To say that Nigeria’s seaport facilities have been over-stretched is to state the obvious. A one- time managing director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Chief Adebayo Sarumi recently admitted this fact when he said that the nation’s seaports have been over stretched by nearly 100 percent. According to him the installed capacity of all the ports is to handle between 40-45 million metric tonnes of cargo per annum, saying that the ports currently handle over 80 million metric tonnes annually, a development that has put has seriously put a strain on the facilities.
It was probably in realisation of this fact that the Nigerian Shippers Council, Federal Government’s agency charged with the duty protecting the interest of shippers (importers and exporters) sometime in 2000, came up with the idea of establishing Inland Container Depots (ICD).
An ICD is a dry port facility usually linked to both the roads and rail lines to facilitate easy movement of cargo (imports and exports) to and from the conventional seaports.
Under the project, imported goods meant for a certain hinterland areas would be transferred by rail to the facility where importers in the hinterlands could access their consignments at cheap rates and move same to their warehouses. The ICDs are also to serve as rallying points for exporters, where their consignments for export would be moved by rail to the conventional seaports.
In addition to bringing shipping services to the door-step of the shippers, another cardinal objective of the ICD concept was to remove the pressure on the conventional seaports, which have always been congested by moving the consignments to the nearest dry port as soon as they arrive where their owners would clear and deliver to their respective warehouses and destinations at less transport cost and stress.
For effective coverage of the hinterlands across the country, fi ve locations were chosen. They include: Erunmu Ibadan, Oyo State South West; Heipang, Plateau State, North Central Zawachiki, Kano State North West; Isiala-Ngwa, Abia State South East; Maiduguri, Borno State North East.
The concessionaires have also since emerged comprising of Catamaran Logistics Limited for the ICD in Ibadan, Duncan Maritime Services Ltd for the Jos ICD, Eastgate Inland Container Terminal Ltd for Isiala Ngwa, Dala Inland Dry Port for Kano and Migfo Nigeria Limited for the ICD in Maiduguri.
The council had also established some other Container Freight Stations for adequate coverage of the nation’s hinterlands.
This project, which conforms to the transformation agenda of the current administration, was executed in three phases comprising the documentation, engagement of the concessionaires and the fi nal phase which is take-off.
It was also gathered that most of the facilities have received their Certifi cate of Occupancy (CoE) from the host state governments more than two years ago.
Investigations also show that while the project was conceived sometime in 2000, the documentations were completed by 2003 while the Federal Executive Council (FEC) gave its nod only in 2007, shortly after it was gazetted.
Records show that the project was gazetted vide Federal Republic of Nigeria Offi cial Gazette No.30 volume 94 of 21st May, 2007.
Executive Secretary/CEO of the council, Barrister Hassan Bello while fi elding questions from journalists at a public function in Lagos insisted that the council is more than ever committed to the ideals of the ICD project.
According to him, in addition to helping bring shipping services to the door step of shippers across the nation and assist in decongesting the seaports and make them more user-friendly, the ICDs will also help revive and modernise the railway as a primary mode for the long distance haulage of cargo.
The project will also in no small measure assist in the reduction of overall cost of transit cargo to landlocked neighbouring countries.
He also said: “The ICDs will facilitate the establishment of customs clearance facility close to production and consumption centres, improved container usage and reduction in the movement of empty containers, improved turnaround time of ships thereby reducing demurrage and avoiding pilferage and also help in the issuance of true Bill of Lading by shipping lines and thereby assuming liability from dispatch to destination ports”
In addition, when fully operational, the project will facilitate a reduction in freight and an increase in trade fl ows; enhance optimal use of surface transport and the decongestion of the sea ports and also a reduction in marine pollution activities around the seaport.
The project when fully operational will provide the required catalyst for economic growth, as it will enhance easy and safe access to international shipping facilities in the hinterland thus giving a boost to inland trading, revitalise export agricultural products leading to multi-product economy and also create various employment opportunities thereby stemming ruralurban migration and ultimately lead to increase in government revenue, among several others.
Above all the project will also read to a drastic reduction of the pressure on the existing road infrastructure and the attendant high cost of maintaining them as well as checkmate the worsening carnage on the roads due to over use.
Unfortunately, more than two years after the completion of the various processes, the ICDs are yet to take off effectively due to a combination of the poor state of the existing rail facilities and the insecurity in the country.
A stakeholder, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, insisted that the current state of Nigeria’s rail system was a more potent factor in the failure of the project to takeoff.
Another stakeholder also said: “The activities of the Islamic sect, the Boko Haram and recurrent ethnic face-off in Plateau State is a main cause of the failure of the ICD in Heipang, Jos and Maiduguri in Borno State while the worsening cases of kidnapping and ransom taking in the South-East had affected the take-off of the ICD in Isiala-Ngwa, Abia State”.
In the face of these daunting challenges, the fi nanciers and technical partners to the concessionaires are currently reluctant to further support the project.
It was also gathered that the attitude of some host state governments towards the project has also not helped matters as many of them have failed to meet their obligations in the agreements they signed with some of the concessionaires, especially their failure to release funds to cover their equity share in the project.
In all these, stakeholders believe strongly that effi cient operation of the ICDs will integrate Nigeria’s transport and logistics chains into the existing port system to ease vehicular and container traffi c at the seaports.
President of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Chief Eugene Nweke, one of such stakeholders, who believe in the ICD concept, noted that forwarders are ready to work with the council towards the success of the project.
While applauding the initiative of the council in establishing the ICDs, he argued that the project will go a long way in addressing many of the trade obstacles faced by importers and their agents, especially those in the hinterlands.
He however regretted that the biggest obstacle to achieving the goals and objectives of the ICDs was the issue of ineffective rail system linking the ports in the country.
While expressing strong belief that these goals and objectives are still achievable, he urged the Federal Government to show more practical commitment in the area of ensuring that the ports were linked with the rail line, adding that this was the only thing that will lead to the success of the ICDs.
“ICD project, essentially, is targeted at facilitating trade by way of decongesting the ports. It is to decentralise cargo clearing and boost the economies of other zones where they are located, and also open up the hinterland. It is a wonderful concept, but the effectiveness of the ICD or any project no matter how beautiful it is or how wonderfully packaged, is the transport mode of moving these cargos from the seaport to the hinterland where the ICDS are located”, Chief Nweke insisted.
According to him, if an importer or his agents wants to move cargo say Lagos to Kano and the rail tracks are not in order because they are probably still test-running them and the importer also discovers that he cannot use the roads because they are also bad because they have been overstretched, there is little or nothing such importer can do because if one must think about ICD, he must think about intermodal transport system.
“There should therefore be effi cient networking system for the ICDs to work effectively. The rail tracks must work and well too. Transport modes must be coordinated well for our ICDs to thrive. And government must support the Shippers Council that is promoting this project so that the objectives are fully realised. It is not about building the ICDs, but if there is no access, there is a problem”, he further argued.
Chief executive offi cer, Africa-Middle East Region of APM Terminals, Peder Sondergaard, who also spoke recently on the declining transport infrastructure in Nigeria, expressed fears that this might pose a major challenge in the future.
Sondergaard said: “competition is intensifying regionally and within Nigeria while hinterland connectivity faces certain infrastructure constraints.
“30 years from now, Nigeria will have close to 250 million inhabitants putting even more pressure on city centers, roads, and rail”, he observed.
He also said:”During the last 50 years, volume of cargo transported by rail has dropped from 88 percent to nearly nothing.
Experts have however continued to decry the poor state of the rails in the country, which apart from hampering the success of the ICD project, also hamper effective economic development through effi cient and cost-effective movement of goods and people.
There is also strong fear that most of the seaports do not have rail connections, which they argued must be put in place for the ICDs to work effectively. This is because rail connections have become an integral part of any port system in most developed and developing economies, which makes for effi cient and cheap movement of consignments for imports and export.
The stakeholders cited the example of India, which has a lot of historical and economic factors in common with Nigeria including being densely populated.
“India as densely populated as she is, rail transport accounts for over 80 percent of the means of movement of goods and people while in Nigeria which is less densely populated, rail constitutes less than two percent of the means of movement of people and goods. This defi nitely portends a great danger to the economy, especially given that transport is critical to the development of any economy”, a stakeholder said.
But he believes that the ICDs could still work if the government continues with the current tempo in revamping the existing rail system while building more standard gauge for speed trains.
The current strategic plan for the development of rail infrastructure in Nigeria by the Federal Government through the development of a comprehensive master plan for high speed rail across the federation is an indication that the ICDs will work.
Government had in the last years shown commitment to the revamping of the existing narrow gauge while developing new standard gauge across the federation, which also brings a glimmer of hope for the ICD project on which the council has put in so much in the last 13 years. The earlier this is done the better so that the full benefi ts of the ICDS will be realised.