WITH the Lagos ports of Apapa and Tin-Can already overstretched due to various bottlenecks in the cargo clearance chain and unnecessary prevalence of huge numbers of overtime cargoes at the ports, the Yuletide rush, which is beginning to gather steam, is definitely going to cost the nation’s ports some cargoes, investigations have revealed.
Recall that the Lagos ports have suffered huge inefficiency issues ranging from illegal checkpoints along the ports access roads to poor road network amongst others in the last few months.
This has been compounded by the inability of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to reach a common ground on the auctioning of a growing number of overtime cargoes inside the ports, thereby leaving the ports congested ahead of the Yuletide rush.
However, with the usual end of the year rush bringing about more cargoes to Nigerian ports, port workers are saying that cargo owners are already considering the option of diverting cargoes to neighbouring ports of Lome and Cotonou if the confusion in Apapa and Tin-Can persists by year end.
Speaking to the Nigerian Tribune, a port official who did not want his name in print explained that the failure to find a lasting solution to the prevalence of overtime cargoes at the ports may worsen yard situation ahead of the expected end-of-the-year rush.
According to the port official, “Every end of the year has not been easy for most of us who work inside the terminals. The increment in the number of cargoes to be handled by that time always stretches our ports to its limit.
“For months, we have been talking of the prevalence of overtime cargoes in the port. Their number is on the rise. For now, we are already talking about close to 10,000 overtime containers littering the container port terminal and reducing yard efficiency. Is this how we intend to go into the end-of-the-year rush?
“By the time the Yuletide rush comes on us, I pray we don’t lose cargoes to our rivals in the sub-region. Our main rivals for cargoes are the ports of Lome and Cotonou. They thrive on the confusion in Apapa and bask in their ability to get these cargoes into Nigeria through her many porous borders.
“Now, if the issue of overtime cargoes which ought to have been solved before December is still on the front burner towards the end of November, I fear for some of our cargoes.
“Some of the cargo owners, when they come to clear their consignments are already complaining of the added cost that they have to pay due to the delays caused by issues beyond the terminals. Issues like repair of ports access roads and efficient traffic system in and out of the ports are definitely beyond the terminal operators. Also, issues concerning evacuation of overtime cargoes are far beyond the terminals.
“We expect business to pick up towards the end of the year, and we won’t appreciate it if it meets us in the current state that we are in. We pray that the overtime containers would have been cleared from the ports before then because that is the only way we can have more space for business ahead of the yuletide rush.
“Anything outside this may lead to neighbouring ports benefiting from the chaos that will occur in the ports if the Yuletide rush meets those overtime cargoes in the port. Don’t forget that when cargoes are diverted, they still find their way into Nigerian markets. Who loses in such scenario? It is our ports because we won’t be able to handle the number of cargoes that we ought to have handled.”
On his part, Vice President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Dr Kayode Farinto, expressed fears that the usual Yuletide rush might not just happen this year due to some factors already mitigating importation business in Nigeria.
In the words of the ANLCA chieftain, “My prediction this year is that we might not have any Yuletide rush by end of the year. I am saying this because of several issues which have brought about a lull in importation business as of today.
“If you look at it, as of today there is a lull in business. The rate of importation has dropped. We may not be witnessing congestion issues by end of the year, mark my words. The purchasing power of many individual importers is dropping; Maybe not so for some corporate organisations that do large importation of raw materials.
“The dollar is increasing by the day. In the last three weeks, the volume of importation has dropped. So, we might not be witnessing that mad rush that usually comes in by end of the year.
“However, that does not mean that the overtime cargoes should not be evacuated from the ports. What if business picks up towards the end of the year and there is a surge in importation activities? There is need to decongest the ports of the overtime cargoes there. They are eating up spaces unnecessarily and this is not good for port operations.
“However, my prediction for now is that there might not be any mad rush at the end of the year. This is based on what I am seeing currently at the ports.”