Nigeria Moves to Claim African Port Hub Status

29 Apr 2012

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MD, NPA, Omar Suleiman

With the frantic rehabilitation of infrastructure, development of deep seaports and capital dredging of channels, the Nigerian Ports Authority,  is positioning the nation’s seaports,        particularly Lagos, as a marine hub in West and Central Africa, reports Francis Ugwoke

For ports in West and Central Africa, the competition for hub status in the region is intensifying. About 14 years ago, a World Bank sponsored report did not favour Nigeria. The reasons were obvious: the report cited bureaucratic bottlenecks at the Lagos ports, poor cargo handling equipment, prolonged dwell time for goods, dock labour crises and corruption as factors affecting trade. The report pointed to Abidjan, which is competing with Nigeria in container traffic, as a more favourable trade destination. 

Instructively, the World Bank report was believed to have triggered a series of reforms that have taken place in the Nigerian ports system, a development that has been acknowledged by another report published in 2007.

Yet competition continues to grow on which ports should assume the hub status in the West and Central Africa region. Under the hub and spoke system, a central seaport will emerge which will be the first port of call for big ships coming from all over the world. It is from this hub or spoke system, that other ships from neighbouring ports will transship the cargo to final their destinations. Naturally, becoming a regional shipping hub has a multiplier effect in terms of economic gains for any country it favours.

West and Central African Ports

There are at least 15 major ports in the West and Central African region. These include Lagos, Abidjan, Tema, Dakar, Luanda, Duala, Cotonou, Conakry, Mtadi in Congo (DRC), Lome, Libreville, Pointe Noire (Congo Republic), Free Town and Nouadhibou (Mauritania) ports. The Abidjan, Tema and Cotonou ports are Lagos’ biggest competitors.

But in a bid to emerge the favoured hub in West and Central Africa, neighbouring ports have been reported to be building deep seaports that can accommodate bigger ocean going vessels. The target is to attract imports meant for Nigerian ports and become a load centre.

In a letter to President Goodluck Jonathan, the president of the National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDCA), Mr. Lucky Amiwero, recently said that the neighbouring ports were building deep seaports that can take vessels with a capacity for 15,000 containers in a single voyage.

Amiwero warned that except Nigeria develops new ports, it may lose out in its quest to become the regional hub. Amiwero said the current construction of a deep seaport in Seme-Kpodji as a transshipment centre was a big threat to Lagos ports. He said vessels with 15,000 containers will be encouraged to discharge at Seme-Kodji in Benin Republic since such vessels cannot berth in Nigeria. It was also gathered that Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire have also started constructing new deep seaports.

Counter Moves by NPA

In a move to checkmate other ports and become the hub in West and Central Africa, the management of NPA is currently implementing projects in all the ports. The authority is spearheading the development of a deep seaport in Akwa Ibom State and another seaport in Lekki, Lagos. The two ports are expected to have a draught of over 15 meters. Apart from this, the authority is also carrying out what managing director, Mr. Omar Suleiman described as aggressive capital dredging to open up all the ports to bigger ocean going vessels no matter the size. 

He told THISDAY that with capital dredging at all the ports, vessels of bigger capacity will continue to berth at the ports. According to him, the idea to carry out the capital dredging and construction of two more deep seaports were aimed at ensuring that no large vessel will be constrained by low draught to berth in the country. He also said that this will bring about a multiplier effect in improving the nation’s economy in line with the president’s transformation agenda.

  “These are the things Nigerians need now for us to remain relevant in maritime trade. Such ports will boost the nation’s economy as they will attract so many large ships to our ports. This is our target,” he said.

The federal government, a few months, had also ago approved rehabilitation work at the Delta ports, a development that is expected to improve cargo and vessel traffic at the seaports in the Niger Delta. Furthermore, the authority has been involved in infrastructure rehabilitation in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Onne and Calabar in the past one year.  The Apapa dockyard, Wharf 3, Lagos Harbour moles, Tin Can Island  port quay wall and quay apron,  harbour mole, construction of Tin Can  port industrial estate and an access road into the Kirikiri Lighter Terminal (phase 2), have been rehabilitated also.

Other areas where rehabilitation is nearing completion include the Escravos breakwater, AMS Terminal ‘B’, old Port Warri, Julius Berger Terminal ‘C’ and the old Port  of Warri in Delta state. Omar noted NPA is committed to developing the ports to offer service delivery as is applicable in advanced countries of the world.

On the reaction of the authority to reports that other neighbouring ports are building deep seaports to target goods meant for the Nigerian market, general manager, Public Affairs, Chief Michael Ajayi, said the management of the authority was not worried about this development, adding that the current ship and cargo traffic into the country has been very impressive, and has so far shown that no cargo heading for Nigeria was being diverted to neighbouring ports. 

He maintained that the international shipping community is impressed with the infrastructure development in Nigerian ports and will prefer the country as a hub or load centre to other neighbouring ports.

Why Hub Status Favours Nigeria

Industry stakeholders hold the strong view that Nigeria stands the biggest chance of becoming the regional hub in West and Central Africa because of its market size advantage. A shipping economist, Dr. Ade    Babatunde, told THISDAY Nigeria would remain the choice of the international shipping community as a load centre the region. He attributed this to her market size, adding that 70 per cent of imports to the entire sub-region are targeted at the Nigeria market. 

Besides, he added that the management of NPA has moved swiftly to position Lagos ports as a hub centre by upgrading the infrastructure. He identified the rehabilitation of ports infrastructure and the continuous dredging of the channels to accommodate bigger vessels as steps taken in the right direction. He maintained that there was no way other ports in the sub-region would emerge hubs in the region because shipping lines would always factor cargo traffic in a region for it to become a load centre. 

He added Nigerian importers who route their goods through the Cotonou ports could be regarded as smuggling suspects planning to smuggle goods into the country. The successful berthing of a Mearsk vessel, Mearsk Conakry, the largest container vessel in Apapa, late last year was seen as a breakthrough for Nigeria and a confirmation of the country’s capacity to accommodate large seagoing vessels.

Managing Director of Maersk Nigeria Limited, Mr. David Skov, had said the berthing of the vessel in Lagos accorded the country a leading port status in Africa. Skov said, “Maersk Line and NPA are facilitating further trade growth by creating such additional capacity through bigger vessel operations with improved productivity. WAFMAXA means future growth!” he said.

Omar had also described the berthing of Maersk Conakry, known as a WAFMAX vessel, as a welcome development as it will prove that Nigerian waters can now accommodate larger vessels. He said this was a step in actualising Nigeria’s dream to become the regional hub in West and Central African. 

Tags: Business, Nigeria, Featured, African Port Hub

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