- Port congestion…expected to rise, with the attendant far-reaching consequences, as the Chinese rail contractor blockades port operations at Nigeria’s busiest port…Wednesday
Customs inspection, release and exit of containers, as well as other operations at Nigeria’s busiest seaport, the Apapa container terminal, were paralysed Wednesday as the Chinese rail contractor mobilised to site, blocked the truck exit gate and began demolition of structures in the terminal.
Coming at the peak of import period, this disruption means that more goods would be stranded at the port, and while importers will be unable to take them to the market in good time, they will also pay more in demurrage and storage charges.
Already, experts have raised safety and security concerns over the demolition of structures, including the terminal exit gate at the facility operated by APM Terminals, as it breached the International Ships and Ports Facility Security (ISPS) Code.
Following the blockade, many importers and clearing agents could not conclude their transactions, while loaded trucks were unable to exit the terminal. Likewise, empty trucks could not enter to pick up deliveries, thereby worsening the Apapa gridlock as trucks piled up on the port access road.
Frustrated, clearing agents have been lamenting the development. They described the rail project contractor as insensitive to port operations and the economy, warning that the blockade of West Africa’s largest container terminal would have adverse effects on the nation’s economy.
According to Monday Ekanem, “this is terrible. I have never seen this kind of thing before. No warning, no prior notice. The contractor just brought their heavy duty machines today and blocked everywhere. Port operations have been stopped. It is a standstill; a total chaos. Everywhere is blocked.”
For another Customs agent simply identified as Mohammed, “the rail project is a good idea but the way the contractor is going about it is very wrong. You don’t paralyse port operations. Trade must keep flowing, but it does not appear they understand this at all.
“They 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.”
On his part, President of the Nigerian Importers Integrity Association (NIIA), Godwin Onyekazi, commended the Federal Government’s desire to link the seaports to the rail network but stressed that the project should be implemented without obstructing port operations.
“What we observed at the Apapa port today (Wednesday) shows poor coordination of the rail project,” Onyekazi said. “The Chinese contractors should have coordinated with the Nigerian Ports Authority and all 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 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.”
He appealed to the Managing Director of NPA, Hadiza Bala Usman, and the Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi, to intervene and allow cargo deliveries to continue alongside the rail project.