Tinubu, save decaying Apapa ports, environs


THE fresh collaboration between the Federal Government, the Lagos State Government, the Nigerian Ports Authority, and the security agencies to rid the Apapa Ports corridor of illegal structures to boost maritime activities and dislodge criminals could be a giant step forward. Security agents, including the police, and military, and the Lagos State Transport Management Authority, evicted squatters, and demolished the shanties that dotted and made the area an eyesore and a den of criminals. The enforcement is long overdue and should be sustained to restore the ports and its environs to their best competitive outlook and international standards.

For long, the Apapa Ports and the vicinity have gained a notorious reputation for all that is bad: the roads, the filth, plethora of overlapping security/safety agencies, delayed operations, and overtime cargo. Curiously, past administrations neglected all these obstacles to trade. The Bola Tinubu administration must not toe that egregious path.

Instead, it must accord priority to the port facilities, modernisation programme, broken and sleaze-prone security system, and the decayed roads. This is the best way to transform the ports to West and Central Africa’s premier shipping hub and increase their revenue accruals into the public treasury. The reform should adopt a transparent concession, and public-private-partnership model. Effective and varied transportation options must be explored, especially rail, from the ports to the hinterland.

For now, the situation is very bad. Maritime experts decry the low draught, dilapidated infrastructure, outdated clearing process, graft, scant automation, as the main culprits. For some years, because of congestion, cargo destined for Nigeria from overseas could not anchor. They had to be diverted to the ports in neighbouring countries, especially Togo, Benin Republic, Ghana, and to Pointe-Noire in Congo, at a stage. Nigeria lost its reputation – and precious income. The Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents puts the annual losses at N130 billion.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics, in its first quarter 2023 Foreign Trade in Goods Statistics, the Lagos (Apapa) Ports and Tin Can, accounted for N10.83 trillion or 89.9 per cent of Nigeria’s total trade (N12.05 trillion); export trade was valued at N6.3 trillion, while total imports was N4.53 trillion. The Apapa Port contributed N6.07 trillion of total exports or 83.56 per cent of total national exports, and Tin Can, N199.32 billion or 3.07 per cent of total exports. The Apapa Area Command of the Nigeria Customs Service generated N213 billion that quarter.The area has numerous tank farms, jetties, factories, and companies contributing to the economy through jobs, taxes and duties.

For 23 years, the decrepit state of the Apapa Ports and port city has raised several concerns. The roads were overstretched and neglected, the gridlock is strenuous as truck congestion and accidents compound vehicular movements. Cumbersome port processes, extortion by hoodlums and security agents, insecurity, and corruption by members of the regulatory Ministries, Departments and Agencies, infrastructure deficit, and manual operations impeded efficiency.

The outcome has been calamitous. Cargo dwell time is an average of 20 to 28 days. Benin Republic, Ghana and Togo have a clearance time frame of 10 to 15 days. Costs of shipping services in Nigeria have consequently increased significantly. SBM Intelligence stated in 2020 that the cost of shipping at Apapa Ports was thrice that of Ghana and five times that of South Africa.

Recently, the NPA said that despite efforts of the Port Standing Task Team to tackle bribery, corruption and malfeasance, shippers, truckers and clearing agents lose N900 million daily to arbitrary charges at different points to corrupt MDAs officials and hoodlums. Tin Can Island Port experiences similar decadence. Meanwhile, the Onne Port, Rivers Port, Delta Port in Warri, and Calabar Port are underutilised and largely abandoned, thereby putting pressure on the Lagos ports.

The rail system built by the British colonialists to and from the Apapa Ports became disused years ago, though a new one is under construction. Tinubu must see the project through.

Since assuming office in May, he has surprisingly not shown concern about the decay at the ports and its access roads. He has failed to visit the area to understand the urgency of government’s intervention to rehabilitate the roads, execute the rail transport system and oversee the needed reforms to ease port operations. Being a former governor of Lagos State, this is disappointing.

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While Nigeria is at sea, shippers are resorting to neighbouring countries. The Ghana Transport and Ports Authority signed a $700 million joint venture agreement to enhance its terminal capacity at the Takoradi Port in January. The Port of Dakar, Senegal, signed a pact with the Port of Antwerp International in 2018. The Port Authority of Cotonou, Benin Republic, signed a modernisation and expansion agreement with Antwerp in 2018 to take advantage of Nigeria’s shabby ports. Conversely, corruption and cronyism have continued to frustrate the five-year partnership agreement the NPA signed with PAI.

Experts state that being one of the largest ports in West Africa with an annual freight volume of 17 million tonnes, Nigeria’s pre-eminent position might further diminish in the sub-continent.

Previous administrations failed to implement far-reaching reforms, salvage, and rehabilitate the ports, curb corruption and block fiscal leakages. Measures initiated by a former Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, under ex-presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan, were not sustained. The MDAs that were ejected from the ports returned soon after, constituting obstructions to the free flow of trade.

The immediate past president, Muhammadu Buhari, was no better. A presidential ultimatum by Buhari in 2019 to clear the traffic congestion in Apapa within 72 hours fell flat. He however initiated a tax rebate programme that saw the Dangote Group and Flour Mills collaborate with the NPA to rebuild some of the dilapidated roads in Apapa.

Buhari’s deputy, Yemi Osinbajo, while serving as acting President, signed executive orders directing 24-hour operations at the Apapa ports and outlawing touting by official and unofficial persons, and barring some agencies from operating within the ports.  The agencies mostly ignored the EOs.

Nigeria is lagging in maritime trade. Out of its N45.5 trillion total GDP in Q2 2022, the maritime sector contributed just N2.4 billion or 0.01 per cent, according to the NBS. In contrast, the US Office for Coastal Management says maritime trade contributed $432 billion in GDP, $730 billion in sales and 2.3 million jobs to the American economy in 2021. The maritime sector contributed 35 per cent of GDP (2022) in South Africa, says the World Wildlife Fund. The President must therefore explore viable models that would give Nigeria a competitive edge in the global maritime industry.

Without delay, he should open the floodgates to foreign direct investment by returning to the “landlord model” where the NPA would only own the ports, have a lean workforce while private investors run all operations under a robust regulatory framework.

China, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia own ports across Africa, Asia, and Europe, using this model. He should reposition the Apapa Ports city to engender improved economic contributions, provide jobs and ease the culture of international business in Nigeria.

Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu and the NPA should intensify and sustain the sanitisation of the Apapa city through permanent enforcement of physical laws and ending the notorious gridlock. ,

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