The lines of aging blue, red and yellow trucks begin almost 6 miles (10 kilometers) from the gates of Nigeria’s main port of Apapa.
Valentine, a 34-year-old driver, has been queuing outside the Lagos site for two weeks. He’s had to deal with policemen demanding bribes and fend off hoodlums known as area boys. “This is the worst I’ve seen it,” he said, changing tires in a grimy orange t-shirt. “Every year, it gets worse.”
The congestion outside and inefficiency within Nigeria’s ports is choking the economy, which vies with South Africa as the continent’s biggest, and causes havoc for businesses that use them to import everything from cars to computers, food and machinery.
Nigeria loses $19 billion annually, or about 5 percent of gross domestic product, from the delays, traffic, illegal charges and insecurity that are increasingly prevalent at its ports, the Lagos Chamber of Commerce & Industry said in a report this year.
In the World Bank’s Trading Across Borders survey, which measures the time and expense involved with importing and exporting goods, Nigeria ranks 182nd out of 190 countries, below Syria and Afghanistan.
The problems at Apapa and other ports such as Calabar and Port Harcourt have been a headache for successive administrations, which have failed to fix decaying infrastructure, reduce stifling red tape and tackle corruption. Terminal operators, including APM Terminals, a unit of Denmark’s AP Moller-Maersk A/S, rely on generators because power cuts are so frequent.
But it’s worsened in recent years, especially at Apapa. Crumbling roads have all but ground trucks to a halt. Once they do manage to enter, drivers and businesses have to contend with a plethora of customs, immigration and security agents before they can pick up containers. It can take 20 days to clear products, compared with 48 hours in neighboring Benin and Ghana, according to the LCCI.
The cost of moving a container from Apapa to other parts of Lagos has soared to as much as 700,000 naira ($1,930) from about 150,000 naira two years ago as trucking firms put up their prices to make up for the delays, according to the Nigerian Shippers’ Council.
President Muhammadu Buhari, running for reelection in February, said in October the situation was “a major concern” and the government will urgently repair roads and build more railways to the ports. The 75-year-old leader says modernizing infrastructure is vital to diversify the OPEC member from oil and gas and revive an economy still struggling after the 2014 crash in crude prices.
Getting goods through Nigeria’s ports more smoothly and cheaply would also help to curb inflation, which has been above 10 percent for almost three years.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo visited Apapa in May 2017 and directed officials to start working around the clock and all agencies to locate their operations in one place to ease delays.
It’s been to little avail. Many people prefer to use more efficient ports in Benin, Ghana and Togo, according to Mike Onulide, who runs a business exporting food including noodles and garri, a cassava-based staple popular in West Africa.
“You don’t face the same kinds of frustration there that you do in Nigeria,” he said, recalling how a fellow businessman still hasn’t received compensation after one of his containers was dropped into the sea early this year. “There’s been no improvement.”
Via Twitter4 years ago, it cost N300,000 to take a 40FT container from Lagos to Kano. Last week, someone paid N900,000…