The chaos in the Lagos Ports access roads has reduced in recent times with the introduction of the truck electronic call-up system, also known as ETO. In a recent media chat, the Managing Director, Nigerian Ports Authority, Muhammed Bello-Koko, addressed this and other developing issues in the port sector. PAUL OGBUOKIRI reports
Nigerian ports are in poor state though they are concessioned. How is NPA under your watch addressing these challenges?
We have very old ports. One of the problems of the Eastern ports is the decay in infrastructure. Tin Can Island Port (TICP) is practically collapsing. It is against that backdrop that we took a holistic review of those decaying infrastructure and decided to focus our budget towards rehabilitation of the quay walls and other infrastructure.
It is really important that we rehabilitate TICP, Apapa and other ports. What we have done is to start talking to lending agencies but we don’t intend to borrow from them. We are asking the Terminal Operators that if they have operated in this place for 10-15 years, especially as some of them, their leases are about to expire, we need to know how much money they are ready to put back into the upgrading of the ports.
For us to renew their leases, we need to have a categorical commitment from the terminal operators on the development of those ports. If they don’t, then we can give it to someone or we will go and borrow money for it to be rehabilitated. But then, the rate they are paying will go up. If we don’t do that, they will keep managing those places and the places will keep collapsing.
Because of their financial interests, they wouldn’t even want you to stop what they are doing, so that you re-construct the place. We have had interest from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Bank, African Export–Import Bank (Afrexim) and others.
Surprisingly, it was the World Bank that actually gave money to NPA to construct part of Apapa port many years ago.
The World Bank has come again to tell us that if we need funding, they will give it to us. But we are going to the government to ask if we can be allowed to use a certain percentage of the money we contribute to the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) to reconstruct these ports.
That means that rehabilitation of the ports will commence when you settle for one or two of these financing options?
No! Rehabilitation has commenced. In the last few months, we started deploying those bouys, especially in the Eastern ports, specifically Delta and Calabar. We have also started the rehabilitation of some of the locations that have fender shortage. The fenders will start being deployed. They have just been shipped and I believe that in the next two weeks, we would have cleared and started installing them.
There have been a lot of cases of ships coming to berth at the ports and there are no fenders. We have started laying the bouys. We are ensuring that we will not just provide the physical infrastructure, but also the other accessories that are supposed to be there for the safety of vessels. Some of the fenders fell into the sea and have not been replaced. We went to Greece and one of the things they complained about was the issue of fenders. They said our quays don’t have fenders.
We are trying to create an environment that would make a ship not refuse coming to Nigeria because there are no navigational aids. We are changing that. There is better security and functional signal stations now. The more ships you have that are ready to come into Nigeria, the lower the cost of shipping into Nigeria. As regards to the marine services we provide, we are acquiring pilot cutters, mowing boats and others.
Some days ago, a vessel sailed from Lagos to the Eastern ports; it carried four pilots and three security patrol boats that are supposed to be taken to Onne port, Calabar port and Warri port. We are doing this to ensure that we also perform our responsibilities.
Situations where pilots use speedboats to go offshore to bring a vessel is not just embarrassing, it is also not safe for our staff. We are looking at the towage services, such as third-party towage services given at the Eastern ports. We reviewed them to ensure that it is doable. We keep bringing it in the 2022 budget. The focus is to provide more of these marine vessels.
You have talked much about the Eastern ports. What are you doing to make those ports attractive to users?
One of the major focuses we have is to rehabilitate the Eastern ports. The Federal Executive Council (FEC) has awarded a contract for remedial dredging of the Escravos channel. The breakwaters collapsed about 10 years ago and it has not been repaired.
There has been high siltation resulting in reduction of the draft from seven metres to three metres in some places. We have given out the contract to a firm to do the barometric and geotechnical surveys. The first three surveys have been submitted and they are currently working on the design. When that design is done, a decision would be taken on whether to reconstruct the existing breakwaters, which is over eight kilometres long or to relocate it to another location.
But it is probably the most expensive single structure in any port. We are talking about hundreds of millions based on projection but there is nothing tentatively. We also realised that the Delta port has never been properly mapped and surveyed for probably over two decades. Meanwhile, the mapping and surveying of the channel from the fairway buoy down to Warri, Koko and Sapele ports has begun.
The essence is to know the draft along the channel and to also know if the navigational aids are properly placed. NPA is responsible for that channel and one of the complaints the international shipping lines have been sending is lack of mapping of that channel. Currently, what we have is just from the fairway buoy to Warri port. But we don’t have proper information on the other sides of the channel and that has been done recently.
The Lekki deep seaport is set for inauguration by the 4th quarter of this year. Is that enough or is NPA considering building more deep seaports?
Aside from the Lekki Deep seaport, which is set to commence operation before the end of this year, there are also plans for the construction of deep seaports in Badagry, Ibom and Bonny. For Bonny, a location has been found and it has a natural draft of 17.5 metres.
However, the issue is of additional land, knowing that Bonny is a community that has very little land. The idea is that there should be a deep seaport in the other parts of the country; we can’t concentrate everything in Lagos. The NPA is working with the Federal Ministry of Transport and we are really pushing for the kick off for the construction of the deep sea port in Bonny. For the Koko port, there is an interested investor, who wants to use the port for export of minerals.
There is a shortterm lease but the proponent needs a long term lease. We are assessing the facilities in Koko and Burutu ports. We need to ensure there is electricity because the quay walls are collapsing. It is one of the things we are going to do this 2022. For Sapele port, we have been having meetings with the Nigerian Navy; we are collaborating with them to see what can be done.
This is just to give Nigerians alternatives and also to ensure that we return the country back to being the hub of maritime activities in West and Sub-Saharan Africa. We have a large captive cargo that we are losing to other countries. But we are also ready to bring down rates because what affects transit cargo is cost.
Can we talk about this port automation project of yours?
We realised that the modern ports are all moving towards automation and it cannot be haphazard or in patches. It has to be full auto mation. We wrote to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to help us consult. We are about to deploy the port community system, which is an avenue that ensures all stakeholders, from NPA to Shippers’ Council, shipping companies, the Nigeria Customs and everybody logs into that central system for exchange of data and processes. The good thing about that is, it doesn’t kick away the e-customs.
That is why we were able to get stakeholders to buy into it. We are upgrading our Revenue and Invoice Management System (RIMS). There are problems with downloading manifest and we are ensuring that we start deploying harbours automation.
The IMO has mandated all ports to actually deploy such Information Technology (IT) and software by 2025 but our target is actually 2023, maximum, early 2024. We reached out to Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG). We have been trying to deploy Vessel Traffic Services (VTS) for probably 10 years. But since we came, one of the major challenges is that you publish and you cannot get qualified people to deploy this VTS.
Just very few are qualified. We wrote to IMO; they gave us some companies. They came and couldn’t meet our requirements. Some of them are not interested in working with the Nigerian Ports Authority. However, NLNG has a VTS in Bonny, even though it is not robust.
We don’t have a problem collaborating and in the last few months, we have been meeting with NLNG, so that they do the survey and put the nodes and the sensors around the country. It is one of the most important things in the maritime industry all over the world. You should be able to have visibility without seeing the ship.
Automation will be the backbone of efficiency in our ports. It will improve revenue and will achieve a lot of things. We have so many automations done in silos but we need to integrate. We need to copy what is being used in the ports of other parts of the world.
The projects are huge. Can your revenue be enough for these?
One of the major problems affecting NPA, which we have been writing about, is the issue of budget. Before now, we were allowed to spend 70 per cent of our revenue, but now it is 50 per cent. We are providing service and if we don’t spend money, we will not be able to provide the services.
For instance, we don’t have money to buy the marine vessels, rehabilitate the quay walls, deploy VTS and others. We will work with the relevant government agencies to achieve that.
ETO, stakeholders are still complaining…
Even with the development of ETO, we are still having a traffic situation. The problem is enforcement. A month ago, we signed an agreement with the Lagos State Government that has deployed mobile courts to prosecute offenders of extortions. We decided to count the number or identify the locations where there should be checkpoints.
We are coming up with signage that we will put at each of those places. So, any checkpoint outside those locations is an illegal checkpoint. It is not every checkpoint that should be checking ETO tickets. There are checkpoints that are there for the purpose of national security and community policing.
ETO, once in a while has glitches and so there is a possibility that a second application would be introduced. Everything in life has an alternative. We have worked with Dangote and we have been speaking with Hi- Tech to get those dilapidated roads between Coconut and Sunrise done soon. If they are able to finish the road before the rains come, it will reduce the traffic issues going to Tin Can. We are giving priority to export boxes and we