Although stakeholders in the Nigeria’s maritime sector have described the announcement of Lekki Deep Seaport coming on stream by next year as a welcome development, there are concerns that lack of intermodal transportation system, currently making cargo evacuation at the nation’s ports herculean task, poses a threat to deep seaport port development in the country.
Few years ago, the federal government had announced plans for development of deep seaports in the country with several names like Lekki Deep Seaport in Lagos State, Ibaka Deep Seaport in Akwa Ibom State, Badagry Deep Seaport in Lagos State, Olokola Deep Seaport in Ondo State, Ogidigben Deep Seaport near Escravos in Delta State, Agge Deep Seaport in Bayelsa State, cropping up, the big question has been whether the new ports will correct the mistakes of lack of intermodal transportation system that have impeded the nation from deriving maximum benefits from its existing ports or not.
Although the ongoing Lekki Deep Seaport project being developed by a public private partnership led by the Tolaram Group, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) for the federal government and Lagos State government, is expected to be an economic hub for both local and the national economy when completed, the need for intermodal system of cargo evacuation, according to analysts, is very important.
A maritime expert and the managing director of XLV Logistics Limited, Festus Okoh told NATIONAL ECONOMY yesterday that although deepwater ports (another name for deep seaport) will be most favourable to importers of liquid bulk cargo, implications of evacuation could pose some challenges.
Specifically, he said the major challenge to the proposed Ibaka deep seaport might be the need for effective road network and rail network for inland cargo movement.
He said, ‘‘A massive construction programme of heavy-duty, year-round-motorable, integrated road networks, specifically targeted as distributive channels, must be developed alongside the deep seaport. A railway design should also be explored for more effective transportation,’’ Okoh.
NATIONAL ECONOMY investigations showed that almost all the seaports across the country are facing challenges of poor road infrastructure which is hindering the evacuation of cargoes to various destinations. From Lagos to Onne, Port Harcourt, Calabar Ports and Onitsha river port, the stories are not different, as importers and port users groan under collapsed road infrastructure.
“If you look at intermodal transport system, it means the complement of the road, rail and the port. It means that as you are looking at the expansion of the port you should also be looking at the adjoining infrastructure such as road and rail. But, our failure to address that aspect through proper planning is what resulted to the current problem and it has become a common feature for all the ports in Nigeria,’’
However, maritime stakeholders said the coming on stream of Lekki Deep Seaports will reduce the freight rate on cargoes destined for Nigeria seaports as Ultra Large Container Vessels (ULCV), that hitherto cannot birth at Nigeria ports will now berth at the deep seaports.
ULCV is the generic name for container ships with a nominal container capacity of 10,000 TEU and over at a time and with 16.5 meter draught, the Lekki deep seaport will attract vessels that could not call at the Apapa and Tin-Can Island as well as other river seaports in Nigeria due to draught constrained.
To this end, the management of Lekki Deep Seaport has said that the port would be able to berth ships carrying about 18,000 TEUs when it becomes operational, while handling 2.7 million containers a year. Hence, maritime stakeholders said the Lekki deep seaports will make Nigeria compete favourably with its neighbouring countries such as Togo, Benin Republic and Ghana in maritime business.
Speaking on the economic impact of the deep seaport on the nation’s economy, the national president, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Mr Increase Uche said the deep seaport will positively impact the economy.
Although he complained about lack of intermodal system of cargo evacuation, he urged the government to link the port by rail as well as expand the roads leading to the port. He said the mistake of Apapa and Tin-Can Island ports must be avoided at the Lekki deep seaport so that it won’t erode the gains of the deep seaport.
Also speaking, the national president, Africa Association of Professional Freight Forwarders and Logistics in Nigeria (APFFLON), Otunba Frank Ogunojemite, said that the port will have a draught capacity of 16.5 metres. With this, the country, he explained, will now have the capacity to accommodate and berth the biggest vessels, which was currently non-existent at the moment, due to draught constraints.