The recent report credited to the Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority (a), Hadiza Bala Usman, that plans are underway to float an electronic call-up system to clear the gridlock and decongest Lagos ports, is cheering. It is also interesting that the NPA is working with Lagos State government to create truck parks in designated areas to tackle protracted traffic on access roads to the ports.
According to reports, the initiative which will be financed by a private company, Trucks Transit Parks Limited, under the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement with NPA, will cost not less than N7bilion. It is expected that the electronic call-up system will save the nation about N140 billion weekly economic losses as well as $10 billion annual loss of agro products.
Hitherto, operations at the ports have been on manual call-up system for freight trucks and cargo trailers. We recall that some manufacturers had decried the perennial congestion at Lagos ports. In December last year, not less than 500,000 containers laden with raw materials belonging to manufacturing companies and traders were reportedly trapped at the Lagos ports. In spite of all measures put in place to decongest the Lagos ports, the situation has not shown remarkable improvement.
The deplorable situation has led to sharp rise in the cost of haulage from the ports to other parts of Lagos. For instance, it costs N1.8 million to move a container from Tin Can Island Port to the mainland instead of N1.2 million. This is even more than the cost of shipping a container from China to Nigeria. Also, the extortion by security agents and “area boys” must have added to the escalating cost of container haulage across the state. This can possibly explain why some Nigerians route their containers through ports Togo, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon and Congo Brazzaville.
While welcoming the electronic call-up system that will commence soon to decongest the ports, we do not believe that it is one cure-all solution for the ills bedeviling the ports over the years. We charge officials that will manage the automated call-up system to be above board and eschew corruption in all its ramifications. However, we urge the NPA boss to ensure that the system is transparent, efficient, consistent and free from corruption.
Beyond the electronic call-up system, there is urgent need to repair all access roads to the ports and rid them of trucks and other articulated vehicles. We say this because it has become a herculean task to commute from Mile 2 to Apapa and other parts of Lagos due to the menace of container trucks and fuel tankers. Apart from loss of man-hours, the congestion at Lagos ports has invariably led to high cost of doing business in the ports. It has contributed to loss of huge revenue to the government.
With the congestion, only a few containers will exit the ports on a daily basis. To fully decongest the Lagos ports, the NPA should muster the political will to assign some ships to the Eastern ports which are not optimally utilised at present. The over-concentration of all shipping activities at Lagos ports has contributed immensely to the congestion of the ports in Lagos.
The unbridled movements of articulated vehicles from all parts of the country to Lagos ports have led to the dilapidation of the nation’s highways and major roads in Lagos State. We believe that it is time to use other modes of transportation, such as the railways or waterways, to move container from the ports to other parts of the country. Fortunately, we have many river ports that are now lying idle due to lack of activities. Using the waterways to move containers will make the river ports at Onitsha, Oguta and Baro very active.
While awaiting the commencement of the electronic call-up system at the ports, it has become necessary for the shipping companies to have depots for empty containers outside the ports. Operators of trucks and fuel tankers should have large loading bays in designated parts of Lagos and Ogun states as part of measures to decongest Lagos ports. The NPA must expand the Lagos and Eastern ports and even build new ones that will service some of the landlocked West African countries. If these measures are fully implemented, the nation’s sea ports can be a major revenue earner.