When the Nigerian Ports Authority granted port concessions in 2006, the idea was to boost efficiency, bring sanity to the ports, and generate more revenue for the government. But 16 years down the line, the purpose of that move seems defeated. The inefficiency of the concessionaires has led to the unavailability of holding bays for empty containers.
Before the concession of the Nigerian ports in 2006, they were riddled with inefficiency. Ship dwell times for goods in ports were prolonged due to poor port management, and that led to port congestion. Complaints of untraceable or missing cargoes were being regularly lodged against the Nigerian Ports Authority. Security inside Nigerian seaports was compromised by the activities of miscreants as theft and pilferage became the order of the day. Touts who had no job being in the ports were seen all over the place, looting as much as they could. At some point, ships were scared of visiting Nigerian ports due to high rate of insecurity and attacks on the crew members by these touts.
In Nigeria today, the greater percentage of international trade is routed through the sea, and given Nigeria’s huge population, it is believed that the economy controls over 70 per cent of all seaborne trade in the West African sub-region. Hence, the country’s ports are increasingly challenged to meet the pressure mounted by the movement of ships and cargo in and out of the ports. Then, cargo-handling plants and equipment owned by the NPA were few and mostly unserviceable, leading to shipping companies hiring these machines from private sector sources. Corruption was high among labour contractors and various service providers at the ports Nigerian seaports were rated amongst the costliest in the world, as a result of the compounded problems. Many port premises and quay aprons had fallen to disuse and failed road sections inside the ports made the movement of goods within port grounds cumbersome.
In what seems like an effort to address these challenges and revive the ports again, the Federal Government, 16 years ago, precisely in 2006, through the NPA, entered into concession agreements with some terminal operators for several bulks, breakbulk, and container terminals, partly on a competitive basis. One of the conditions was that they must provide the necessary facilities needed for the efficiency of the ports.
Many experts, including foreigners, lauded the move by the Obasanjo-led federal administration as so many predicted efficiency of port services, having in mind that the nation was tagged the West Africa’s maritime hub. Obviously, adequate holding bays for receiving empty containers for shipping companies before the containers are taken back to their ports of origin were part of the facility needed for the efficiency of a port. But surprisingly, this particular facility seems to be lacking in Nigerian ports today. Even though the ports systems are still facing challenges due to lack of equipment for some of these concessionaires, no doubt, the concession arrangement may have boosted the revenue coming to NPA as records have it that the agency generated $140m in 2005 before the concession and over $450m from the Lagos ports in 2014.