The announcement by the Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, that cargoes from Lagos ports would be taken to Papalanto, a transit terminal in Ogun State, through the narrow-gauge rail line after their clearance, has generated reactions from agents and importers.
Amaechi said during the World Maritime Day celebrations that the Federal Government had reserved a transit terminal in Papalanto, Ogun State, for such cargoes so that their owners could pick them up from there to their various destinations instead of coming to Lagos.
He said this was part of efforts to ease the traffic congestion on the Apapa/Wharf access road as a result of the ongoing rehabilitation work along that axis.
The Apapa gridlock has become a source of worry to stakeholders since May this year when contractors from Flour Mills, Dangote Group and the Nigerian Ports Authority commenced the rehabilitation work, which necessitated closing a portion of the road.
Investigations have shown that port users spend as much as 10 days going in and out of the port to evacuate their cargoes, a process that should take 24 hours or less.
Also, transportation and demurrage costs have shot up, rising by about 200 per cent and escalating the cost of doing business at the port.
The minister said the government was making concerted efforts to find a lasting solution to the gridlock, resulting in the rehabilitation of the rail line along the area.
He also spoke about plans to link the rail lines to the seaports to make it easy to convey cargo by rail.
He said the movement of containerised goods from Lagos to the Ogun community was a temporary measure aimed at easing the gridlock occasioned by the road rehabilitation in the Apapa area.
Some clearing agents who spoke to our correspondent stated that the move was not the best approach as this also had its negative implications on cost and ease of doing business.
They suggested working on the road at night and during the weekend was done in advanced countries.
The President of the International Freight Forwarders Association, Dr. Sam Onyemelukwue, said if the government had committed enough funds to the project and contracted Julius Berger Plc to do it, the construction firm would have deployed its equipment to do the work at suitable periods that would not seriously affect traffic flow and the port would not need to be shut down.
“In Nigeria, we always look for cheap options. This is a premier port in the nation that generates N4bn daily into the government coffers. It is not a good thing for it to be shut down and for people to be using off-dock terminals,” he said.
He also maintained that the cost of doing business would increase because the payment for ‘off-country’ transportation was higher, noting that transporters classified any movement outside Lagos as ‘off-country’.
The IFFA president suggested that the Federal Government should hand over the management of the ports to the state government so that there would be efficiency, saying that in other climes, ports were under the management of state governments.
He added that if the movement of cargo to Papalanto was an alternative arrangement, people should not be compelled to comply since it was the Federal Government’s decision that certain cargoes could not be cleared unless they were brought to Lagos.
An importer, Eddy Akwaze, also raised concerns about the impact of the movement on the cost of doing business.
He said the cost of bringing empty containers back to Lagos from Ogun State after offloading cargo would be high.
Akwaeze faulted the government for not consulting stakeholders in the sector before taking the decision.
He said that cargoes were bound to be lost in transit between Lagos and Ogun states, adding that the best people to handle cargoes were the Customs officers at the Lagos ports.
“If they use rail to evacuate cargoes, some of our warehouses are not close to the rail lines, we will still need to use trucks,” he said.
He said the only way to ease the suffering of operators in the sector would be to reduce import duties.
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