There seems to be an inter-port competition along the Western African coastline, as well as an increase in private investments in these ports. However, despite being the leaders in the region through sheer market size and the options they bring, Nigerian ports continue to suffer from inefficient quality infrastructure.

According to the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) Lagos Managing Director Andrew Lynch, Nigerian ports have so much potential to be more regionally, but have infrastructural problems; they are old. “There’s a limit to the size of vessels they can accommodate and shipping, especially container shipping, is all about economies of scale. So the larger vessels you use, the lower the cost of importing and exporting, and the lower the freight cost we can deliver” he said.

Challenges to shipping to and within Nigeria

“At the moment the size of ships that can come in at Lome, Togo are more than double the size of the vessels that are currently passing out in Nigeria. We definitely believe there needs to be investment in new water ports in Nigeria. Realistically the first one needs to be in somewhere close to Lagos because Lagos is the market, it’s the manufacturing capital and the consumption hub for the country.”

Last year, it was reported that Nigeria’s ports dropped down the global ratings, basically due to bad infrastructures. Its major competitors in the West African region; the Port of Lome, Togo, Port of Dakar, Senegal, Port of Cotonou, Benin, all deliver better efficient services than Nigerian ports. This has also been attributed as the cause of a downward trend of traffic experienced at Nigerian seaport since 2016, according to data released by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics in March 2018.

It explains why Nigerian seaports are not transit corridors for goods heading for landlocked countries in West Africa. Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Cote D’Ivoire provide a better route for moving goods to land-locked countries like Mali, Burkina, Niger, Chad than Nigeria, because of the overall cost. Mr Lynch says it should be a detail where Nigerian authorities – NPA, NIMASA – should look into; if these extra costs are out of the way, it would be of benefit to Nigeria, and even neighboring African countries.

“Nigerian ports are among the most expensive in the world, definitely some of the most expensive in the sub regions. To send a ship to Tema (Ghana), boarding in Tema would cost almost 5 times as much to board in Lagos for the same vessel. ” he said, saying there’s also the problem of trucking the goods from the Lagos ports into the country.

“The cost of trucking a container from the port to the north of Ikeja, say Sagamu, Ibadan is actually higher than bringing that same container from China to Nigeria on our ship.” he added.

Overcoming these challenges

How do we solve these problems? De-congesting Lagos, while increasing traffic to to other Nigerian ports  is one solution.

“Nigerian Ports Authority are very key to encourage creative use of these two (Calabar and Warri) ports. I mean if you’ve got cargo going up to the North, you know, to Kano, Kaduna, Maiduguri, and even Abuja it doesn’t need to come through Lagos. It can come through any other port along the coast.” he said. “Getting trucks in and out of the ports is a problem because the weight of traffic. It will be a positive step to have an official port elsewhere taking cargo…and of course cargo for Lagos can come through Lagos.”

However, there are things to be done, like dredging of channels, before the other Nigerian ports can reach full functioning potential. For example, the Lagos Apapa water channel is 14.5 meters deep, Port Harcourt is seven meters while Calabar ports are six point four meters. The depth of Calabar and Port Harcourt waters limit their capacity to receive big cargo ships.

“The port authority will need to ensure the dredging in Calabar gets done, and then it can become an interesting alternative (for cargo ships). Once the dredging is done so that you’ve got a guaranteed say a 7 metres draft going up to Calabar, then we’re in a position to add a boat.” Mr. Lynch said, stating that MSC already has a ship delivering cargo to Calabar and Port Harcourt.

Another solution is to provide good roads. The Nigerian Ports Authority in February made a request to to take over the construction of the Tin can port access road in Lagos, a major road that conducts most of Nigeria’s cargo goods coming into the country, from Nigeria’s Ministry of Works, Power and Housing. The access road is a major cause of some of the problems at the Lagos port; makes it barely accessible.

However, repairing that road isn’t the only solution that’s needed. Nigeria needs to go though a total infrastructure haul of its roads, to allow it become the maritime hub we know it can be.

“Most important thing which could also be done quite quickly is get the roads on the major corridors, the major entries in and out of the port to the industrial sector — Sagamu, Ibadan up to the north to Abuja, repaired. You need good roads. And there would be an economic transformation.” he said.

The concession of terminals at Nigeria’s sea ports in 2006 by the Nigerian Ports Authority was unprecedented; it ushered in a new avenue for private sector investments, which resulted in greater efficiency at the ports, while also increasing their capacities. It also was a prime example of public-private partnership models that could work in Nigeria to accelerate development.

Companies like MSC have benefited from these concession, allowing them to do business easier in Nigeria. The Mediterranean Shipping Company is a transportation logistics company, with large cargo ships that bring goods in and out of Africa, in a way connecting the African market with that of other continents, while also facilitating intra-African trade.

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