Vicky Hastrup, Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, CEO, ENL consortium, in this interview with Oluyinka Onigbinde speaks on the challenges in the nation’s ports system and proffers possible solutions.
Going forward, what do you think should be done for the maritime industry to move forward?
For the maritime industry to move forward, the Federal government needs to quickly pass the Port and Harbor Bills.
The passage of the Port and Harbor Bills has been delayed for too long. It’s been twelve years since the terminal operators have been operating in various ports in Nigeria and yet these bills are still waiting to be passed.
I don’t know at what state it is now but I think it is getting rather too late. I believe before the end of the term of this government, it would be nice if passage of the bill is concluded and is passed and assented to by the President.
Besides the passage of the bill which has to do with the legislature, what are the other bottlenecks?
The government is talking about Ease of doing Business. There can’t be ease if government does not make a decisive move.
They need to take some stands on issues relating to what are the things constituting bottlenecks to ease of doing business.
Why do we have ease of doing business? I know the vice president has been doing a lot of work on that, but there has to be a proper follow up in all of these areas that has been identified.
For instance, we have too many agencies of ports operating within the port system and I don’t understand what they are up to till this moment.
But I know that the Vice President was talking about making the port a one stop shop, but it can’t be a one stop shop when we have people who are not supposed to be operating within the system are still constituting a whole lot of bottlenecks and delays.
Another thing I will keep talking about is the Customs service. When cargo is released from the port, you will still find them in the outer gate.
What are they doing there? Not only that. When such trucks laden with container also leaves the port right on the Apapa bridge or wherever they go, you still find some people called Federal government enforcement from Customs constituting a lot of nuisance I will call it I am sorry
These are not good for a country that is very serious. I see a lot of frustrations by all port users, you could see what access to port look like now which I think is a national disgrace, a national shame which ought not to be.
I am not blaming this government because previous governments have left access to the Port in the comatose state it is presently. The Port environment is too congested.
We have lot of tank farms. As of now, we can count as many as over 60 tank farms.
And I keep saying it, if a Tank farm is blown up, the whole of Apapa will cease to exist if government does not do something about it.
The Port environment is rather too congested there is no ease of doing business in Nigeria particularly in Apapa and Tin Can Island.
It is very frustrating for all Port operators and users. Government needs to come through for this. They need to be decisive and remove a lot of agencies that should not be in the port if we want to create an enabling environment which I see now that we do not have at all.
There has to be transparency. There has to be decisive actions on the part of government to bring everybody to book to make people comply with how business should be done.
Speaking of the congestion in Apapa and the traffic situation what would you suggest is the way forward?
Traffic situation is simple. The roads need to be fixed. I understand that a contract for the construction of Tin-Can Island-Oshodi road has been awarded but I tell you that’s going to take quite a while.
I don’t see an immediate solution for now. Apapa is being fixed now, even when the Apapa road is completed, the bridge is also something to be looked at by the Federal Ministry of works.
We don’t know how long that will take. So, I see this as a long term goal but more than that I tell you what caused this are the congestions of the access roads.
Actually, cargo’s import to Nigeria has reduced by about 25 per cent.
In 2011-2012, we were actually handling more cargo than we are now and there wasn’t any problem. So, we are talking about dropping empty containers in holding bays that need to be properly looked into. It needs to be enforced. There are no two ways to it.
Trucks that do not have a call up system to either come and pick cargo or drop containers should not be on the road. There are too many of them in the Port road. Everybody needs to comply. Shipping companies need to comply and be compliant about NPA asking them to drop empty containers at the holding bays. All these need to be adhered to.
We do it in my terminal and every terminal operator needs to comply as well.
On the issue of port charges, it has been established that lack of political will on the part of government is likely responsible for all of this. So, what should be the way forward?
Like I said earlier, government needs to be decisive. Maybe there has to be a special committee that has to look into all the areas that are responsible for increase in costs. I said it’s not just terminal operators; they are just like 5 per cent of the problem. It’s not terminal operator. Everybody operating within the port system is responsible. We need to be holistic in looking at what everybody including the government agencies that is not supposed to be there.
How much are they charging? How much is NIMASA charging? How much is NPA charging? How much is shipping agency charging? How much are transporters charging? All of these add to the cost and I tell you the congestions also is a big part of the increase in cost.
Until all these issues are attended to, I tell you the cost of doing business in Nigerian port will continue to be high.
Don’t you think government should consider other means of transportation?
It’s very important. I am happy government is looking into the issue of transporting cargoes from the port through the rail system.
There are actually three ways of transporting cargoes we have the water, rail and road. What we’ve been using from time immemorial is the road but how much of weight can the road carry, the bridge is almost collapsing.
Now, you could see the bridge turned out to be parking space for trailers. Were those bridges built to withstand that much weight?
That’s the problem.
Alternative ways of transporting cargos is being looked at by the government and I want the government to be serious in addressing that.