Posted January 4, 2019
The gridlock around Lagos ports that brought the economy to a near standstill underscores the importance of developing other ports in the country, Anna Okon writes
In 2018 the government intensified efforts to rehabilitate the access roads leading to Lagos ports.
The deplorable roads leading to the Lagos Port Complex and the Tin Can Island port had been the leading cause of accidents, death, high cost of transportation and general nuisance to the economy for years.
In June, 2017, Dangote, Flour Mills, the Nigerian Ports Authority, collaborated with the Federal Ministry of Works, Power and Housing, to rehabilitate the 2km Apapa Wharf road at the initial cost of N4.3bn.
The job, which had a completion timeline of one year, suffered delays, owing to buried gas pipelines on that corridor, logistics and funds needed to relocate them.
The construction is still ongoing with one part of the road completed while work had commenced on the other lane.
The channel of this port, like most of its eastern counterparts, is shallow, inhibiting the berthing of large vessels. The channel is six meters, while the channel drafts in Lagos ports are between 9.4 to 10 meters deep.
The shallow draft raised concerns by the terminal operators- Intels, Ecomarine and Shoreline Logistics, who had concession of the port in 2006.
They complained that they were losing revenue because they could not receive cargoes as large vessels could not berth at the port.
The ECM terminal operator, Emmanuel Iheanacho, pointed out that most of the shipping companies had upgraded their tonnage from 350 twenty equivalent unit containers to 3,000 and 18,000 TEUs which made Calabar port unsuitable for berthing such ships.
The Calabar Channel Management was appointed by the Nigerian Ports Authority in 2001 to handle the dredging of the channel along with other channels.
The Managing Director, CCM Company Limited, Mr Bart Eenoo, explained that the NPA openly advertised for the establishment of a Channel Management Company for the Calabar navigation channel which Niger Global Engineering and Technical Company Limited, duly bid and won leading to the establishment of CCM with a Joint Venture Agreement with the NPA, with 60 per cent and 40 per cent equity respectively.
In 2014, CCM mobilised and started dredging the channel but suddenly stopped work.
Eenoo explained in March 2018 that the company dredged the water channel up to the envisaged 20 kilometers within Tomshort Island, before the NPA ordered the stoppage of work.
In a response to a petition filed by Niger Global about the non-payment of fees, a former Managing Director, NPA, Abdul Salam Mohammed, in his letter to the Minister of Transport, explained that the contract with Niger Global was for maintenance dredging and not capital dredging and the said maintenance dredging was never completed.
He accused Niger Global of failing to mobilise to site in Calabar. “By April/May 2002, Niger Global had not mobilised to site despite the demands by the Authority.
“It became apparent that Niger Global did not conclude the maintenance dredging work as contracted, hence the setting up of a Presidential Investigative Panel by the Federal Government to look into the contract award in March, 2003.”
In 2017, the Managing Director, NPA, Hadiza Bala-Usman called for a termination of the Joint Venture arrangement, citing concerns about transparency and lack of compliance with due process.
In November 2018, a Senator representing Imo West Senatorial District, and the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress in Imo State, Senator Hope Uzodinma, was arrested in connection with the project.
Chairman of the Operatives of the Special Presidential Investigation Panel for Recovery of Public Property Panel, Okoi Obono-Obla, said a company linked to the senator was awarded $12m contract by the NPA for dredging of the Calabar channel but did not execute the contract.
Calabar port’s natural obstacle
Beyond botched dredging contract, Calabar port is said to have an inherent challenge that has hindered its development.
In a published interview, the former MD, NPA, Omar Suleiman, who headed the Authority between 2010 and 2012 put it succinctly-“The Calabar Port has a big problem. Anyone in the maritime industry understands that in NPA archives, the Port of Calabar was not designed for Calabar. It was designed for Oron.
“Oron is on that paper until it went to the Military Council. It was at the Military council that cancelled Oron and put Calabar. It is 120 kilometres of high sea meandering channel. If you dredge it this month with $100m, in six months’ time you will need to dredge it again. That is the problem of Calabar Port. If you understand that you will understand why the port is where it is now.
“But it can be solved. In the maritime industry, once the operators are there, Calabar Port can be turned into an industrial port. It has six metres natural depth. Batches and smaller vessels can come in as an industrial port where a lot of manufacturing can be happening and value of integration entrenched. But it can’t be managed for big vessels. It doesn’t have to be a port for the importation of large containers.
“It is better for industries for fabrication and manufacturing. It can also be used as export port using smaller vessels to move exports to big ports for onward transmission. For you to get 10 metres draft in Calabar and maintain it consistently, it is not economical. It was maintained when NPA was the master stevedore in charge of the ports, not now when we have terminal operators.
“For terminals in Apapa, there are certain parameters in the agreement that NPA has to cater to for the operators to work, so, the money you make in Apapa, you need to put it back into the Apapa Port, so that Apapa Port can work; if you carry that money and put in Calabar and Apapa is ignored, both ports will break down.”
The port has, however, been given a new lease of life from various investments by the government in the past two years.
This according to the Port Manager, Mrs Olufumilayo Olotu, had resulted in a-40 per cent increase in vehicle traffic to the port.
“The liquid bulk has increased due to the fact that for now, Calabar becomes the only outlet to make distribution to other locations that are connected to this axis. Ours is the only port that opens to the North-East of Nigeria; so they are using Calabar as a base to distribute petroleum products,” she told our correspondent.
In October 2017, the port welcomed a 62,000 metric tonne flat bottomed vessel ,“Desert Ranger’’ weighing about 200 meters, that sailed into the country from Greece. It carried 60,000 tonnes of wheat.
In June 2018, the NPA deployed N1bn to purchase tugboats, pilot cutters and other equipment at the port as part of efforts to boost efficiency and make the port attractive for business.
Usman also noted that the government had not given up on efforts to dredge the port to achieve a deeper draft.
She said four consultants engaged by the agency for the Bathymetric survey of the channel leading to the port had concluded their assignment so that the dredging of the channel could commence.