Saving Nigerian Exports from Apapa Gridlock

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Saving Nigerian Exports from Apapa Gridlock
The Buhari administration, on assumption of office in 2015,made conscious efforts to reduce Nigeria’s dependence on oil which accounts for a huge chunk of the country’s foreign exchange earnings.
As a result, the administration made deliberate policies to promote non-oil exports in an attempt to stimulate the economy and boost foreign exchange earnings.
This policy direction consequently energised the non- oil exports sectors as more Nigerians reacted positively to the call.
Statistics from the Nigeria Customs Service clearly showed a steady increase in the non-oil exports as more Nigerian took advantage of the stimulus package to either revitalise their export business or venture into the sector.
The recent crash in global oil prices due to Covid-19 pandemic has even made the policy more imperative.
But the Apapa port traffic gridlock is threatening to truncate the laudable objective of government to promote non-oil exports.
The Lagos ports, comprising the Apapa and Tin Can Island ports, are reputed to be the biggest which account for over 70 percent of both imports and exports.
These exit points for Nigerian non-oil export goods, are currently under the choking grip of the malignant gridlock.
For over a year now, the Federal Government has been battling to contain the monster which though has receeded in intensity and verocity, but has refused to go.
Export consignments are trapped in the traffic on their way to the terminals  for days, weeks and months, depending on the intensity of the gridlock which often times  fluctuates.
This has led to the frustration and anguish of exporters who are counting their losses.
A survey conducted in 2019 by the Organised Private Sector (OPS) revealed that Nigeria has lost about N3.06 trillion on non-oil exports since the Apapa gridlock became intractable over a year ago.
In 2018, Tola Faseru, the National President of Cashew Farmers Association of Nigeria, also claimed that exporters of agricultural produce and other goods are losing about N10billon annually to the Apapa gridlock.
Victor Akinjo, the Chairman of House Committee on Privatisation and Commercialisation made a similar claim in December 2019, when he said the gridlock costs Nigeria about N600billion monthly in terms of imports and exports.
We are saddened by these chilling statistics and unfortunate development which is capable of castrating the good intentions of the Federal Government to promote non-oil exports.
It is also capable of acting  as a disincentive to the operators in the non-oil export sector.
Even though the Federal government, through its Task Team on the Apapa gridlock, is putting up a good fight to subdue the monster, but we dare say these efforts have not eased the pains of the exporters.
We notice that export goods are presently still being trapped for days and weeks in the gridlock despite the good work of the Presidential Task Team.
From all indications, the Apapa gridlock may not be over soon as long as the remedial works on the two access roads are still going on.
Even after the roads, which constitute the major impediments in traffic on the port access roads are fixed and motorable, the gridlock may still continue as long as  port inefficiency and non- commencement of  electronic call up system, which are among the major issues, subsist.
We therefore advise relevant government agencies, especially the Nigerian Shippers Council and the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to rise up to the challenges and safe the export trade from the choking grip of Apapa gridlock.
The Shippers Council, whose part of its statutory duties, is to protect the interests of Shippers, should ensure that export consignments are given accelerated passage into the terminals.
This is achievable by prevailing on the terminal operators to give preferential treatment to all export cargoes to access their terminals based on the availability of space.
The NPA should also complement this initiative with deference to export cargoes in its manual call up system.
In addition to these measures, the exporters should be encouraged to use other mode of transportation to get their exports to the ports.
The use of barges should be an attractive alternative where the export goods are trucked to the designated  jetties and loaded on these barges which will  ferry them to the ports.
 We are aware of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which the NPA signed with the APM Terminal in May, 2019 to extend the use of barges to evacuate containers from the ports in Lagos to Epe.
This gesture should be extended to export goods to aid their access to the ports.
Similarly, the use of rail transport, where applicable, should be an attractive option for the exporters.
Though not fully developed, the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) makes skeletal rail services to the Apapa port to evacuate imports.
Export goods should be similarly involved in the arrangement.
We equally hope that government will expedite action on the construction of Lagos- Ibadan rail line which is expected to link Apapa port.
This, we are sure, will considerably ease the pains of exporters and boost export trade.
We urge government through the relevant agencies to immediately rise up to save the exporters the anguish and losses incurred on the Apapa road.
The development has made Nigeria’s export goods uncompetitive in the international market as most of them are rejected due to loss in their quality which made the products fail the strict quality control tests of the buyers as a result of long delay in the gridlock.
The case of perishable exports is pathetic as they become expired and spoilt while waiting in queues to access the ports.
The prompt response of government to address the issue of exports caught in the Apapa gridlock will not only benefit the exporters but will equally do the government a whole lot of good in its strive to diversify the economy from dependence on the  fast depleting oil fortunes and boost its dwindling foreign exchange earnings.
A stitch in time saves nine.

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