Lagos — Nigeria's early gains of reclaiming about N136 billion transit cargoes from neighbouring countries like Togo and Benin Republic may be eroded as the port of Cotonou has signed a management agreement with Antwerp Port to manage and modernize its port.
Stakeholders in the nation's maritime industry said the move could be detrimental to the nation's maritime trade as it is coming on the heels of more than 60% loss of Nigeria-bound cargoes to Cotonou Port largely due to high Customs duties and poor clearing processes at Nigerian ports.
Transit cargoes are cargoes meant for landlocked countries like Chad and Niger Republic which have no access to the sea.
Recall that LEADERSHIP had reported that the Nigerian Shippers' Council (NSC) earlier in the year began moves to attract back cargo movement through Nigerian ports so that the country could earn the necessary income.
The government is losing revenues due to congestion and poor evacuation of cargoes. The evacuation challenges were caused by the poor management of traffic both inside and outside the Tin-Can and Lagos Port Complex.
Demurrage accrued by importers due to state of the port access roads that makes containers spend between five to seven days before accessing and exiting the seaport would further make Port of Cotonou attractive to Nigerian importers and Shippers from land locked countries.
Confirming the imminent loss of Nigeria bound cargoes and transit cargoes to Benin Republic, the President, Shippers Association of Lagos State (SALS), Rev. Jonathan Nicol said with the agreement, the port of Cotonou would be more efficient than Nigerian seaports.
According to him, the efficiency of the Port of Cotonou would make it attractive to Nigerian bound and transit cargoes at the detriment of Nigerian seaports. "Antwerp is very efficient and since we have government that doesn't listen and they think it is whatever they want to do that they do, we in the shippers association wish them well.
"If the Port of Rotadam handles Cotonou port, it will create more avenue for patronage from both West and Central sub-region. So, it might even take over transit cargoes from Nigeria port and that will be a tragedy for us even when we tell our people they will not listen so we are getting skeptical to advise government," Nicol said.
Recall that Niger shares about 1,500 kilometres of boundary with Nigeria, and with a coastline of about 800 kilometres, Nigerian ports remain the natural gateway for Niger and Chad's access to the sea. Nigerian ports are also nearer to Jibiya (a border town between both countries) than Togo, Benin Republic or Ghana; while Ghana to Niger is about 3,400 kilometres, Lagos to Jibiya in Niger is just 1,300 kilometres.
But, the countries have complained about inefficiencies of the Nigerian Ports and cost of doing business which had earlier made them abandoned Nigerian ports. They have complained of high container deposit by shipping companies which is eating deep into the profit margins of the shippers, delay at the border and high charges by terminal operators. The delay at the border is another challenge.