President of the Cross Rivers State Shippers Association, Mr. Michael Ogodo, recently spoke with Godfrey Bivbere Ebuka Oko. He spoke on the neglect of the port, the effect of the neglect of export, activities of tank farms and trucks on the port and its environment and many more. Excerpt:
There seems to be more Ships coming to Calabar now, activities there have picked up from the reports that are reaching us here?
What I actually meant is the kind of cargo they are carrying now; it is more of oil and gas, isn’t it? It is more of petroleum products. We do not have any regular scheduled cargo liner that is coming here. We don’t have it and that is what our clients both exporters and importers are talking about. With the importation of this product, they are expanding their faculties because they are building more tank farms.
I feel very sad because they do not add any value to the economy, the local economy here, they do not at all. You know what I mean; those tank farms do not add any value. As a matter of fact, I feel that Calabar may become another Tin-Can, exactly the way we have it in Lagos and the roads are bad. These tank farms destroy our roads because I do not think the roads were constructed to carry that kind of heavy loads.
Here on the road, they cause accidents because the roads are not expanded and Calabar have only one way out, one way in, I do not welcome it. I am not jealous, I am not envious of it but it is not adding value to the local economy.
One thing that people are complaining about Calabar port and most of the Eastern ports is that shipping lines charge extra to bring their vessels maybe from China to Calabar, but it is cheaper to bring same cargo to Lagos. What is the range difference and why is it so?
It is so for economic reasons. One, Calabar is farther than Lagos. If you are coming from Calabar, you go to Lagos before coming go to Calabar. That is one. Two, navigation into Calabar port we know is a bit shallow, so it is a little more difficult to get here. Then the distance is a problem, the water range is a problem.
The most critical one is that the commercial activities here are non-existent. By the time they will take one passenger, you leave your office and you are going to the remote part of Lagos where if the driver drops you there, you are not likely going to get a passenger who is coming from that place back.
You see anybody who takes cargo to Lagos, once he drops it, is more likely to get goods out of Lagos with his container. He can pick anything out of Lagos. There is traffic, when you pass through Onitsha, if you are a driver, when you get to Onitsha, whether you are going to Kano, Kaduna, Abuja or Calabar, you will always get a bus. That, to me is an issue.
When you get to Lagos, a container from the United States of America, USA for instance to Lagos may cost an average of $1,500 but take that same container to Calabar, sometimes they will ask you to pay $4,500. Sometimes it can take you up to three to four months that you cannot find the vessel because you cannot locate any vessel that is coming to Calabar; they might take your cargo to Algeria or to Brussels from Brussels to another country before it gets here. There is going to be what is called trans-shipment.
But is there anything government can do about it?
Plenty! Plenty!! Plenty!!! But you know Nigerian Government is very wicked. Nigerian government is very wicked. They just carter for the interest of those who are in government rather for the people and Lagos has been under lockdown for the past one year. If you are trying to export something from Lagos now, you need to go to the port to get empty container and then go the warehouse and from warehouse to along Oshodi expressway back to the port would take about two weeks.
I am not kidding
Two weeks is like yesterday
Okay. What I am saying is that it is very difficult. Sometimes you pay as much as N200, 000 to just load this container from the port to load it and take it back.
Something that normally cost about N70, 000, under normal circumstances just N70, 000. You pick up your freight, you go to the port; take an empty container, you go to the warehouse, you stuck it and take it back. Normally N70, 000 but now is up to N250, 000 because it involves several bills.
Now, what the government could have done if they know what to do, and they are willing to do it, wish they could have had small feeder vessel which will be operated by federal government or government backed private operators, and said okay, when you people drop your cargo in Lagos, you brought 200 containers, how many of these containers could serve the people in the east?
Now they will use that small feeder vessel to take in containers and drop them in Calabar port, so that those containers should not be offloaded in Lagos and go through this problem. Imagine if we have feeder vessels, 20 for instance, that can take 20 – 30 containers and shuttle between Warri Port, Port Harcourt and Calabar port and do short services.
If all those containers get to Lagos, the Customs clears them and once it gets to Calabar port no more clearing again. They have been offloaded in Lagos, NIMASA have cleared them, they are parked somewhere, they can take them instead of going by trailer through those roads that are locked down. The smaller vessel will take them from there. The same thing for export, so the bigger vessel will definitely get cargo to take back, so some of us who are in the state here who are doing our cocoa, our cashew, the bigger vessel will bring in goods and also take our own to Lagos.
There is also the issue of insurance?
How? I heard there is a special rate for vessels that call at the port there?
Yes, because of insecurity. Because vessels have been attacked as the channel becomes narrower, the so called militants, they are actually criminals; you know everybody is looking for baptismal name for criminality in Nigeria. When people or village team as the youths there, but they are thieves whatever it is, pirates are still thieves that attack vessels. So that is the thing about this insurance stuff. The insurance is for the vessels and for the goods; they are for the users too.
What was the reason for the increase for insurance then?
Well, you can look at the insurance in two ways; if a vessel was under charter the insurance will definitely go much higher. Then on the other hand, you know we started this discussion with the fact whether am I aware that when a cargo is coming to Lagos comparing to coming to Calabar that the cost is three times higher, you know, insurance is part of it, the risk, they are part of it.
I know from our previous discussion, you did tell me that vessels use to come to Calabar port; you do your exports direct from Calabar, what happened and why the sudden change?
It was not sudden at all; we saw it coming, when Donald Duke came into office he initiated the development of TINAPA which was a very big project and at the same time the LAFARGE project was ongoing, so those two projects where going on side by side in Calabar and that is what attracted many clients to start coming so every two weeks. The ships were bringing in imports for those projects.
By the time Donald Duke left and Liyel Imoke came into office and of course TINAPA has been completed and LAFARGE was almost done and they gave us notice that in six months’ time they will be living that they are no longer going to make this calls. That they are making those calls more for our exports that import into Calabar.
So we cried to Liyel to come and help us talk to these people (shipping line) to make it a monthly instead of a fortnight calls. So they came, we had a meeting with the Governor and they told the governor that they are going to stop; that they have enough export from Calabar because they were not sure of imports to Calabar and therefore cannot continue.
Giving the shallow nature of the channel, can it accommodate these vessels if the shipping lines decide to come back?
I think so, yes. It can accommodate these vessels.