Nigerian Railway Corporation cannot meet demands of Inland Container Depots – ICNL

Alhaji Yusuf Ismail is the Managing Director, ICNL Container Terminal, Apapa, Lagos. In this interview with Nigerian NewsDirect Babalola Yusuf, he speaks on how he resuscitated the terminal ten years ago at a time when handed terminals were closing shop and opening of new Inland container Depot in Kaduna state.

What is the status of the Kaduna Inland Container port?

We are supposed to start operation in the last quarter of 2015 but we
have technical challenges now and I believe we will overcome it. The
commencement date may not be the last quarter of 2015 again because I
have to tell you the truth, if I tell you in the next two weeks it
will happen and it does not happen, you will not take us serious. The
regulatory body which is the Nigerian Shippers Council, Itemised
certain things for us to put in place at the dry port which requires
engineering development and additional infrastructural development which the board needs to meet and approve.
The board met last week and base on the list we have, they have
approved the commencement of the infrastructural development so the
engineers and the contractors will be mobilized to site to carry out
the construction of additional infrastructure the regulatory body
asked us to work on. We have a time frame for them to do that and once
that is completed, the operation commences.

Will you say Shippers’ council is an obstacle to the official takeoff of Kaduna ICD?

No, they are not. They are helping us more because as a regulatory
body that have licensed a company and want the company to commence
work immediately but discovered that the required equipment to make
them effective and efficient and will make them start work immediately
are not on ground, I don’t think that is a delay. We were operating
before as a bonded terminal and not a dry port and our bonded terminal
may not have facilities of a dry port which we must put in place to
commence operation of a dry port and that is what we are doing now.
What is the time frame sir?
I will say we phased the project into three and the first phase which
we know that if it is completed, we will start operation. I believed
the first phase will be from January to March so when that is done, we
will start operation and continue the other phases from there.

What is the relationship between ICNL and Nigeria Railway Corporation?

We have a good relationship with them because we are customer to them
and they are transporter to us. They give us their locomotive when
they have and we make use of it to transport our cargo from the
seaport in Apapa to our Kano and Kaduna port.

How effective is NRC in the movement of goods from Lagos to the ICDS?

The Nigeria Railway Corporation do not have enough capacity for the
movement of cargoes to meet our demand and when you are in transport
business especially the situation we find our self in Nigeria, you
have a lot of hiccups which is not limited to the finance of railway
itself which was whether they are getting enough funding that will
enable them get enough locomotives or wagons to service the public?
As far as we are concerned, Nigeria Railway can only do 20% of our
capacity and that is only one ICD but we all know that government
licensed about six more ICDs an if those six ICDS start operation,
what will happen to movement of cargoes when these ICDs were premised
on the use of railway to meet customers’ needs and become cheaper means of transportation.
Looking at the present state of the economy, terminal operators are laying off staff. How has the state of the economy affected ICNL?
It is not only maritime business that the recession is affecting but
every business in Nigeria. The present situation is also affecting our throughput, we know what we used to do every month before now but we
know what we have done in the last one month and at least, it has
affected our business not less than 20percent.

So should we expect ICNL to start laying off their workers?

We are not thinking of that now.

What are the strategies the company put in place to remain strong at this trying time of our economy?

The major challenge in this business is the transportation of the
cargoes from Lagos to the ICDS because if you want to expand, the
rails are not working and the railway corporation cannot meet our
demand then if we continue to use road, the service will be expensive
and the reason for the establishment of dry port or Bonded terminal
outside coastal area was to ensure that the cargoes are moved by rail
so that it will not be expensive for people that will use the inland
terminals. For us, for the problem to be solved government have to
look in the direction of removing their hand in the operation of
railway. They need to privatise the railways so that private sector
will come in, dispose them in segment so that if I buy the rail
segment from Lagos to Ibadan, I will put my money there, buy
locomotive, buy wagons or more rail tracks and eventually, another set
of investors will come in there. We all know how they operate in other
countries, we cannot decide to sell the whole railway to one company
it won’t work because it involve very huge amount of investment. For
government to help the public, they must privatise NRC else if they
continue to pump money, it won’t work, they do their business as if
they are not business men.

You said ICNL will not rely on only rail for the movement of cargoes because you are bringing in some investors. Could you give a low down of the relationship with these haulage companies?

They are not investors but third party contractors. We have selected
them and we have engaged them and they are performing.

The state of the roads is in a deplorable condition; don’t you think this will affect your operation especially moving goods from Lagos to the hinterland?

No doubt the state of the road is affecting our operations because
75percent if not 85percent of our roads are bad. The way it affect our
operations is that when they load in Lagos and they are going to Kano
or Kaduna, where they are supposed to spend four days but still on
halfway, they have spent three days because the road is bad and before
getting to Kano, you have spent seven days and when you are to bring
the empties back, you do not know what you will meet on the road so
definitely, government have to come in to assist people in getting
their business done.

How can you describe Nigerian Shippers’ Council as economic regulator?

Shippers Council have just been gazetted, they have been backed by law to regulate the port. Before, it was a mere pronouncement, but when
they get their gazette was when we got ours also. So, they must put
their house in other, have meetings with stakeholders and ask people
to submit their problems with terminal operators, bonded terminal
operators an dry port operators then they sit on a round table to iron
issues out because by the time they start enforcing their control or
regulatory policies, that is when we will know and when it does not
work, we will challenge them.

Lagos state government asked truck drivers to move at night even
though they have rescinded the policy, how do you think government can stop frequent falling of containers?

It is simple, if you want to make a policy, you have to carry all
stakeholders along before implementing the law. If Lagos state
government had called a meeting of all stakeholders and asked
questions or tell them what he intended to do and how he intended to
achieve it, they will tell him the challenges of doing that at night
which government was also to blame for their failure to address some
of those issues. Government said trucks should move at night but there
was no provisions for lightening on our roads, trucks move at daytime
containers are falling what about at night when lightening is poor
definitely we will have more accidents.
Also, the government should put the roads in other , enforce security
and surveillance at night then government should ask stakeholders
what are the challenges they are facing, you work on that challenges
to enable them comply with your law otherwise we will continue to face
these problems if those area are not addressed.

What is you advise and agenda for the new minister of transport?

The minister of Transport is an administrator and not an expert so he
has a political appointment and we cannot say he is a novice. I can be
appointed to be there tomorrow and every section have expert in that
area, they are to advise him and his own is to give direction an get
things going. I was not born with the business am doing, but when they
want to do anything they come to me and when they cannot defend it, I
will not approve it. So, that is why he is an administrator, he was to
give direction.
He has his lieutenants and he has the journalist because I have read
about challenges of the sector so they will tell him the problems in
the industry and he will sit down with his people. If I call Mr. A
that this is the write up from press, how do we solve the problem? he
will come up with the idea, like the present minister after his
swearing in, he said he will focus on rail transportation and he will
achieve it, I don’t know what he has in mind but I know he has the
backing of the president and the president has given him a target and
he would have called his colleagues an tell them the assignments given
to him by the president. This is my assignment here and I must achieve
it so how I will do that tell me so that I will do it.

Sir, Juxtapose before port concessioning and after concessioning. Has anything changed?

A lot has changed because before concessing, if we want to move
container from the seaport here to our terminal it take us up to 60
days because Nigeria ports Authority was managing the terminal and the
Nigeria Customs Service are not efficient but today, containers can
be out of the port under 72 hours. The people the government
concessioned the ports to have invested in it, they have sanitized the port, invested in equipment, human capital and they have brought in more money. I was there recently and I saw things for myself. The
port I used to know was not the port I saw so efficiency is here
compare to what we used to have before now.

(Cut in) Port users have complained about high charges?

That is the problem of the regulators and everything that is of
quality goes with price.

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