were forced to relocate their offices from Apapa to other areas of the state over the gridlock, which crippled economic activities at the port. Anyone who takes a visit to the popular ‘Elenganza’ building will be surprised how the ever-busy building becomes a shadow of itself while so many buildings are still empty and covered with bush.
The gridlock, which defiled all basic solutions, has also cost the economy about N18 trillion annually, according to economists and concerned stakeholders. The perennial gridlock has taken a huge toll on businesses along the two nation’s seaports as terminal operators, manufactures and importers lost several man-hours and investments.
Apart from poor access roads, the Nigerian ports also suffered obsolete infrastructure, which include trailer parks, holding bays, rail system, quay, buildings, equipment, and yard and remained heavily congested leading to insecurity and pilferage, delays in cargo clearance and inefficiencies in cargo handling largely due to manual processes.
Conversely, importers and manufacturers are currently groaning under the burden of extreme congestion at the ports, as millions of cargoes are trapped with no immediate hope of evacuation, a development that has thrown port operators at ports into confusion.
Presently, hundreds of containers are stuck in the terminals, while vessels are unreasonably delayed on the waters due to limited stacking space. The situation contributes significantly to Nigeria’s galloping inflation, as consumers now have to pay more for goods.
Awkwardly, efforts by the Federal Government to guarantee free movement of cargoes in and out of the seaports through the already collapsed system hindered by corruption and exploitation, which has continued to undermine the nation’s seaborne trade, crash revenue, and throw many industrialists out of business.
However, the situation has continued to threaten importers and exporters’ businesses with no relief in sight. Meanwhile, demurrage is accumulating and the cost of haulage is also skyrocketing rapidly.
The haulage cost from Tin Can to any other part of Lagos has risen by more than 1, 000 per cent due to the traffic and extortions from the security officers who were posted to restore normalcy at the port access roads.
Daily Sun learnt that the development led to a sharp rise in the cost of doing business at the nation’s two seaports, even as the cost of shipping containers into Nigeria has risen by 600 per cent. In the first half of lastyear, it cost $1, 000 to ship a 20-feet container to Nigeria from the Far East. Today, the cost for the same service is between $5, 500 and $6, 000.
The former member Presidential Taskforce on the Reform of Nigeria Customs Service; Presidential Committee on Destination Inspection and Ministerial Committee on Fiscal Policy and Import Clearance Procedure, Lucky Eyis Amiwero, said the government is not serious about finding lasting solutions to the gridlock, adding that people are making money out of the gridlock and nobody is doing anything about it.
He said if government is serious, there is need to engage experts to find lasting solutions to the problem, and not politicians, adding that when the government is serious, they will constitute a very serious committee who are professionals and understands how to solve problems.
According to him, Apapa gridlock came in as a result of port concession, which was not properly done. He hinted that a lot of things are not put into cognizance, as there are areas that are supposed to be left for trailer parks, holding bays, which never happened.
“And the trailer parks and the holding bays issues have been on for a very long time. Clearing agents and importers are under maladministration. There should be issues that created that gridlock and that issues must be addressed.
“If the issues are not addressed, probably, we will continue to scramble. Then we must understand that very soon, our country will be exposed to African Continental Free Trade Agreement. What we have seen so far is that the gridlock is not properly managed,” he added.
He said NPA must not be the one to manage the gridlock, there must be professional port procedural experts who will come and look at the most of the administrations in the port operations and proffer solutions on how to address it.
“You cannot continue to bring in a civil servant who wants to make money from it.
What Federal Government needs to do it to bring in experts that will address the issue of the gridlock. The issues of the gridlock are man made errors and there must be a special committee to resolve it.
“Only professionals can solve the Apapa gridlock not NPA workers, politicians, not even Customs. There is need to call people who will be able to address those issues because the gridlock came in as a result of wronghandling of port concession by the Federal Government,” he lamented.
Meanwhile, the President of Shippers Association of Lagos State (SALS), Rev. Jonathan Nicol, said: “Apapa Port is a platform for so many people that have interest to do business. I think that with later report, we have left the billions into trillions now as losses because as at the time we got that report, it wasn’t as bad as it is now. It will take you three hours from stadium to Apapa and not just three hours to access and exist the port.
“How many working hours do we have in a day? And sometimes, because of gridlock, the traffic from Apapa takes you all through to Ikeja, as soon as you get there, you are completely weak and down that is the human factors there,” he said.
He lamented that people are dying, developing high blood pressure, adding that Apapa area is not even good for human interactions anymore because the flair of doing business is totally collapsed.
He said the assessment of the N18 trillion loss is right because the transport alone is even more than the trillion, saying that shippers are paying whether they like it or not and at the end of the day, it would be too difficult for them to sell their goods.
“But these same goods you have been importing, you will still find them in other markets at a cheaper rate compared to Apapa rate that we take so much to clear. So what is the point? A lot of people are leaving the business now apart from the fact that they are moving into other side.
“People now feel that to bring in a container, it takes much apart from the gridlock alone. The freight of bringing in a container has gone up. Then, shipping lines will also announce that they are increasing charges. By the time you get your bill of laden, you find a different price, unapproved price from the government.
“What we are now seeing is unexpected increment, terminal charges, freight charges; fork charges and we don’t have control over it. So we don’t know whether government is happy about it. We don’t feel the presence of government at the port; apart from Nigerian Shippers Council who come out once in a while and say no you cannot increase charges, you can’t do this and that. When they go (Shippers Council), they do it secretly, and then shippers will cry.
So we need legislature to control over these anomalies. If they can do it in Ghana, I don’t see the reason why they cant do it in Nigeria,” he said.