As the developer of the $1.5 billion Lekki Deep Seaport takes delivery of terminal handling equipment and prepares for the commencement of operations in September, there are concerns over the effectiveness of the new port without an efficient cargo evacuation system.
With the capacity to handle 2.7 million Twenty Equivalent Units (TEUs) of container in addition to dry and liquid bulk cargoes, the port, if not properly connected at the first instance, may end up like Apapa and Tin-Can Island Ports that handle about 1.3 million TEUs of containers annually, experts have said.
Apapa and Tin-Can Island Ports, Nigeria’s two major ports, are notorious for traffic congestion resulting in delay in cargo evacuation and delivery due to a lack of effective rail and inland water connections to the ports.
Statistics from the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) show that both ports handle about 1.3 million TEUs of containers yearly and about 86.9 million metric tonnes of bulk cargo.
“We handled more than 650,000 TEUs per year in 2020 and 2021 – the majority of that being import volume,” said Steen Knudsen, terminal manager of APM Terminals Apapa, operator of Apapa Container Terminal.
Expressing concern in an interview with our correspondent in Abuja, Hassan Bello, a maritime expert, said he hoped the Lekki Deep Seaport would not be plagued by the same problem facing Apapa and Tin-Can.
According to him, there must be a multimodal connection to cargo delivery and evacuation because the use of only the road would result in traffic congestion.
Bello warned the Federal Government not to give an operating licence to a port that has no rail or inland water connection but relies on only roads.
“We need adequate infrastructure including inland connectivity. We have no access to Apapa and Tin-Can today because there is no rail. We have a congested port because of a lack of planning. The Lagos State Government and other investors should be keen on providing multimodal cargo delivery and evacuation from the port. A port should be served with as many means of transportation as possible including the inland waterway, road, and rail,” he said.
Bello, who warned that Nigeria should not repeat the problem of Apapa in Lekki, said rail is important because it can carry huge volumes and lower costs and that it is supposed to be a condition precedent for a port to operate, and not after the port has taken off.
Bello added: “We have to be revolutionary in our approach because it is not the port but the process. Port operation should be digitalised and Customs clearance should be as fast as it can be. There should be modern traffic management like an electronic call-up system put in place.
“Lekki Port is important to the economy because it signifies how ambitious Nigeria is in bridging the infrastructural deficit. Cargo should not even be examined at the port. Customs needs to take the cargo to the Inland Container Depots and dry ports to examine.”
On his part, Emmanuel Jime, executive secretary of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, said the greatest challenge of Lekki Port will be how to evacuate and bring in export cargo, which is what consignees are facing in Apapa.
“Now, we all know the present condition of the connection into that port. We do not see anything fundamental happening between now and September when the port will start that will change the outlook. So, it means that we are going to have a problem in the short term,” he said.
According to him, Nigeria must promote intermodalism using barges, rail, and road networks, which is critical to getting out of the situation.
“We hear that the Lagos State Government is supposed to do the road and that there are lots of stakeholders that are involved but the way we are going about it appears there is no synergy. We need to have a synergised approach to delivering an intermodal cargo evacuation system in Lekki Port,” Jime said.
Giving insight on the possible rail connection to Lekki, Jime said the last time the former minister of transport visited the port, there was a revelation that there had been on the drawing board a plan to connect Lekki by rail.
He added: “The rail line was traced in a way that it was supposed to connect from somewhere near Ibadan. In other words, there is an understanding that there would be rail linkage to the port but we do not know how soon. We have to continue to talk about it on a regular basis to draw the attention of whoever is concerned.
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“Rail lines take quite some time and are capital-intensive. In the meantime, barges most importantly need to be up and running, and if the barging system is managed properly, it is even more cost-effective than the road.”
To support the port and other industries in the Lekki area, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, governor of Lagos State, said the state would construct the 18.7-kilometer six-lane rigid pavement carriageway from Eleko Junction in Ibeju Lekki to Epe T-junction in Lagos State.
Meanwhile, Godwin Emefiele, the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), has promised to engage the Infrastructure Corporation of Nigeria Limited, relevant agencies of the federal and Lagos State governments, as well as the private sector for the development of road infrastructure in the Lagos Free Zone.
He said the CBN had raised about N23 billion to fund road infrastructure, to facilitate the smooth evacuation of cargo out of the port.