The Executive Secretary, Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Hassan Bello, in this interview with SULAIMAN SALAU and ADAKU ONYENUCHEYA, highlights the lessons from COVID-19 and how seaports are positioned for better efficiency in the post-pandemic era.

The effect of a pandemic on  Nigerian port operations and what lessons have we learnt?
We are still gathering the data, but there would be a deep reduction in throughput because of disruption in the international supply chain. The government revenue will suffer. Of course, the issue of the pandemic compounded the traffic situation going by the poor access roads to the ports. These have brought distortions to the system. If you are to send a 20 feet (ft) container from Apapa to Ikeja, it costs about N800, 000. This is not the reality; it was caused by the disruption; the reason being the time wasted on the road.

Before now, a truck driver could make at least two trips in a day, now he does it in a month and that has brought disruption. This is not usual, it is abnormal and that is worrisome.

Because of the traffic chaos, the efficiency of the port is affected. Before now, we used to have a good turn around time for ships, but now ships spend up to 50 days before they come. The reason being that the port is clogged, the yard occupancy is up to an average of 80 per cent. That means there are limited spaces to stack cargoes because we don’t have the road to get them out.

These, in the last three months, have been our problems and we have been discussing with so many people to see how we can make the ports more efficient than they are now. However, this is a temporary thing.

The COVID-19 had brought a lot of things for us to look at and we have learnt lessons right from day one.

At Nigerian Shippers’ Council, we kept the ports open and we filled the gaps and restored normalcy. We try as much as we can to do the twin job of keeping the port open and containing the pandemic, which is no easy task.

However, the ports were open, but not optimally, things are turning around now and I hope these dark days of distortions will go away, the reason being that the infrastructure is being looked into. Now we have finished two important roads: Creek road and Liverpool road. We are looking at Mile 2 – TinCan Island roads. If that is done it will give us some respite.

Secondly, we are experimenting with the multimodal approach for evacuation and delivery of cargoes from the port. We are experimenting with the train, the Shippers’ Council is working with Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to ensure that these things are done and we think we will have about four trips delivering and removing empty containers and also taking out laden containers from the port by rail.

For every trip, the rail line will remove about 38 trucks from the road. Then we have the barge operations, although it is currently there, it is not moderated and then NPA and shippers’ council are working to see that we have regulations as far as barge operation is concerned.

You will see that we are getting and delivering cargoes from ports, not only by road, which accounts for about 90 per cent. Now, we want to do the percentage and see the train taking maybe some percentage, then inland waterway also taking some percentage.

The effect of this is that we will have more efficient ways of delivering cargoes. The more important thing is that price will come down because there would be competition.

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