If we decongest these ports and have businessmen take delivery of their containers at these centres it will reduce the pressure/traffic at Apapa ports.
Nnamdi Obi, Chairman/CEO of Embassy Pharmaceuticals and Chemical Company Limited, has picked holes in the statement by the Minister of Transport, Chibuike Amaechi, that the solution to Apapa gridlock lies in the completion of Lagos-Ibadan-Kano rail line in 2020. The construction of speed rail, according to Obi, is desirable but insists that government must embark on immediate or short term measures to decentralise the Apapa Ports and allowing other ports in Calabar, Port Harcourt, Warri, Onitsha, to be operational. He says this will ease traffic situation in Lagos, increase ease of doing business in Nigeria as well as put more money into the coffers of government. In this interview he also speaks on other sundry issues.
Yes, and you don’t need to hazard a guess as to where we have found ourselves whether we are better off today than years back. My own business has adversely been affected. If the richest man in Nigeria and Africa, Dangote, is down by several billions as a result of high exchange rate or naira devaluation losing almost 40percent of his rating, then smaller individuals/companies are on the verge of extinction. So every person is negatively affected. The economy is not in the best mood at the moment.
I don’t agree with the Minister with due respect to him. Why must Apapa ports be the only functional ports in the country? If you have those that are doing businesses in the eastern corridor take their containers from Port Harcourt port, for instance, that will decongest Lagos traffic massively. Can’t these businesses take their containers from Calabar port? Why must they come to Lagos? Even for those of us in the pharmaceuticals, I can’t take my consignment from Tin Can port. I can only take my container from Apapa port. So this over centralisation is what is killing us as a nation. Yes, as much as rail is desirable but it has to be multiple solutions to our problems, immediate, short term, and long term to our problem. Decentralise the ports, have road, have the rail, and even the air transportation. Do you know how many hours it takes for a truck to come out from Apapa ports? It takes a minimum of one week because the roads are not good. The roads are in a deplorable state. So by the time the containers must have gone through those bad roads, at times falling off from the trucks causing additional road accidents and further traffic jam. I don’t know why we hate ourselves as human beings-simple solutions are never applied here.
But that is not supposed to be the situation if other ports have been in operation. It would have saved everybody this headache. Look at Lagos bridges which now serve as parking lot to articulated trucks and petrol tankers. Some of these bridges were built without factoring these extra loads. So no person should be surprised if any of these bridges collapses any day. It is disaster waiting to happen and nobody knows when it will happen. And it does seem if it is business as usual. Look at the hardship people are going through daily moving from point A to point B, the man hour that is lost. A staff of mine was attacked the other day on his way home after work because of long traffic congestion. So it is necessary that government sees this congestion as a very serious issue to be addressed as quickly as possible. No matter how hard you advertise ease of doing business in Nigeria, it doesn’t make any sense if it will take so long a time to get home after work or to take your container from port to your warehouse after paying the huge demurrage. Ease of doing business doesn’t lie in or doesn’t start and stop at getting your business registered within 48hrs but also in making the environment conducive for business. Do you know that because of difficulties encountered by some of the companies in accessing their raw materials some of them are closing shops? If in Lagos it will take you up to a month or two to take delivery of your goods/consignment from the port at even a very exorbitant rate, how could you be competitive in whatever thing you are producing? It is not possible. It will take an average of N1.82 Million to a container from Lagos to Southeast. Freight charges alone. Here in Lagos, it will take up to N700,000-N800,000 to move it from port to your warehouse within Lagos- that is, from Apapa port to another place in Lagos. That is what the truck drivers charge. What I am telling is empty container assuming you imported air. So imagine if you are sending the same empty container to anywhere outside Lagos. We are slowly but surely killing this economy. This economy is slowly but surely dying unless these fundamentals issues are quickly addressed.
Can government alone solve Apapa port challenges?
It is lack of political will. The other day, the Director General of the Nigeria Ports Authority said that it would cost about N60 billion to dredge some of the ports. I tell you even if you spend about N60 billion to dredge about two or three ports, for instance, what is certain is that government is going to realise more than that amount in a year. Some foreign shipping lines no longer come into Nigeria. Are you aware these empty containers that pack on the roads and bridges that people pay demurrages on them? These containers are still in transit until they get back to the shipping companies. So until they take delivery you are going to pay and at times the delay can be up to three weeks or a month to get to Apapa. Imagine a container that is heading to Apapa and it got stocked/packed at the National Stadium or Maryland and it stays there for up to one week. How many days will it take to get to Apapa?
Yes, there was even a case of someone who was to export cashew out of our port but it got spoilt within the port. You see, government could rake in revenue when certain things are addressed. Total world import of cashew runs into billions of dollars. Imagine the impact on the economy if Nigeria gets up to 20-30 percent of that.
Why must government give contract to somebody or company without capacity to perform? Government must not give contract based on political or partisan consideration but on competence. And you know in Nigeria, our contracts are highly over- valued. Look at what happened in Kenya where they did up to 400km of surface rail with about $1billion. How much did our own, Abuja intra city, cost? -Almost the same amount for a short distance. So, something is wrong with us.
The way out in this country is never jettison merit at the altar of political consideration. If you want to give contract and Mallam Adamu is the person who has the necessary competencies, give it to Mallam Adamu. If it is Mr. Okonkwo that has these competencies, give it to him. Don’t discriminate based on tribe or religion. Look, other countries are overtaking us because we are still pandering to pre-modal sentiments and still call ourselves the giant of Africa. The other day I read that Nigeria and Venezuela are the only OPEC countries still importing fuel. Again, we don’t even know the quantity of fuel we consume on a daily basis. I should think it is a calculated design by those at the corridors of power to rip off the economy.
I really don’t know probably this free monthly allocation we get from the centre makes us not to use our brain effectively/put on our thinking cap. I don’t know why you expect somebody from Calabar, Onitsha, Sokoto, Kano, to come to Lagos to pick his/her container. We are punishing ourselves and putting unnecessary stress on the roads. If we decongest these ports and have businessmen take delivery of their containers at these centres to a very large extent it will reduce the pressure/traffic at Apapa ports. Even the death tolls on our roads we reduce drastically. The chain of benefits is so enormous. If you have functional port at Calabar, for instance, it will be much easier and safer for the businessman in Calabar to get delivery or the man at Onitsha to go to Calabar or Port Harcourt to take delivery. By the way why is it that we don’t have a functional port at Onitsha?
That is a layman’s argument because we don’t have the political will to address these issues. To provide security is not rocket science. There has to be the political will. Do you know that Nigerians now go to Rwanda for holidays- Rwanda that was devastated by ethnic rivalry/cleansing few years ago?
I am in total agreement with that. I don’t want to mention the name of one governor in north central who was asked what is his state total Internally Generated Revenue (IGR)? He said he doesn’t know. I don’t blame him because he goes to Abuja ever month to collect federal allocation for his state. So once we restructure this country these governors will put on their thinking caps and look inwards. Every state in this country has enough natural resources to provide for infrastructure and human capital development needed to boost its economy.
It is to our own national interest that these ports be decongested, that we open up all the ports. Lagos ports should be functional, Calabar port should be functional, Warri port should be functional, Onitsha port should be functional, Sapele port should be functional. If we open up all these ports the issue of congestion will cease. And as more vessels come into Nigeria through these ports, the more money Federal Government makes.
Any person in Calabar, Port Harcourt, Onitsha that wants to do export, which is what the present government is preaching, it becomes an easy thing to do and the government rakes in revenue from it. Do you know how much money Kenya makes from exporting flowers? Yes, roses! Where do you think the roses you see in Nigeria especially during valentine period come from? They come from Kenya. We are supposed to be a nation in a hurry because that our status of being the biggest black nation of the world is being lost slowly as days go by. If we continue to go by this trajectory we are into now in the next ten years we will not only lose relevance but be described as the backyard of the world.
So it behoves on all of us, those in government and others, to do what is right.