Recently, the Nigerian Ports Authority commenced the first export consignment of manganese, a solid mineral resource from the Ikorodu lighter terminal, in partnership with Connect Rail Services Limited (CRSL). The Chief Executive Officer of CRSL, Edeme Kelikume spoke to Eromosele Abiodun on the company’s plans for export and the use of badges to evacuate cargo from Lagos ports. Excerpts:
Your company and the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) flagged off the first export consignment of manganese from the Ikorodu lighter terminal. What are the objectives of your company, Connect Rail Services Limited?
The maritime sector holds significant opportunities for Connect Rail Limited to build a robust inter-modal logistics solutions business and we are currently focused on three key objectives in this sector. The first is about providing the highest quality to our customers. We want to offer our customers the best service at all times, at the highest level of quality and at reasonable prices. To this end, we are investing in acquiring new equipment to ensure efficiency at our operating terminals. We are also investing in our trucking capacity to ensure we can provide end-to end solutions at all times. The second front is to develop our capacity to lead with technology. The evolution of technology is pushing the boundaries and changing how the world does business and for us at Connect Rail Limited, we want to be at the forefront of using technology to lead in this sector. From automation to Internet of things, shipment tracking systems, enhanced global positioning system (GPS) accuracy and predictive analytics and Uber-like delivery platforms, we want to be at the fore-front of adopting smart technologies to shape our business model and deliver value to our clients.
Thirdly, we want to become synonymous with powering agro-commodities export. One of our objectives in the maritime sector is to support the federal government’s effort to diversify the economy from oil to non-oil exports. Our operations at the Ikorodu Lighter Terminal, designated by the NPA as an agricultural export terminal has significantly improved the challenges that Agro-commodities exporters have been facing moving their cargo as a result of the ports congestion in Apapa.
Your inter-modal logistic solution is not the typical one that is well known within the country, what stimulated the idea?
Nigeria’s internal freight mix is dominated by road haulage, as the country’s rail network is dilapidated and underdeveloped and its utilisation of inland water ways extremely poor. Nigeria’s railway infrastructure, if well-developed like other countries like South Africa can carry larger volumes over greater distances, making it more economical, and much quicker for transporting heavy cargo. The use of rail over trucks to transport containers from maritime facilities could help ease container backlogs and reduce congestion on Nigeria’s roads. Nigeria has about 10,000 kilometres waterways, which if developed through dredging and provision of auxiliary facilities will provide all year-round navigation for transportation of bulk cargo and passengers. With Over 8, 000 km of navigable waterways, Nigeria has the second longest length of waterways in Africa. Twenty-eight of the nation’s 36 states can be accessed through water, linked to five neighboring countries (Benin Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Chad and Niger).
Globally, in the United States (US) for instance, coal for the electricity industry, petroleum products, construction industry aggregates and cement, chemicals, including fertilisers, metal ores and minerals, heavy products such as steel and many other manufactured products are moved through its inland waterways. Shippers and consumers in the economies of 38 states in the US depend on inland waterways to move about 630 million tonnes of cargo, valued at over $73 billion annually. Moreover, 60 per cent of the country’s farm exports travel by inland waterways. The untapped opportunity to utilise barge, rail and truck for cargo transportation as a critical driver for economic growth of the Nation’s economy and the significant environmental and social impact on its people is what inspired us to setup of connect rail.
What are your areas of concentration?
In these times when customers are looking for cost reduction, efficiency, enhancements for their growing markets or when they have to deal with congested roads and ports, inter-modality becomes more and more important to provide them with guaranteed services and capacities at reasonable prices. Our focus is on providing Intermodal logistics solutions. The combination of all transport modes (truck/rail/barge), by using their specific advantages, cost-wise and service-wise.
Our modest achievement so far can be attributed largely to a consistent focus on building our business despite the myriad challenges as well as continued support from the leadership of the NPA and the Nigerian Railway Corporation.
How well has the NPA and other agencies in the sector facilitated your operations and set agenda.
The NPA is an example of an agency working hard to provide an enabling environment for businesses to thrive. Their unwavering support in encouraging the emerging barging services industry is the reason why we are still in barging business today.
What are the major challenges you first had to scale through and which are you still facing now?
Like in every sector in the Nigerian economy, there are challenges and the logistics sector is no different. We have to grapple with the challenge of people, infrastructure, high cost of doing business, ports corruption etc. In the long run however, we have built considerable resilience that allows us to keep growing the business in-spite of the challenges.
At the moment you deal with inland water within the state, are you planning to expand?
We are of course looking to build a regionally focused business especially with inland waterways as a means for cargo transportation. We intend to commence barging services across state lines with our operations that can deliver cargo to Warri, Port-Harcourt, Calabar, Onitsha, Lokoja in 2019.
Our readers will like to know more about your company. Can you tell about your company?
We are Nigeria’s premier indigenous specialised bulk freight firm established to provide value innovative transportation solutions for containerised and break bulk cargo. Our vision is to be the foremost provider of multi modal, integrated, logistics services in West Africa before the middle of the century. While our mission is to provide Affordable, scheduled, safe, sustainable and environmentally friendly bulk freight solutions.