About five years ago, the Presidential Task Force (PTF) compelled shipping companies to acquire holding bays to accommodate empty containers around the nation’s ports. Then, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) was mandated to monitor the development. But five years down the lane, the holding bays are yet to be seen or acquired as it was been instructed by the (PTF).
But today, Nigeria is virtually turn-ing into dumpsite for empty containers, as shipping companies operating at the ports are not ready to acquire holding bays and also failed to collect their empty containers littering every available cor-ner in Lagos and its environs.
Presently, there is congestion at the ports as the terminals are filled with empty containers contending with import cargo due to the lack of holding bays. Most of these cargoes are often stayed fore more than the stipulated period at the terminals before the owners clear them and sometimes, they are abandoned to rot away.
The number of overtime cargoes and empty containers in most of the terminals have become worrisome to the terminal operators because of its ripple effects on port operations and the economy. Importers and Customs brokers said that about 40 per cent of empty containers occupy space at various terminals while the worth of overtime cargoes within and outside the Lagos ports is over N30 billion. They expressed worries because the situation is affecting port operations and the efficiency of the ports at large.
Asides, the littering of these empty containers on ports access roads have made movements so difficult for port users, residents and motorists. And the trucks carrying empty containers on Lagos roads and bridges, in addition to petroleum tankers and other articulated vehicles used in haul-ing car-goes, are the ones fueling unending traffic congestion across Lagos ports and its environs.
However, the most affected are the streets, roads, and bridges that leading to the two seaports in Apapa, which include Apapaoshodi Expressway, Lagos-Bada-gry Ex-press-way, Ajegunle, Kirikiri, Orile, Olodi Apapa, Ijora, Eko Bridge among others.
Daily Sun learnt that the littering of empty containers and tankers on Lagos roads was as a result of the lack of holding bays and Federal Government’s failure to properly man-age empty containers in the ports. Before concession, the whole of Apapa port used to ac-com-mo-date al-most 60 per -cent of the trucks that are parked on the high-way to-day. Then, truck-ers had hold-ing bay in-side the port, where they park pend-ing when they get another job after offload-ing the empty containers.
The mess which the ports become today started after port ter-mi-nals were concessioned without re-serv-ing hold-ing bay for truckers to park. The Federal Government’s concession model that ceded 100 per- cent of the ports’ property to private op-er-a-tors was not properly conceived.
Stakeholders who spoke with Daily Sun lamented that the shipping companies who are to provide holding bays for their empty containers are so powerful that no government agency can control them. They col-lect billions of Naira worth of con-tainer de-posit charges per annum, which is why they will con-tinue to frus-trate re-turn of empty contain-ers.
Speaking with Daily Sun recently in his office, the President of Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Iju Tony Nwabunike, said that NPA lost it when they were concessioning the ports and they didn’t leave some holding bays and spaces for themselves because they concessionalised all the ports.
He added: “Unlike Ghana. If you go to Ghana, Ghana Port Authority has a space and before you now give a concession or an agreement, there must be a statutory agreement on issues and how to do things right. Now, let me ask a question, why should a vessel of Maersk Line coming into this country, for example, with 350 containers and leave empty without taking a single empty container?
“And the following morning, another vessel will come, putting another 400 containers and leave empty. And they now go to neigbouring countries like Ghana, Cameroun and all the rest of them and carry their empty containers back to their countries and using Nigeria as a dumping ground of empty containers.”
According to him, shipping companies don’t even want to have a holding bay and they don’t even want to put any single money on ground to have a place where they can put in the containers and take them back after.
He said that the shipping companies know that nobody supervises their activities because they are not answerable to any government agencies any further.
“I remember when NPA was NPA; they will never dare to take containers to this place and not taking the same number of containers out of the country. Why not give them that mandatory idea that the moment you are coming into this country, you take the same number of containers out of this country.
“And you know the funniest thing; most of those shipping companies have gotten very top and big Nigerians as their chairmen. So what it means is that if you take them to the National Assembly, they will go there, sort themselves out and come back and continue doing what they want to do. So they are becoming bigger than the government,” he hinted.
“Why is it that the Federal Government has not taken the bull by the horn to sanction all the shipping companies? Why are they scared of them? Who actually made them so bogus that no government wants to touch them? Who made them untouchable? Today, everywhere is littered with empty containers, you can’t even move. Lagos State government is equally tired,” he said.
According to an importer, Mr Yinka Soleye, there is need for government to develop a strategy to manage the alarming volume of containers abandoned in Nigeria, which has resulted in major congestion crisis in the ports.
He bemoaned the dearth of policy to regulate activities of ocean liners dropping import containers in Nigeria and leaving without corresponding numbers of empty containers, in line with international maritime convention.
He said government should come up with laws that would compel shipping companies to begin the process of picking up their empty containers from the ports anytime they called with imports. He said such law should empower government agencies in the ports to subject defaulting shipping companies to forfeit their containers and also call for immediate auctioning of such containers.
He hinted that with the laws on ground to sanction defaulters, the shipping companies will sit up and desist from dumping containers in the country without picking them while sailing out of the nation’s ports.