Stories by Eromosele Abiodun
Operations at the Apapa container terminal, operated by APM Terminals, were paralysed on Wednesday as the contractor handling the rail project at the Apapa port mobilised to site, blocked the truck exit gate and began demolition of structures in the terminal.
The action of the Chinese rail project contractor has hampered Customs inspection, release and exit of containers at Nigeria’s busiest seaport.
Experts said the demolition of structures including the terminal exit gate could compromise safety and security at the facility and is in breach of the International Ships and Ports Facility Security (ISPS) Code.
Many importers and clearing agents were unable to conclude their transactions while loaded trucks were unable to exit the terminal.
The blockade also made it impossible for empty trucks to enter the terminal to pick up containers for delivery to their owners. The situation has further compounded the Apapa gridlocks as trucks piled up on the port access road.
“This is terrible. I have never seen this kind of thing before in this port. There was no warning, no prior notice from the railway contractor. They just brought their heavy duty machines today and blocked everywhere.
“Port operation has been stopped. It is a standstill. It is total chaos. Everywhere is blocked,” Monday Ekanem, a clearing agent at the Apapa port, lamented.
Another Customs agent blamed the rail project contractor for being insensitive to port operation and the economy, warning that the blockade of West Africa’s largest container terminal would have adverse effect on Nigeria’s economy.
“The rail project is a good idea, but the way the contractor is going about is very wrong. You don’t paralyse port operation. Trade must keep flowing, but it does not appear they understand this at all. Now they have mobilised to site without allowing us to make necessary alternative arrangements for delivery of containers.
“There is also no arrangement for how trucks will enter and exit the terminal. They do not know the implication of what they are doing. And no one knows how long this will last,” the agent, who identified himself as Mohammed said.
Also speaking on the development, President of the Nigerian Importers Integrity Association (NIIA), Godwin Onyekazi, said while the desire of government to link the seaports to the rail network is commendable, the project should be implemented in a way that does not hamper port operation.
He added, “What we observed at the Apapa port today shows poor coordination of the rail project. The Chinese contractors handling the rail should have coordinated with the Nigerian Ports Authority and all the terminal operators at the port to ensure that while the construction is ongoing, port operations are not hampered.
“There is a huge backlog of containers in the port as we speak. To now block the port at this time and make it impossible for containers to exit the port is counterproductive.
“This is also the peak season for importation. More goods are coming into the country and this disruption will mean that these goods will be stranded at the port.
“Consequently, importers will be made to bear the brunt of this action because their goods will be trapped inside the port and they will not be able to take them to the market in good time. Also, they will end up paying more as demurrage and storage charges. This is not god at all.”
Onyekazi appealed to the Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Hadiza Bala Usman and the Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi to intervene in the matter with a view to allowing cargo deliveries to continue alongside the rail project.