Last week’s first ship docking at the $2bn ultra-modern Lekki Deep Seaport, Lagos, signals the repositioning of Nigeria as the prime maritime hub of West and Central African regions, writes Louis Achi
Last Friday, the vessel ZHEN HUA 28, a heavy lift carrier, berthed at the Lekki Deep Seaport, Lagos, delivering three Ship to Shore (STS) Cranes and 10 Rubber Tyred Gantries (RTG) that will help in the swift evacuation of cargoes from vessels to the shore. It was a first.
These cranes, touted as the most sophisticated port equipment, will be used for the first time in Nigeria at the Lekki Port, putting Nigeria at the forefront of container operations in West Africa.
The Lekki Deep Seaport with almost 17-meter draught constructed by China Habour Engineering firm is a $2 billion investment in the Lagos Free Trade Zone initiated by the Tolaram Group and conceived to be a key game-changer in Nigeria’s dawdling maritime economy.
An upbeat President Muhammadu Buhari congratulated the Federal Ministry of Transportation and the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and all stakeholders in the maritime sector over the successful berthing of the first ship at the Deep Seaport. He recalled that his approval of four new seaports in the country, including the Lekki Deep Sea port, was hinged on growing the economy.
“The successful delivery today (last Friday) at the Lekki Deep Seaport of three Super Post Panamax state-of-the art Ship to Shore (STS) Cranes and 10 Rubber Tyred Gantries (RTG) is a testament to the unflinching commitment of NPA to providing the support necessary for placing Nigeria on the global list of countries with Deep Seaports,” the substantive MD/Chief Executive Officer of NPA, Mr. Mohammed Bello Koko enthused, adding that the Lekki Deep Seaport, when operational, would reduce ship waiting time by 50 to 60 per cent.
Further according to the NPA boss Koko, “The successful delivery of these very important equipment which are critical for the Lekki Deep Seaport to commence operations before the end of the year 2022 is a demonstration of our readiness to take trade facilitation a notch higher. This has been made possible by the tremendous backing of His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari and the Federal Ministry of Transportation who have over the time played a key role from the initial construction stage and also granted fast tracked approval for this historic exercise.
“For us at the NPA, the coming on stream of Lekki symbolises a lot of positives. Apart from being Nigeria’s first Deep Seaport, Lekki Port will also be the first fully automated port at take-off. This provides an insight into the path we are already toeing as a management team to govern the operationalisation of not just the forthcoming Badagry, Ibom and Bonny Deep Seaports, but also of the reconstruction of the aged Tin-Can Port, where work is set to commence once we secure the necessary approvals from the Federal Ministry of Transportation and FEC, respectively.”
In addition to the maritime equipment delivered last Friday, two pieces of ship-to-shore cranes and five RTG cranes will arrive Lekki Deep Seaport in mid-August this year. Then two more units of ship-to-shore cranes and six RTG cranes will also arrive at Lekki port before the end of year 2025.
Another crucial dimension to the actualization of the Lekki Deep Seaport was the all-out leadership and persistence of then Minister of Transportation Chibike Rotimi Amaechi.
As at the time he became minister, there was nothing there. In his second tenure, he paid close attention to it and pushed the project with commendable focus. He really persisted and secured all necessary Federal Executive Council (FEC) approvals and was visiting site almost every two months to ensure there were no glitches. He gave his time and telephone lines to the contractors to ensure uninterrupted contacts.
This much were also acknowledged by both President Buhari and NPA MD/CEO Mohammed Koko.
Under the technical guidance of the International Maritime Organization, NPA is assiduously working to deploy the Port Community System (PCS), which will enable Nigeria respond squarely to the dictates of global trade facilitation and optimise the opportunities of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement to which Nigeria is signatory.”
Obviously worried by the gradual loss of the maritime hub status and critical revenue, due to the inadequacies of seaports in the country, the Federal Government and Lekki Port LFTZ Enterprise Limited signed a 45-year concession to develop a deep sea/multipurpose port in Lagos State.
The Lekki Deep Seaport has a natural depth (draught) of almost 17 metres, Quay Length of 680 metres, Breakwater of 1.909 metres, two Container Berths and Marine Services Jetty to handle containers, as well as liquid and dry bulk cargoes. With these metrics, Lekki port is projected to be one of the most modern deep seaports in West Africa, which will serve as a vast support to the burgeoning commercial operation across Nigeria and repositioning the country as the maritime hub of the region.
Also, the NPA had revealed that with the country accounting for 70 per cent of the cargoes imported into West and Central Africa, developing modern deep seaports will be a huge potential revenue earner for the nation along with the attendant multiple socio-economic benefits.
It’s worth recalling that neighbouring countries had capitalised on shortcomings in Nigeria’s maritime sector to claim transshipment hub status as they are rapidly developing into modern seaports with automated facilities and infrastructure as well as deeper draught that can accommodate larger vessels with Nigeria-bound cargoes.
Land-locked countries such as Chad and the Republic of Niger, which, hitherto were using Nigeria’s ports as transit points for their cargoes have diverted to Ghana, Togo, Benin Republic, Cote d’Ivoire and Cameroon.
Also, the majority of importers divert Nigeria-bound cargoes to the neighbouring countries just as investors shun the nation’s ports to invest elsewhere. The cargo diversion costs Nigeria an estimated N130 billion yearly according to reports.
With the coming on stream of the ultra-modern Lekki Deep Seaport, these challenges which have pulled the country behind in the maritime sector will shortly become a story of the past.
Indisputably, the history, growth and progress of nations are closely interwoven with the degree of development of the maritime industry. Not surprisingly, maritime trade has played a key role in Nigeria’s economic development. The maritime sector accounts for about 95% of the vehicular means of Nigeria’s international trade. The maritime industry is a key sector of the nation’s economy putting into consideration the country’s status as a major oil exporting country.
An adequate and efficient maritime transport system plays a vital role in the development of a country’s market especially the market of international trade by transforming local markets in to national, regional and international focus. This allows economies of great scale in areas that have promising comparative advantage with concomitant generation of huge employment opportunities. The maritime sector is capital intensive and thus requires huge amount of funding.
It then little wonder the NPA MD/CEO Koko noted that “Our strategic intent of becoming the maritime logistics hub for sustainable ports services in Africa rests heavily on how well we are able deepen our efficiencies through construction of deep seaports in order to leverage the concomitant benefits of economies of scale.”
He further made it very clear that “The commitment of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to providing every support necessary to place Nigeria on the global list of countries with Deep Seaports is unflinching. This is why matters related to the operationalization of Lekki Deep Seaport before the end of this year have been placed on top priority.”
On his part, the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, during a recent tour of the port, said when completed the port would make Nigeria regain the maritime business that it lost to ports in Togo, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana. He also estimated that over $201 billion in taxes, royalties and duties would be generated for the government as well as the creation of 169,972 jobs when the port commences operations in the fourth quarter of 2022.
According to Mohammed, the aggregate economic impact of the port, put at $361 billion in 45 years, would be over 200 times the cost of building the port adding that the direct and induced business revenue impact of the port is estimated at $158 billion in addition to a qualitative impact on the manufacturing, trade and commercial services sector.
“No port in Nigeria currently has this. The excellent equipment is why this port can do 18,000 twenty-foot equivalent unit (teu), which is more than four times the number that can currently be handled by our other ports,” he stated.
Also, the Managing Director, Lekki Deep Sea Port, Du Ruogang, assured that the port would change the economic landscape of Nigeria and West Africa at large with its largest terminal capacity. He said the operators will have a terminal operating system that will be more integrated, not only to drive the functionality of the port but e-commerce as well.
Ruogang further said the competitive edge of the port is its ability to accept larger vessels and discharge ships twice as fast, thereby reducing the overall port stay of a vessel as well as the costs for importers and exporters minimally, while savings are handed to the consumers.