We have lost 3 trillion Naira to port reforms – Bonded terminal operators

…Recommend 70 – 30 Ghana cargo sharing mode

Association of Indigenous Bonded Terminal Operators said its members have lost about three trillion Naira and owe accumulated bank debts in hundreds of billions of Naira sequel to Federal Government of Nigeria’s port reforms which handed over port terminals to private investors in 2006.

Haruna Omolajomo, the Executive Secretary of the Association, told PortNews exclusively in Lagos that the Federal Government contradicted itself and shot itself in the foot when it concessioned the ports to private operators most of whom are foreigners.

“The government, prior to the concession in 2006, through the Nigerian Shippers Council had a programme which gave licenses to operators to establish inland container stations in different parts of the country which most of our members plunged into headlong. But in 2006, the government gave the ports to private operators, with the largest container terminal going to APMT-Maersk,” he said.

Omolajomo explained that the concession of the ports was done without any published conditionalities and any organization of government saddled with a supervisory role of a Regulator. The concessioners moved in and chose to keep their containers and cargo in the ports preferring to deal directly with the importers and agents.

He noted sadly that ever since, members of his association have been left in the lurch with nobody to turn to for adjudication. “If I were to give you an estimate of what we have lost in the past ten years to this bad policy of the government, you won’t believe. We have cumulatively lost about three trillion Naira while owing the banks several billions of Naira from loans drawn to establish the offdock terminals and freight stations, buy reach stakers, generating sets and other cargo handling machines. The fallout of this was the deaths of three of our members in stress related causes.”

Omolajomo said that their members have decided to tackle the challenges headlong, informing that a letter had been written to the Presidency, copied to the Federal Minister of Transportation and the Senate proposing to government to copy the Ghanaian maritime operational model where cargo is shared on 70-30 percent basis between government and private operators.

“In Ghana, cargo is shared on 70-30 percent basis between the government and the private investors among whom is APMT. The Ghanaian government collects 70 percent and shares it among indigenous operators. Our government must adopt this policy and protect our members and the thousands of staff who work for companies in our association,” Omolajomo advised.

He noted further that all over the world, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) statutes stipulate that the port is a transit point and cargo must leave the port within 24-48 hours, at least to an off-dock before final clearing by the owner. “It is the tradition, the rule, all over the world. The port is a transit point, the off-dock, the bonded terminals help to warehouse the cargo. But in Nigeria, our ports are a big storage facility with containers going six-high,” Omolajomo noted.

He averred further that with the recent upsurge in cargo throughput in Nigerian ports the bonded terminals are ready to help decongest the ports, even by helping to transfer the cargo at night to their facilities.

“We are ready to transfer at night to ease the stress of the main ports who lose nothing in the process – the shipping charges, the terminal charges remain the same, it is a win-win situation for the port terminal operators, so let them extend operational hands of cooperation to us,” he noted.

Conclusively, according to the association Secretary, the Nigerian Ports Authority would do better than the Nigerian Shippers Council as the Regulator. “The Nigerian Shippers Council is not effective as the Regulator, they cannot influence port charges or cargo and container allocation or sharing. NPA would do better, as the landlord they understand the trade much better than everybody else. In the years before concession, NPA was firmly in charge regarding cargo sharing and movement and attendant charges,” he submitted.

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