Most maritime nations less those in Sub-Saharan Africa have leapfrogged from being less developed countries to developed nations because their governments have taken bold steps to provide certain margin of welfare for those operating in the marine industry through deliberate government policies. When the well-being of workers is given priority, it helps to increase productivity and also enhance overall capacity. The use of sophisticated cranes, scanners and other computerized devices to handle cargo coupled with an assembly of individuals with skills, competencies and knowledge will boost productivity at the seaports.
This writer is one of those who have always acknowledged that Nigerians are hard-working and that the country is well endowed with human resources. But due to current logjam at Lagos seaports, it has been suddenly realized that hard work does not automatically translate to productivity. Most Nigerians working at Lagos seaports either to export goods or to clear imported goods are currently under physical and mental stress which makes the gifted human resource hypothesis invalid in terms of productivity in Nigeria’s maritime industry. The reason is that most Nigerians operating in the nation’s seaports in Lagos find it challenging to have access to their workplaces.
You will recall that more than a decade ago, the FG reformed Nigerian ports in order to increase efficiency and productivity. A few years after the port reforms, marginal improvement in cargo throughput, number of vessels, berthing facilities, and ship turn-around time was experienced. In spite of modest achievements recorded at Lagos ports due to the reform, poor infrastructure on land is currently reversing the gains as imported goods cannot be cleared within a short period.
The paradox of Lagos seaports is aptly captured by a keen spectator who observed at an international conference recently that the port reforms have not enhanced productivity within the nation’s manufacturing industry but it has stifled economic growth. In fact, the spectator appropriately observed that the nation’s maritime industry has not attracted considerably the required local and foreign investment inflows that are proportionate to its contribution to the Nigerian economy despite its great potential and enormous investment opportunities. This is not only due to policy flip-flops but poor infrastructure within the seaports, he declared.
Available data shows that Lagos seaports cater roughly for 70 percent of all cargo traffic in Nigeria. Nowadays, it is very clear that poor state of infrastructure inside and outside the Lagos seaports is one of the reasons why the ports are not as efficient as they ought to be in handling cargo traffic. In shipping, the port serves as a gateway between economic activities at sea and those on land. So, if the nation wanted to derive maximum economic benefits from the ports particularly those in the Lagos Area, the Federal Government (FG) must play its regulatory role effectively by evaluating their status. The poor state of the roads leading to the Tin Can Island Port and Apapa Quay have made evacuation and delivery of containers and other consignments a tortuous experience. The consequence is that shipping firms have to struggle with increased demurrages and excessive container charges.
High productivity in shipping and the nation’s economy generally, can be achieved through better performance of the port in various stages including cargo handling and it could be as a result of provision of excess facilities. Whenever, traffic volumes are in excess of capacity, the port will be under very strong pressure from its main users to increase capacity immediately. This is not the case with Lagos seaports. If urgent steps were not taken by the FG to reverse the congestion in Lagos seaports, it is very unlikely that the nation will derive maximum economic benefits from activities ashore and afloat.
Some of the nation’s ports are underutilised, and the question that comes to mind is: Why can’t the FG make necessary arrangements to open-up other river ports in Calabar, Port Harcourt, Onne, and Warriin order to decongest those in Lagos? A friend in the government told this writer recently that the dredging of channels to these river ports in the Eastern part of the country has been slowed down due to lack of funds.
This writer believes that the FG must look for funds to dredge the channels leading to most river ports in the country. The reason is that the rate of siltation in our harbours and coastal waters is high. If the FG cannot provide funds to dredge the channels, the nation should start considering having an ocean port somewhere in Warri or Port Harcourt.
As an import dependent nation, port congestion will impair production as manufacturers will not be able to meet their targets. There are reports that it takes about 8 weeks for members of the Organized Private Sector (OPS) to take delivery of their cargo and vital raw materials. For an economy that is just coming out of recession, business activities will be paralyzed, profitability of manufacturing firms would be hindered while there will be loss of revenues to the nation if the logjam at the Lagos ports was unresolved by the FG.
As long as easy access to Lagos ports are denied and other river ports not dredged, importers will continue to import their cargoes into Nigeria through neighbouring West African countries where taxes are exempted. If the country expects sufficient revenues from the ports in addition to incomes from other sectors of the economy to implement the 2018 Budget, there is need to streamline the cargo clearing process in Lagos seaports.