In this interview, Executive Vice Chairman of ENL Consortium, operators of Terminals C and D of Apapa port, spoke with Godfrey Bivbere, Abigail Ezenwafo & Kemi Abioye on cost of ports operations, the Ports & Harbours Bill, way out of the traffic logjam, alternative transport of goods and many more.
On the issue of costing in port operations, what in your view is the way forward?
We need to move forward from here. The federal government needs to quickly ensure that the Ports and Harbours Bill is passed. The passage of the Ports and Harbours Bill has been delayed for too long, it has been 12 years since the terminal operators have been operating in various ports here in Nigeria and yet this bill is still waiting to be passed. I don’t know at what stage it is now, but I think it is getting rather too late but I believe that before the end of the term of this government, it will be nice if the passage of the bill is concluded, passed and is assented to by Mr. President.
Beside the passage of the bill because that one has to do with the legislation; what about the other low hanging fruits?
Well, government is actually talking about ease of doing business but there can’t be ease of doing business if government does not take a decisive move. They need to take some stand on issues relating to; what are the things that constitute bottle-necks to ease of doing business, why do we have ease of doing business? The vice-president has been doing a lot of work on that, but they have to be a proper follow-up on all those areas that have been identified.
Like we said in the port for example, we have too many agencies of operating within the port system, I do not know what they are up to, till this moment that we are talking; they are still there.
We know that Mr. Vice-president was talking about making the port a one stop-shop, but it cannot be a one-stop shop when you have people that are not supposed to be operating within the port system that are still there. You know, they constitute a lot of bottle-necks, delays, and another thing we need to talk about is the Customs Service. When a cargo is cleared from the port, you will still find them (Customs officers) right at the outing gate, what are they doing there? Not only that, when such trucks laden with containers also leaves the port, even at that point when they leave the port, right on the bridge in Apapa or wherever they go, you still have some people who call themselves Federal Operations Unit, enforcement agency from customs still constituting a lot of nuisance, that’s what I will call it; I’m sorry.
These are not for a country that is very serious. I see frustration by all port users, you could see what the access roads to the port looks like which I think is a national disgrace, is a national shame. I think it ought not to be like that, I am not blaming this government because the previous government has actually left access to the port, the port environment is really too congested. You have a lot of tank farms. We have as at now, can count as much as over 60. I keep saying it, if one tank farm goes up in flames, the whole of Apapa, there will not be Apapa.
Apapa will cease to exist if government does not do something about it. The port environment is rather too congested. There is no ease of doing business in Apapa. In Nigeria, particularly in Apapa and Tin-can are very frustrating. Port operators, I’m not talking about port terminal operators alone; every port user, people that are operating within the port are going through a lot of frustration in trying to do their job.
Government needs to come true for this, government needs to be decisive, government need to remove a lot of it’s agencies that should not be in the port if we want to make our port a one-stop shop. If we want to create an enabling environment which I see now that we do not have at all, there has to be transparency, there has to be decisive actions on the part of the government to bring everybody to book, to make people comply to how business should be done particularly in our ports.
The traffic situation, what suggestion are you giving?
The traffic situation is very clear and simple. The roads needs to be fixed, but I understand that an award for the construction of the Tin-can Island/Oshodi road has also been awarded, but I tell you, that’s going to take quite a while, you know, I do not see an immediate solution for now. Apapa is being fixed now, even when the Apapa wharf road is completed, the bridge is also been looked at by the Federal Ministry of Works. We don’t know how long that will take. So, I see this as long term solution. But other than that, I want to create this impression that the Apapa port is congested. What caused this are the congestions of the access road, the gridlock. We are actually; cargoes import to Nigeria has actually reduced by about 25%.
In 2011-2012, we are actually handling more cargo than we are handling right now and there wasn’t any problem. So, we are talking about dropping of empty containers in holding bays, that needs to be properly look into, it needs to be enforced there is no two ways about it. Trucks that do not have call-up system to either come to pick cargo or come and drop containers should not be on the road. We have too many of them, way too many in the port road. That needs to be enforced. Everybody needs to be on-board, everybody needs to comply. Shipping companies needs to comply. They need to be compliant about it. NPA is asking them to drop empty containers at the holding bays, we need to enforce that. The issue of the call-up system needs to be adhered to. We do it in my terminal and every terminal needs to comply.
Talking about the issue why we are here, port targets is been established that it is the political will on the part of the government will be responsible for this. So what should be the take home for us journalists, the way forward?
The take home is outside it. Government needs to be decisive. We need; maybe there has to be a special committee that will look into all the areas that are responsible for increase in cost. Is more like I said, it is not just terminal operators, terminal operators is just maybe a 5% of the whole problem. That’s not the reason. It is not terminal operators. Everybody operating within the port is responsible. We need to be holistic in looking at everybody including government agencies that are not supposed to be there that are there. How much are they charging? How much is NIMASA charging? How much is NPA charging? How much is the shipper’s council charging? How much are shipping agents charging? Even freight forwarders, how much are they charging? This all add to the cost. And I tell you, the congestion also is on the increase, increase in cost of doing business in the port.
Until all these issues are attended to, I tell you cost of doing business in the Nigerian port will continue to be high.
Alternative source of transport; the rail transport and the water transport, shouldn’t government consider this?
It is very important. I’m happy that government is actually looking into the issue of transporting cargos from the port through the rail system. There are actually three ways of transporting cargo from the port; you have the water, you have the rail, and then you have the road. What has been there from time immemorial is the road. How much of weight can the road carry? The bridge is almost collapsing now. You could see the bridge has turned out to be a parking lot for trailers. Will those bridges still withstand that much weight? That’s the problem.
So, the alternative way of transporting cargoes is being looked out by government. And I want government to be serious in addressing that.
What in your opinion is the problem of the port system?
Federal government is the problem. When people cannot sleep with their wives they will say terminal operators are the problem. That is it; we need to look at it that way. Leadership; I am not talking about the present government. The whole thing started from time immemorial, there was no sincerity on the part of government itself. If you look at what is happening in Apapa today, there is no enabling environment.
The terminal operators have invested heavily in port operations, what have we gotten back in return? In 2006 when we took over the operations of the ports, naira was N125 to a dollar, what is it today, it is N362 as at yesterday. By implication our cost of operation has increased by almost 100 percent, salary is going up, to put the right infrastructure in place cost money, who bears the cost, are we considering him.
I know that if you are bringing in brand new car it is 70 percent plus other charges by the Customs. Is Customs charging the same amount today as it was charging as at 2006?
Rather than shouting terminal operators, terminal operators, is NIMASA’s charges the same as it the same as it was in 2006, who moderates them, who regulates them, who looks at what they are charging? I am not talking only about NIMAS, NPA is also there, Shippers Council is also there. What NIMASA charges is one of the highest in the world am I not right?
How can importers go to Republic of Benin because of terminal operators? It is because of government policies, policy summersault.
Do they sit well and think deeply before changing policies every time. An importer will place an order for goods, Customs will increase tariff on the item without consideration for such an importer that has open letter of credit, is that wise; have they not put him in trouble?
The Vice President going over the place talking about ease of doing business in Nigeria, is government support itself? The port should be a one stop shop but we are far from it because there is no sincerity on the part of anyone.
I am not absolving the terminal operators, terminal operators inclusive, NIMAS inclusive, NPA, Shippers Council and port users inclusive and even the freight forwarder.