Interviews

How We’ve Made Apapa Port More Business Friendly, Ready for AfCFTA – Okaga, Port Manager

Charles Bamidele Okaga, Port Manager of Lagos Port Complex in Apapa explains how the Nigerian Ports Authority has positioned the facility to increase its efficiency for import and export

He told Ismail Aniemu that Nigeria’s largest port complex is ready to participate and contribute in the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA)

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Excerpt

Give us an overview of export trade in this port for the year?

Export is a very critical element of the national economy, particularly with the government’s agenda of diversification of the economy to the non-oil export.The nature of export we are talking about this time around is to grow the volume of locally produced goods and services that are exported through the ports.

With ports being a major platform for trade facilitation, what the management has done, is to continually develop policies that will support the requirement of the executive order 001 which requires that every port should have dedicated facilities for export.In this wise, the management of Nigerian Ports Authority at the national level developed the concept of export processing terminals.

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IMG 20240102 WA00282The reason for the development of export processing terminals is to have enough dedicated areas where you can do product reception, consolidation, quality control and the relevant licencing and permit by government agencies to clear them for export.It was also aimed to reduce drastically the volume of Nigeria export that are rejected abroad.It is to put goods and services in consumable condition by the time it gets to their port of destination.

When you have a facility that encourages this type of trade facilitation principles, it is bound to have its direct impact on the overall trade volume of the country.As we speak in 2022 for instance, we had a total of about 50,000 TEUs of export containers.Whereas in 2023 we had over 70,000 TEUs and that is definitely an increase in the volume of export that is leaving the country through Lagos Port Complex alone.

Another thing that we have done is encouraging the movement of export by all modes.For 2022 we had 38,000 by road, in 2023 we had 55,000 by road. In 2022, by rail we had about 5,000 and in 2023 we had 8,000 by rail . In 2022 we had 10,000 barges and 8,309 barges in 2023.

IMG 20240102 WA0032That is 20,000 increase achieved through the enabling environment created in partnership with Customs and other government agencies including major stakeholders on how to improve the speed of export business, shipping lines, terminal operators and others.These are the factors that have culminated into this growth that we have recorded and I am sure that we can do much better in 2024

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Looking at access, gating in, to what extent has technology played any role in identity theft? How has technology been able to check circumventing of the automated call up system?

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As an old port person, we know the situation we are and where we are coming from that the port was a menace to come to, talking about the grid lock.Trucks were spending as high as 21 days to turn around this port.There were complaints of huge magnitude of malpractices and the rest.

We even had cases of clashes between military agencies because of superiority conflicts.However, since the introduction of ETO, you will agree with us that there has been more orderliness in traffic management within the port corridor and what we have also achieved with this is that port productivity has improved even for people in the Apapa community.It means that life is gradually returning to normal.

This has positively impacted business and private individuals who live in Apapa.The question you should ask is that can we do better? The answer is yes.Have we reached our peak? The answer is no.

On the issue of identity theft, for every technology that you have, you definitely will have people who are also working to undermine the technology.In our various emails, we see hackers from time to time.Other electronic platforms that we see, we see all manners of cyber crime and what we also find here is not different from the mentality of those who want to circumvent an electronic and or automated process.

What we have about the issue of identity theft is that we have been able to identify the encouraging factors or stimulants to this identity theft.Some unscrupulous elements found a way of printing several fake plate numbers.Plate numbers that are not attached to any vehicle.They managed to download it on the ETO platform. ETO platform recognises plate numbers ,Nigerian Port Authority and MSS.The MSS has and downloaded on the system.

Each time, these people will notify ETO that they have moved into a park.Once ETO gives them ticket ,it is these tickets that are sold and the identity theft that we are talking about is when they sell the ticket to you and they bring their plate numbers to give to you.

They will change what is on their truck and put their own plate number and automatically, you gain access. What this does is that it disrupts the overall traffic management arrangement because what we have in the pre-gate as we are sending them out, the people who are selling the ETO tickets will move into the same routes, and block.

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What have we done? Through intelligence gathering ,we burst the syndicate that had over 300 tickets.You can imagine what it means throwing 300 trucks on the road, unregulated.

We also have insisted that every vehicle should engrave its number on the body of the truck to reduce the incident of swapping of plate numbers.

We have also insisted that all terminals should henceforth have automated access barriers that will be integrated into the ETO system so that once your ticket is meant for APMT , you cannot enter EML for ETO support.

What has been the level of compliance?

We have had a reasonable level of compliance.Notwithstanding, the level of infringements, is very low and the terminal operators are sure that if we attain 40 percent level of improvement because of the syndicate that was neutralized.

We hope that by the time the terminal operators install the access control, we should be at about 80 percent level of compliance with regards to determine and containing all these illegal acts that are disrupting the effective operations of the electronic call up system.

Has there been any move to arrest the operators of these syndicate?

There has not been any arrest but we have gotten some tip offs and the security agencies are working on it to see if we can actually get the the kingpins of these acts because there are syndicated group which normally takes different spots within the port community to operate.

Since this incident ,they have reasonably deserted the environment but we are very sure that they will regroup because they will always be looking for other means of beating the system.No arrest has been made but there are efforts to make arrest.

Apapa Nigeria’s largest port complex and whatever succeeds here is expected to be replicated in some other ports.
What are the quick wins we should expect from this port in 2024?

The quick wins we should expect is improved traffic management. We also expect that the terminal efficiency in all the terminals will improve and with this, we should be able to encourage more patronage by various vessels, particularly now that we have done simulation that the port can receive a vessel of about 320m LOA and these are vessels that can take up to 10,000 TEUs of containers.

With this and the fact that it has been tested when we had a PIL vessel call at the ports in sometimes in August or September 2022 with about 300LOA ship.These are all indicators to the fact that the port is to be positioned to respond to the demands of international trade.

The ports common user roads that were in bad state have all been fixed and we believe that all of these will serve as major factor of attractiveness of businesses to the ports.

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It is believed that the port has strategic roles to play in the most talked about Africa Continental Free Trade Area. How ready do you think the Apapa port is for trading within Africa?

If we can receive vessels that can receive 10,000 TEUs of containers at a time, it is an indication that our size and our capacity will be able to do the transit trade and in addition to our relationship, we have a very robust stakeholders engagement. Customs and Standard Organisation are critical stakeholders in the success of AFCTA.Our Customs Processes must be able to compete with what is obtainable elsewhere.

Our standard organization must ensure that the goods and services that are produced in Nigeria are those that can compete .

Once we have our internal, we stimulate our internal productive activities. Definitely, the port will be able to grow.The port is a very friendly port, and as a media man, I am sure there are not much negative information about port operation itself which is the main crux of attracting international trade and businesses.

What we have also done, is to ensure that we have one of the world class terminal operators, the APMT here, and we have one of the longest and largest bulk cargo, and general cargo berths.

These are all facilities that can can assist and support a regional trade. In addition to the fact that the Lagos Port Complex is the only port in Nigeria that has all the multi-modal modes of transport functional.When we have cargo coming in, we can redistribute by rail, by barge through inland waterways and by road.

The fact that we perform strategic nodal functions and for the fact that the port itself is a strategic nodal junction for me positions us to be able to play significant part in AFCTA.

Even before now, we have had shuttle vessels operating between here, Lome, Cotonou and Ghana. With all of these without any issues, it means that once our internal production improves ,we would be able to play significant role in AFCTA and this would be further entrenched with the commitment of the management of the Nigerian Ports Authority towards bringing to life the ports community system and ICT generally drives efficiency.

With the coming of the port community system which by the special grace of God by the third quarter of next year, it should be in place and institutionalized.There will be faster speed of doing business and the port will increase its productivity.

Joshua Okoria

Joshua Okoria is a Lagos based multi-skilled journalist covering the maritime industry. His ICT and graphic design skills makes him a resourceful person in any modern newsroom. He read mass communication at the Olabisi Onabanjo University and has sharpened his knowledge in media practice from several other short courses. 07030562600, hubitokoria@gmail.com

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