By Zika Bobby
Ismail Yusuf, managing director of Inland Containers Nigeria Limited (ICNL), said that his company, as reserved bidder, can efficiently run the Onitsha River Port.
In this interview, he also talked about the scale of preference between his company’s plan to either invest in the Onitsha River Port or move on to have a terminal in Oba, Anambra State.
Give us an overview of the effects of the recent introduction of electronic call-up of trucks on your business, particularly out of Lagos operations in Kaduna, Kano and other places?
This should have been done a long time ago. As you can see now, when you are coming into Apapa in the morning the roads are free and the smaller cars are easily having access to the port.
If they make the call up system operational permanently, it is going to help businesses grow. Sincerely, I have not felt any direct impact on my business because, I have gotten in touch with some of my logistics persons and they said they are still at the garages where they were asked to park and fill forms and tickets to be used at the NPA gate for the call up system.
So, it may work. I am not saying it will not work, but I think the monitoring of the operators is also very important, so that they can do it appropriately, and at the right time as the government want it done, in order for it to be a success and for us not to go back to the old order of things. I believe that it will work and bring sanity to the port.
Still on the E-Call Up System, we are hearing that operators outside Lagos will also enjoy the system. Some terminals outside of Lagos like the Kaduna dry port for export. How are you prepared to take advantage of it?
The area where we will take advantage of is in the policy of the E-Call Up system itself, because there is no difference between the people that are in and outside of Lagos. It is the same registered haulers in Lagos that still move cargoes outside it.
So when they are bringing in their goods, they come to the appointed garages to do their call up. There is really no difference, whether you are far or close.
With a lot of businesses were adversely affected last year by the virus outbreak, what are you doing about post-COVID-19 recovery?
Has there really been a recovery from COVID-19? Some may say yes, but as far as I am concerned, what we are being told is that the virus is still very much out there and the solution is on its way – which is the vaccine.
The Federal Government has arranged to bring it into the country so that people can use and get protected.
Talking about the effects it has had on our businesses, everybody knows that people lost a lot of money running into billions of naira in this country. Many companies closed down, some reduced their staff strength, some slashed salaries, etc.
While some benefitted a lot from it, many others made huge losses. For example the telecommunication companies raked in a lot from people buying data and doing online meetings, among other things.
Those who were on essential services also benefitted from it, most especially those in the maritime sector. They were allowed to come into the port to bring in their goods and dispose, so that people will not starve to death.
One man’s food, they say, is another man’s poison, and that is life for you.
Moving cargo 100% by road where rail should have been a cheaper option has been something that affects your company. For Kano and Kaduna, can you tell us comparatively in Naira and Kobo, what you suffer, what you should have saved if the rail system was working, and what you are paying presently?
If the rail were to be working, I would save 50% of the cost I spend on transportation for every cargo. If for instance you are saving N700, 000 now from moving a container, multiply it by 1,000 containers a month, it runs into millions. And that is just from my own end alone. If other people in the same situation also benefit from the same arrangement, billions of naira will be saved if the rail works.
It is my prayer that this is done on time, since the Nigerian Railway Corporation has told us that we will start moving cargo very soon to the far North. We are waiting. As soon as they say bring your TDO, we will give them to move cargoes to the North.
How many containers do you move by road in a month on the average? Is it up to a thousand? Yes, we move up to a thousand containers monthly
So you are losing 50% on transportation on just a container?
Yes. If you multiply N700, 000 by 30 (days) by 12 (months), you get N252, 000, 000.
What is the state of your Kano operation? We have a fair glance of what happens in Kaduna, but we hardly hear about Kano. Is the Kano operation flourishing for maritime trade? Are there exports coming from Kano? Are imports going into what used to be Nigeria’s commercial city of the North compared to what it was before?
Sincerely, I think Kano is the hub of commercial activities in the North, while Kaduna is the administrative city of Northern Nigeria. So you cannot compare the two.
If you go to Kano today, you will see thousands of trailers moving goods to the South, especially to the port for export purposes.
You have those who move grains, nuts, hides and skin and other raw materials from Kano. Any time you are in Kano, try to visit Dawanu International market, you will see a lot of activities going on there.
What about Anambra State? You gave a hint about wanting to have a terminal there to extend maritime activities to the Eastern part of Nigeria, in addition to eyeing the Onitsha River Port. What is the state of things there?
Actually, as a businessman, you must be very cautious of your investment. As far as we are ready to have our business in the East and we have bided for the Onitsha River Port. We are the reserved bidder, and we are waiting for the government to make their decision, as it is now long overdue.
If the initial winner of the bid does not meet up with other requirements to enable it start operation, then it should be given to the reserved bidder and we will come up with our own financial plan.
We are already on the ground and know how to do this business. We can operate from anywhere in Nigeria. It is either we move containers from Onne or Lagos ports to the same place, pending the time the River Port will be ready for operation.
We can start doing that by moving containers their on bond and then when the port is well dredged, ships can come in; then transform to a bigger port where ships can come and discharge.
You mean you have the capacity to run the Onitsha River Port to make it viable?
We are one hundred percent capable. You also asked about the situation at Oba and I mentioned earlier that a businessman must invest wisely. If we are actually bidding for Onitsha and we still have plans to be in Oba, it is very wise for us to come to the end of the bid we made in Onitsha, before we think about what to invest in Oba.
We cannot do both at the same time because they are very close to each other. So if we do one, and want to do the other, that means you want to invest in a way that you will not be able to recoup your investment on time, or it will just be there without any activities.
So one will have to drop for the other?
Definitely, if we get Onitsha, we will not operate Oba.