The over-dependence on the Lagos seaports may be doing the economy more harm than good, as investigations revealed that Nigeria is losing fortunes to the underutilisation of other ports across the country.
The huge concentration on Lagos ports being the commercial nerve centre of the country may be limiting the maritime sector’s contribution to national earnings, which contributes as much as 30 per cent of Nigeria’s gross domestic product (GDP).
The Guardian learnt that the diversion of cargoes to Lagos has impacted significantly on the ageing infrastructure at the Apapa and TinCan Island ports due to overwhelming cargo handling.
With dilapidated facilities, unfriendly environment and poor ports access roads, more importers are now seeking solace in neighboring countries, while the landlocked countries such as Chad and Niger, shun Nigerian seaports.
The fact that the TinCan Port earns over N1.2 billion and Apapa Port over realizes N220 billion yearly, show that the Federal Government is loosing fortunes for failing to promote other seaports.
This is because the more active the ports are, the higher the ability to create employment opportunities for the teeming youths and development of integral facilities that would fast-track economic development, as seen in the Chinese examples.
Statistics obtained from the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) showed that Lagos ports complex claimed 97 per cent of the containers that are berthed in Nigeria in 2016.
The Container traffic provisional figure of NPA showed that TinCan Island port received 179,443 Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEUs), while Apapa Port had 136,543 TEUs. Rivers port had 2,053TEUs. Onne had 44,961TEUs; Delta had 1,961TEUs while Calabar recorded zero container traffic in 2016. Calabar is currently handling only liquid cargo, due to shallow water challenges.
Stakeholders blamed the concentration on Lagos ports on shallow waters, long channel of other ports, politics and industrialisation, which necessitated the choice of Lagos as the port of destination for most cargoes.
Acting President, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Increase Uche, told The Guardian that the concentration on Lagos Ports is the architecture of the government’s political strategies on wealth control.
He also blamed lack of political will and distance from the ocean to low patronage of the Eastern ports, noting that although Lagos ports are prioritised because they are close to the ocean than other ports. They also have longer river channel, and as such, government needs to strategise to boost operations in other ports in order to have balanced trade across regions.
Over concentration on Lagos ports, according to him is posing unnecessary migration into the Apapa area and resulting to overwhelming pressure on the infrastructure facilities.
“The reason people give is that the Lagos and Port Harcourt ports are very close to the ocean, other ports are far from the ocean. It, therefore, takes longer time for the vessels to move from the anchorage at the high sea to other ports, but here in Lagos, it takes less time for any vessel to access that area.
“Owners of vessels will prefer Lagos ports to the other ports, but one will be tempted to ask, what if the ports in the eastern part are the only one we have in the country? How will the economy survive? We need to put all hands on deck to ensure that those ports are not wasted, because most of those structures are now rotting away because they are not put to use, while the ones in Lagos are over used and then it becomes generic problems,” he said.
The Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, recently said Nigeria was losing N1 trillion yearly due to bad roads in the country, where the Federal Government is estimated to have spent about N73 billion on roads maintenance and repairs last year.
Stakeholders believed that the huge burden on the roads created by haulage of imported goods from Lagos to other parts of the country are taking toll on the longevity of the roads, thereby necessitating high expenditure on maintenance.
Meanwhile, businessmen from the eastern part of the country are irked about the need for them to import through Lagos and incur additional expenses coupled with the risk involved in transportation.
An Onitsha-based businessman and Managing Director, OkayGod Investments Limited, Augustine Okechukwu, said the situation is worrisome and have a huge impact on the cost of production, coupled with the risk of transporting the goods through terrible roads from Lagos to Onitsha.
He said: “We all imported through the Port Harcourt ports before, but we decided to change to Lagos as our port of destination because clearing goods from Port Harcourt seaport is very hectic and cumbersome. You cannot get your goods easily from Port Harcourt. I think it is deliberate so as to make people patronise Lagos than other ports.”
On the cost of clearing and transporting the goods between the Lagos and Port Harcourt ports, Okechukwu said: “Cost of transportation from Lagos is high and it is affecting businesses here. But we still prefer it because if you import through Port Harcourt, it takes two to three months to clear, meanwhile, it take a few weeks to clear in Lagos. Although, there is the risk of an accident due to the bad roads, but we are compelled to use Lagos ports because we see it as a better alternative.”
The President, National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Lucky Amiwero, said the components that determine the choice of port such as freight cost, the draft and cargo destination do not favour other ports, hence the use of Lagos ports.
“Why you are having more traffic in Lagos ports is because most of the cargoes are consumed around Lagos area, while the other places don’t have many industries. Many of the ships that are coming to Lagos are based on the request by the importers, who are businessmen around Lagos.
“If you want your cargoes shipped to the East, you might not see a ship going to the East, besides, the freight to the East is too expensive and it is not as requested as Lagos, because Lagos has a concentration of market,” he said.
The General Manager, Public Affairs, NPA, Effiong Etim Nduonofit, assured that NPA is putting machinery in place to promote the use of all the ports, but added that the choice of cargo destination is determined by the importer.
He said the management is giving incentives in terms of rebate to promote the eastern ports, adding: “Also, the Authority is giving preference to rehabilitation of infrastructure such as the quay apron, maintenance of the channel and provision of navigational aids to guide the vessels sailing to those ports.
“Besides, the management has emphasized that they are going to promote operational efficiency at those ports to ensure that turnaround time is reduced to the barest minimum as well as ensuring that other key performance indicators are in charge.
“Over time the management has continued to do both maintenance and capital dredging of the ports in line with international best practices to encourage operations at those ports,” he said.