The good times are here – at last! – for Nigeria’s Eastern ports. The Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, shipping companies, stakeholders in our maritime sector and the economy at large have had enough of the choking situation in Lagos and have decided to look eastwards for relief.
In January 2020 international shipping giant, Maersk Line, announced that its Far East shipping services covering China, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore would no longer make calls at the Lagos Ports but would shift all their activities to the Eastern port of Onne in Rivers State, thus reducing transit and waiting time for cargo owners. Within the same period, the Managing Director of NPA, Hajiya Hadiza Bala Usman, took far-reaching measures to enable the erstwhile neglected Eastern ports absorb excess load off Lagos to make life easier for all.
The Authority imposed a 10 per cent discount on harbour dues in all terminals in the Eastern Ports for certain classes of vessels. NPA has also completed the $44.861 million (N16.150bn) dredging of the Warri port. Added to the $30 million dredging which had earlier been done on the Onne port (which made it possible for Maersk Line and other shippers to start operating from there) life is gradually returning to the eastward maritime theatre of the Nigerian economy. The NPA MD, in a recent interview with Vanguard, explained that these measures, including the deliberate diversion of excess cargo from the Lagos to the Eastern ports of Port Harcourt, Onne, Warri and Calabar, were aimed at easing the congestion of the Lagos ports, the traffic gridlock of Apapa and the expensive delays which our dependence on Apapa had inflicted on stakeholders.
We welcome these new developments which clearly represent a patriotic rethink in the nation’s maritime administration. As a newspaper, we have written volumes calling for the diversification of our port services by enabling the Eastern ports to take up the excess load from Apapa, but they fell on deaf ears until now. Shippers were forced to prefer the Lagos ports because they complained that the channels into the Eastern ports were too shallow to take big vessels. In addition, there were too many security risks from pirates and militants.
All of these rendered those in the Easte too expensive and risky for operators. That these anomalies were allowed to go on for so long simply meant failure of governance. We hope that, apart from the dredging, slashing of harbour charges and deliberate diversion of vessels, the security situation will also be addressed to make shipping in the eastern flank faster, safer and cheaper. We believe that the full activation of the Eastern ports will balance the economy, revive the Apapa business district, increase prosperity and reduce unemployment and crime.