By Isaac Anumihe
Over 5000 workers have lost their jobs in the Apapa area of Lagos. This followed the closure of over 50 companies including banks and entertainment outfits located in Apapa who depend on the activities from the wharf.
On Wharf Road alone, Daily Sun counted over 10 banks and two eateries that have closed their branches because of the lull in the ports.
Unity Bank which used to have four branches, has two now and Ecobank with eight branches has reduced to four. Similarly, Access Bank with seven branches also cut down to four
Eateries like Tetrazini and some ‘mamaput joints’ have been shut down, while a popular Kingstone Joe – a fast food company – that had two outlets at Warehouse Road and Wharf Rood are closed down.
Tantalizer with three outlets has been reduced to one while the only Mr Biggs eatery in Apapa on Creek Road is now out of the market.
Major hotels like Rockview, Excelsior and many others are groaning for lack of patronage as most of their rooms are empty. Chains of events that require renting their halls no longer come with faster frequency. A room rate which used to be between N25,000 and N30,000 can now be negotiated to between N8,000 and N10,000 because of the low patronage.
Other businesses that collapsed on Burma Road include, grocery shops, shipping companies, haulage outfits, freight forwarding firms, clubs and other recreational outlets. It was gathered that each of the outfits has between 20 and 50 staff while one of the biggest brothels which harbours over 200 inmates in the area has equally closed shop and the inmates relocated to other parts of Lagos where they can get ‘customers’.
The entertainment outfit, according to the president of Association of Maritime Journalists (AMJON), Mr. Ismaila Aniemu, said that the brothel served as a relaxation spot for sailors but since there is no activity in the ports, the brothel lost patronage and had to close shop.
Beside the bank and entertainment workers that lost their jobs, some ancillary businesses like the provision stores and food vendors that supply the low-end workers also ceased to be active.
The popular Eleganza complex that used to house over 1000 offices is virtually empty because the tenants have relocated or are out of business. The few tenants who are still hanging on are owing several months rentage. The complex which used to be the centre of activities is now a ghost of itself—empty, deserted dilapidated.
The popular Nnewi Building where over 800 offices were located is now empty, abandoned and lonely.
Generally speaking, property owners in Apapa are all lamenting because nobody occupies their property. Daily Sun gathered that since this year, only five ships had berthed in Apapa port, a situation that now makes maritime business unattractive and boring.
The situation is worsened by recent high foreign exchange rate which is almost N500 to a United States dollar from what used to be about N160 to a dollar in 2015.
Daily Sun gathered that the high exchange rate and the ban on 41 items by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) contributed to the low activities in the ports.
The 41 items include, rice, cement, margarine, palm kernel/palm oil products/vegetable oils, meat and processed meat products, vegetables and processed vegetable products, poultry chicken, eggs, turkey, private airplanes/jets, indian incense, tinned fish in sauce (Geisha)/sardines, cold rolled steel sheets, galvanized steel sheets, roofing sheets, wheelbarrows, headpans, metal boxes and containers, enamelware, steel drums, steel pipes, wire rods (deformed and not deformed), iron rods and reinforcing barbedwire mesh, steel nails, security and razor wine, wood particle boards and panels; wood fibre boards and panels, plywood boards and panels; wooden doors, toothpicks, glass and glassware, kitchen utensils, tableware, tiles-vitrified and ceramic textiles, woven fabrics, clothes, plastic and rubber products, polypropylene granules, cellophane wrappers, soap and cosmetics, tomatoes/tomato pastes, eurobond/foreign currency bond/ share purchases.
The CBN policy implies that, those who import these items can no longer buy foreign currency from the official window to pay the overseas suppliers. Rather, they will have to source forex from the parallel market or Bureau De Change to pay for their imports.
Most businesses in the area were heavily dependent on the state of the ports in Apapa Complex and Tin Can Island.
President General of Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria, Comrade Tony Nted Emmanuel, had announced in August that the government policy has led to more than 3000 dockworkers losing their jobs.
Investigations show that over 50 per cent of these dockworkers are from Apapa Port. The chains of food vendors and other ancillary service providers who hitherto enjoyed their patronage have been shut down.
Customs warns consumers over expired rice
As the Yuletide and the end of the year celebrations draw near, the Oyo -Osun Command of the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) has warned the consuming public in Nigeria to be vigilant when they want to purchase rice in the market because there are expired rice in the market.
The Command’s Area Controller, Comptroller Tope Ogunkua who gave the advice in Ibadan, at the weekend, said it is important to inform the public because of the increase in the rate at which smugglers have attempted to import expired rice into the country.
Ogunkua disclosed that the Command has continued to discover so many bags of expired rice out of the many lorry loads of the commodity which it has impounded saying that it was an indication that the smugglers have continued in their attempts to bring expired rice into Nigeria.
“Despite the policy banning importation of rice through the border, people still bring in the rice through the borders. In fact the number of importers trying to do so has increased now and that is why we have so many lorry loads of rice in our compound while there are still some in the barracks. We are also battling them very well and that is why we are able to make all these seizures.
“In some of our dealings with the smugglers, we discover that some of the bags of rice are expired. That is why we are telling the public to be mindful of what they consume. If the grains were to get into the market, they would just put them in another set of bags or in basins and retail them to the unsuspecting public,” he said.
Ogunkua said the Command has been relying effectively on intelligence, information sharing and the logistics made available to it by the Comptroller General, Colonel Hameed Ali (rtd.) to combat the smugglers and ensure that none of them succeeded in their nefarious activities , but pointed out that it was still necessary to warn the consuming public.
He stated that the Command has been effective in its anti- smuggling activities and that no prohibited goods or items on which duties have not been made are allowed to enter the Nigerian territory, adding that it was concerned of the health implication of consuming such bad rice.
Ogunkua stated that its command has been recording large seizures in recent times because it is much easier to apprehend the smugglers during the rainy season when the bushpath is slippery.
The comptroller pointed out that while the various commands and the anti-smuggling units of the customs are doing their best to ensure that smugglers do not succeed at bringing in expired rice into the economy, but stated that consumers must always be careful when they want to make purchases.
Recession: Terminal operator recalls staff
As the private sector continues to drive workers into the labour market, a terminal operator in the seaport sector, Ports&Cargo, has recalled over 100 workers it laid off early this year due to the economic recession.
It was gathered that the workers which were earlier asked by the management to go and have some rest at home pending when shipping activities will improve cut across all categories of the workforce.
The Managing Director of Ports&Cargo, Mallam Muhammed Bulangu who confirmed the recall of the workers said that when they were earlier sent away they were told that the company was not sacking them but that their services were just suspended.
According to him, all the concessionaires were forced to rationalise just like many companies have been doing because of the recession.
The Managing Director however explained that the workers were called back because the company has been able to enter into an agreement with two foreign carriers which have been able to bring two roll on roll off (RORO) vessels into its terminal this month.
He explained that the controversy over the foreign ships with another sister concessionaire has been sorted out by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), pointing out that Ports&Cargo has a valid agreement with the shipping company to be conveying vehicles into the company’s terminal.
When asked whether the company has the intention to recall more workers in the days ahead, Bulango pointed out that since it never intended to relieve any staff of its position in the first place, such a decision will depend on the resources of the company and the improvement in the fortunes of the economy.
Explaining further why the workers were asked to go in the first place, he said: “You know that the cost of doing business everywhere has been very high and prohibitive.”
Look at our expenditure; we have lease fees to pay and the throughput which is based on the volume of goods you handle.
“Now if you look at the vessels that are coming , before they used to bring thousands of containers, but now some of them come with less than 200 or a times 100 containers.Don’ t forget that the terminal operators only collect the stevedoring from the quay side or the water front, apart from the shore handling storage.
“So now that the volume of goods has reduced, income has dropped and that has affected our operations in very many ways,because a lot of money was used to purchase all the equipment that we use outside the country and they have to be maintained, whenever they break down and even replaced when the need arises.
“90 per cent of these equipment and spare parts are purchased abroad and with foreign exchange and the forex you source at times may not even be enough for what you need. There are times you need to invite the manufacturers to Nigeria to come and attend to some issues when they arise. You need forex for all these.
According to Bulangu, if the number of vessels coming into the country has not reduced drastically, the terminal operators will not be downsizing as well as complaining of the harsh economic recession since they have also been major contributors to the development of the economy.
He stated that it should be noted that the concessionaires could not have made any profit for the first two to three years when they had to make investment in their operations saying that though the next four to five years after then was in order but that since less volume of cargoes is being imported in recent times, the terminal operators have not been realizing enough revenue .
The Managing Director explained that stakeholders should also know that without the volume from the waterside, the concessionaires would not be able to make adequate revenue adding that really if the cargo clearing process at the port is in order and there is efficiency the terminal operators will not be able to impose any charges while most of them would have thrown in the towel.