The Managing Director of Nigeria’s premiere port regulatory agency, the Nigerian Ports Authority, Hadiza-Bala Usman has intensified efforts at ensuring that the seaports in Nigeria operate according to international best practices and guidelines as Nigeria and the world emerge from the worst pandemic in decades.
Nigeria is home to some of the best islands on earth and blessed with sea resources, but only one seaport, the Lagos seaport receives about 90 per cent of the cargo that come into the country.
Lagos as a result has been reputedly tagged, gateway to Africa’s trade while for over 20 years, seaports in Warri, Port Harcourt and Calabar that received some of the biggest tankers in the past were abandoned by successive governments.
It was not until 2017 and the years following that the NPA, under Bala-Usman, that the eastern ports of Onne, Warri and Calabar started receiving attention from the government.
She fiercely and fervently promoted a programme of seeing that the ports are rehabilitated, brought back to life and that vessels start berthing.
This was a feat that was possible for the first time in years.
Funds were injected to dredge Warri Escravos channel to enable it receive oil tankers, Onne Port last week received the largest containerized vessel that ever called at Nigeria, traffic to Calabar port from flat bottom vessels have increased.
Recently, Bala-Usman called the attention of stakeholders to the fact that the Lagos ports and its environs needed urgent repositioning to adjust to the ‘new normal’ brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.
At the 14th Annual Business Law e-conference of the authority, tagged “Digital Acceleration for Growth in a new World, Bala-Usman stressed the need to remove all the hindrances to easy business deals at the ports.
She maintained that it was important for terminal operators to have equipment for easy cargo evacuation at the port.
The Lagos port environment is the busiest in the country and has inevitably been congested the year round.
Bala-Usman said there was a need for improved operation without which the congestion at the seaport terminals would continue.
“ We must understand that this issue of operational efficiency is both ways; if you don’t have cranes that will move the cargo it is a major issue,” she reminded the terminal operators.
As part of the solution to the congestion at the seaport, Bala-Usman has consistently emphasized truck parks and waiting places for trucks that are coming into the state.
These parks will enable truck drivers to wait until they are called up to come to the port.
This is a way of ensuring the operation is streamlined to allow a limited number of trucks enter the port and to avoid congestion at the port gates and the Lagos port access roads.
She stated, “Speaking on the issues of Apapa congestion one of the things that I have reiterated in the past years is the need to have designated places for the trucks to stay and wait for our call up because if we don’t have designated places for truck to wait for a call up, the trucks will just wake up and drive to the ports,”
She called on the Lagos State Government to take ownership in providing dedicated truck terminals where there will be linkage and a call up with the terminal operators at the Nigerian ports.
She added, “ I have always advocated for us to have larger truck parks that are outside of the port environment dedicated for that purpose and only come when we are using the call up system. Nigerian ports are not responsible for providing truck terminals.
“What we know is that truck parks are a local government issues, it is a Lagos state issue so Lagos state must rise up to that and provide those.”
She disclosed that the NPA had given up lilypond, saying, “APMT was the operator and we have cancelled that arrangement to make it a transit truck park.
“We are now in an advanced stage of discussing and completing with Lagos government to make available a larger trailer park , the Ahmed Bola Tinubu trailer park in Orile will be so designated and only trailer parks.
“Recognizing that other mushroom truck parks will also want to be designated ,we have our own criteria that you must meet for you to be licensed.”
She frowned on the idea of citing a truck park in Apapa that is already congested, noting, “I don’t think Lagos state should look at the land use issues attributable to trailer parks , why should there be a truck park in Apapa it is already congested?
“We are now discussing with Ogun state governor we now have a truck park in Ogun state , so those that are coming out of Lagos can now stay in Ogun state until you are called up you move to orile , when you are called up, you will now move to lily pond then you get into the port.
Bala-Usman also reiterated the importance of inter modal transportation in the maritime environment, saying, “I think the lager picture is the need for us to recognize using intermodal transportation system. You can’t have 90 per cent of your cargo being pushed through by the road, the road will get congested and will spoil invariably.
“We must strengthen the utilisation of Inland waterways ,we must drive and have our rails system concluded.
“If not for the COVID-19, we would have concluded our rail connectivity.”
On the need for effective scanners at the port, one of the stakeholders, Vicky Haastrup, operators of EML terminal said it was sad that there were no effective scanners at the ports to ensure fast cargo examination and limit human-to human contact.
She said, “We have the problems of people visiting the ports to examine their containers which is not safe at this period.
The NCS do not have quality scanners which is a shame ,they must provide functional scanners to reduce physical examination of containers and human traffic.
The Federal Government must prevail on the NCS to have scanners provided at the ports . For the past ten years the terminal operators suggested to NCS that they do not mind investing in scanners but up till today nobody has done anything.
“We need to provide these scanners and other automation platforms to make payments online and cargo clearance quicker.
“The NCS has continued to frustrate automation so that they can enjoy to benefits of human interface at the ports. “
Haastrup accused the Customs of frustrating anything that will forestall human interface, insisting that the ports must operate the one-stop shop if Nigeria must compete with other ports in West and Central Africa.