Three countries are currently benefiting from Nigeria’s N1trillion trade opportunities through cargoes diversion to their ports. In the last one decade, the country has lost 30 million tons of cargoes to Benin, Togo and Ghana due to high port tariffs. BAYO AKOMOLAFE reports
Since 2006, over three million metric tons of Chad and Niger’s cargoes, which were formerly handled by Nigeria, have been taken and shared among Togo, Benin and Ghana ports due to high charges, dwell time, corruption, extortion, congestion levy and poor infrastructure.
About 30 million tons of Chad and Niger Republic’s cargoes no longer transit through Nigerian ports.
Niger currently ships about 2.5 million metric tons of its cargo from Benin Republic, 1.5 million metric tons in Togo and close to a million metric tons in Ghana while Nigeria watches helplessly.
Drawing a comparison on dwell time, Apapa port’s dwell time, which was between 19 and 25 days, has increased to over 30 days, while Cotonou Port is between 12 and 14 days.
Because of unfriendly port environment, Shippers’ Association Lagos State (SALS) said that Nigeria was losing N 1trillion from import duties and other charges annually to Cotonou, Lome and Tema ports in West Africa.
President of the association, Rev Jonathan Nicol, also explained that the bad roads leading to Lagos ports had added to the losses.
Nicol said that importers were diverting their cargoes because of demurrage, terminal charges, dwell time and storage fees charged by shipping companies and terminal operators.
The president said that there were vessel queues within the Lome waters awaiting call-up for berthing in Lagos ports.
“This also attracts port congestion levy on cargo, which is no fault of the shippers. Demurrage on containers is increasing with no control from maritime agencies. Importers and exporters are suffering,” he noted.
Nicol said that manufacturers had incurred huge expenses on haulage due to lack of access roads.
Presently, the president said that entrance into Lagos ports had been blocked, while access out of the ports after loading had been crippled by gridlock.
Executive Secretary, Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), Mr. Hassan Bello, said that the council was not comfortable with the way Niger Republic would go all the way to Cote d’ Ivoire and Ghana to transit its cargoes when Nigeria is closer to the land-locked country.
Bello stressed that it had become imperative for the country to regain the trade from its competitors.
He blamed terminal operators and shipping companies for allowing the country to lose the huge trade to neighbouring ports.
The executive secretary lamented that the operational efficiencies achieved at the port concession in the country had been eroded by excessive and high charges, abuse of agreement by terminal operators and shipping companies.
Bello noted: “You can imagine Niger Republic going all the way to Cote d’ Ivoire and Ghana to clear their cargoes. They are land-locked countries. It doesn’t make sense; the destination should be Nigeria so that we can move the cargoes.”
Despite this, the Chairman of the Seaports Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN), Princess Vicky Haastrup, said that it would be impossible to handle transshipment cargoes for Nigeria’s landlocked neighbouring countries, saying that it was not a commercially viable venture.
She noted that except the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) would subsidise the landlocked country’s transactions at Nigeria’s seaports, no STOAN members would have anything to do with landlocked countries’ cargoes.
The chairman explained that the price, which NPA charged Chad and Niger Republic for handling of their consignments was ridiculously low and not commercially tenable.
Haastrup said that the terms and conditions under which NPA handled transshipment cargoes in the pre-port concession era were not favourable to them.
According to her, “NPA as a government agency was probably playing the normal ‘big brother’ to neighbouring African countries but we are private people, we cannot do such a Father Christmas for anybody. If the landlocked countries are ready to pay the normal rates in cargo handling, we will be very willing to do business with them.”
However, Bello said that under the Nigeria-Niger Joint Commission, the shippers Council had made moves to encourage Niger Republic economic operators to utilise the Nigerian transit corridor for their imports and exports.
He noted that NSC had discussed with Chad at the recent United African Shippers Council (UASC) conference held in Ghana on how to regain the cargoes.
Notwithstanding the security challenges in the North, Bello said that Chad had resolved to transit its cargoes through Nigerian port.
Government should employ diplomatic approach to woo back the landlocked countries in order to regain the annual three million tons of cargoes lost to other ports.
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