Nigerian Ports: Challenges of attaining hub status


 The Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN) has invested not less than a billion (N168 billion) in a bid to improve seaport operations services in the country since the concessioning of the ports in 2006.
In spite of the huge investments, shippers and customs clearing agents have always been raising concerns about some factors they perceive to be militating against cargo clearance at the ports.
The situation has on many occasions been disagreements and even led to industrial actions at the ports, which in many instances, triggered payments of demurrage on goods not cleared in good time.
The industry stakeholders say the prevailing situations at the ports show that a lot more ought to be done to make the ports competitive and attractive.
However, the ultimate desire is to develop the port to serve as the hub of ports in the West African sub-region.
Prof. Iyiola Oni of the Department of Geography, University of Lagos, says freight forwarders have faulted the concession regime, where terminal operators are operating without any form of monitoring from government agencies.
Like Iyiola, the shippers and customs clearing agents appear worried that no agency actually monitors standards to be maintained by the concessionaires.
The stakeholders insist that the Nigerian ports must be competitive when compared to ports in neighbouring countries or else, the ports would continue to experience cargo diversion to these nearby countries.
Apart from the problems of inadequate infrastructure, the importers are also contending with the problem of high port charges.
Mr Bolaji Akinola, the spokesman of STOAN, says investments by terminal operators are geared toward attaining efficiency by developing infrastructure and manpower.
“The investments are meant to upgrade facilities, improve the training of the workers, the acquisition of modern cargo handling equipment, as well as improve the clearing processes at the ports”.
According to him, some importers may decide to use the ports in neighbouring countries in order to evade duties or engage in smuggling of such goods across the border.
“Some importers use ports in neighbouring countries because they want to smuggle in their goods with a determined desire to beat government’s fiscal policy.
“For example, you will see that there is a high rate of importation of vehicles through the land borders; this is because they want to pay less duty,’’ Akinola adds.
A maritime stakeholder, Mr David Etim, however, observes that virtually all the nation’s borders are porous because of the high cost of doing business via the country’s ports.
Also, Chief Kunle Folarin, the Chairman of the Nigerian Ports Consultative Council (PCC), says effective port service delivery should first be considered before pricing.
“Port system must first consider optimal service delivery by avoiding delays. It means that modern infrastructure capable of supporting the cargo traffic, 24-hour cargo delivery, 24-hour vessel pilotage service, should be in place’’.
The President of the Shippers Association Lagos State (SALS), Mr Jonathan Nicol, says Nigerian ports are failing in trade facilitation.
“The problems with our ports are diverse and require changes. The number of government agencies at the ports should be reduced because we do not need a whole village for container examination.
“A competitive port will facilitate trade, but the focus here is so much on revenue generation,” says Nicol.
A lawyer, Mr Emeka Akabogu, who specilises on maritime issues, observes that since the ports concessioning aims at promoting efficiency, they must be supported by strong economic regulations.
Akabogu says there would be the need to control tariffs, provide free market entry or exit and ensure that there would be fair and competitive behaviour and practices within the sector.
The Minister of Transport, Sen. Idris Umar, while addressing stakeholders recently on the issue of congestion at the ports, directed that vessels be stemmed to other terminals in cases where they could not be handled in time, to avoid delays.
Port operators were enjoined to work on holidays in order to ensure they position containers for examination at least within 36 hours of booking.
Shippers, however, blame the terminal operators for inefficiencies in cargo handling due to what they described as insufficient equipment and manpower.
Mr Fred Akokhia, the Deputy National President, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) believes: “Delays are sometimes caused when you book containers for examination.
“In a situation where only one driver is working, having three cranes cannot translate to efficiency ‘’.
While all more efforts are needed to hasten efficient service delivery, the access roads into the ports would need to be improved upon.
it is believed that containers fall off moving trucks on several occasions because of the many bad portion of roads that provide access routes to the ports.
Some stakeholder have advised that there is the need to get back to the drawing board in order to address all the problems bedeviling the ports sector, so as to ultimately raise the profile of the Nigerian port as a hub port to the sub-region.
Whether this will be achieved will depend on how committed all the stakeholders work in a collaborative effort, to positively accomplish the objective in order to maximize its anticipated socio-economic benefits.