Port Logistics and Hinterland Connectivity: Challenges and Solutions for Efficient Cargo Movement in Nigeria
1. Introduction
Traditionally, seaports have been geographically established and managed across the globe. The seaports at Apapa and Tincan Island in Lagos are respectively 16th and 27th in the West African ranking of cargo throughput. Lagos ports account for 80-85% of the total cargo throughput of the country. The port operations are characterized by gross inefficiency, congestion, bureaucratic red tape, lack of modern equipment, and suffocating corruption. All these problems combined to give a low level of service that is unacceptable in modern times. The challenges also combine to have a far-reaching implication. First, is the enormous waste of time and resources occasioned by delays. Time is money. When transit times for shipping and port are so inefficient, it presents a significant trade barrier. Where our ports like Apapa and Tincan Island should function to enhance commercial activities, they are now seriously beginning to hamper economic activities. Secondly, the state of the ports of the country affects its ability to compete for both foreign and domestic cargo. It is obvious that stakeholders in the Nigerian port operations have allowed the culture of neglect and underdevelopment to dominate the industry in a frightening dimension. Authorities of Nigerian ports seem to be overwhelmed by numerous problems and difficulties. The consequences are glaring. The progressive and laudable objective of achieving port efficiency for trade and commerce in line with global best practices seems to have eluded Nigerian ports. The European Union, through a number of interventions in West Africa and particularly in Nigeria, seeks to create an enabling environment for increasing port competitiveness and improving local transport. This will consequently enhance the ports’ ability to attract cargo traffic and operate as an engine of trade and economic development, which Nigeria so earnestly needs. Such interventions are timely and appropriate, given the fact that port efficiency is critical in trade facilitation and economic prosperity. It is the expectation that successful repositioning and modernization of the Nigerian ports will result in improved economic well-being and development opportunities. The reason why the Nigerian ports are facing these challenges may be attributable to poor planning and port location at an early stage of seaport evolution. The existing port facility and layout are no longer able to cope with the demand and pattern of modern shipping and port operation. With an increase in the size and capacity of modern cargo vessels, port operation method and layout have to change to accommodate the equipment and facilities required to make efficient use of these technological advances. The challenges and difficulties facing port logistics in Nigeria are varied and complex, and they have a direct impact on trade and the economy as a whole.
1.1 Background of Port Logistics in Nigeria
Over the years, due largely to geography and topography, the emphasis in Nigeria has been on road transportation to and from the ports. Port facilities developed in Nigeria in the colonial era were for transhipment to the north by the river system. When the main ports of Apapa and Port Harcourt, being seaports, developed, these were solely feedered by road. The road pressure and traffic gridlocks in Apapa evolved because the roads do not possess the capacity to accommodate the volume of traffic generated by the functions and activities in the port. Apapa and Port Harcourt ports serve Nigeria and some of the hinterland countries, namely Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali and Chad. All rely heavily on the existing road network. It is evident that the current port facilities, with the exception of the Onne and Warri ports, are located by the coast while the majority of the consumption and production centres of Nigeria are within the hinterland. The Onne port is located in the South-South of Nigeria and mainly serves shipping activities in the oil and industrial sector. Onne has a combined road, sea and air cargo terminal. It started in the late 1980s as a Greenfield port. This paper provides an overview of the port logistics in Nigeria and hinterland connectivity, and the challenges and solutions of efficient cargo movement from the cargo port to the hinterland.
At present, Nigeria has inefficient port facilities and few developed railways to support goods transportation from the sea.
1.2 Importance of Efficient Cargo Movement
Efficient cargo movement is vital for a thriving economy. Each day reduced in freight transport will come with considerable cost savings for trade and industry, ensuring that consumers benefit from efficient transport logistics through lower prices and reliable supply. Better delivery times and flexibility in freight transport will greatly contribute to the reduction of wider distribution and supply chain costs. Reducing the amount of stock held in the supply chain will help to free up capital and allow investment in other parts of the business. Next day delivery and late order times means that orders can be made to match customer demand rather than ahead of transport constraints. More reliable delivery times will reduce the need to transport safety stock and build up work in different areas of the supply chain to ensure that production is not disrupted by a delay in delivery. Improved collection and distribution freight transport projects will see a reduction in the impact on the environment caused by time delays in the movement of freight. As is the case all over the world, time delays mean more vehicles on the road at any one time and long periods of stationary activity and congestion, which in turn means greater emissions and higher levels of carbon in the atmosphere due to vehicle environmental impact. As such, the development of freight transport networks and logistics is vital to ensure that businesses are given the opportunity to reduce their carbon footprint and provide more sustainable methods of goods distribution. A more reliable service and reducing time delays will mean shipping companies can economically invest in new technologies and logistics to develop a modern transportation infrastructure and help establish stable and secure freight links to and from international markets.
2. Challenges in Port Logistics and Hinterland Connectivity
Inadequate infrastructure is one of the major challenges in port logistics and hinterland connectivity in Nigeria. Infrastructure in and around the ports, including access roads, is often old, outdated, and in need of repair. The road networks and bridges are inadequate to handle the volume of cargo and the truck traffic that comes in and out of the ports. The rail and inland waterway networks are not properly developed and maintained. This has resulted in overdependence on road for the evacuation of cargoes from the ports to the hinterland. Also, the absence of a national transport policy that clearly specifies the role of each transport mode and the investment requirement needed to meet the policy objectives affects infrastructure development. The proliferation of government agencies that are involved in various aspects of port operations and their overlapping functions has further compounded the problem of inadequate infrastructure. For instance, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) is responsible for the management of port infrastructure while the Nigerian Shippers’ Council is responsible for ensuring the provision of standardized transport rate and services charged by service providers in the transport sector. Also, the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) and the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) have roles to play in cargo clearance procedure at the ports. The ongoing efforts of the NPA in collaboration with the port concessionaires to improve port infrastructure would only be meaningful if the focus of the other relevant government agencies shifts from revenue generation to actual implementation of policies that seek to address the challenges of inadequate port logistics to national development.
2.1 Inadequate Infrastructure
Given that infrastructure is a productivity driver and is crucial to enhancing cargo movement efficiency across ports in the country, inadequate maritime infrastructure in ports is a major challenge identified. Due to poor maintenance of the port equipment, facilities, and access roads, cargo handling operations in most of Nigerian seaports are very slow. Modern cargo handling is equipment and systems-intensive just like the actual vessels that call the ports. All of the operations are expected to take the least time possible. However, poor maintenance culture and lack of proper investment into the plant and equipment by the terminal operators and government agencies have hampered the functioning of the ports. Lack of efficient rail services and poor coastal or inland waterways infrastructure between the ports and the hinterland further compound the problem of getting goods to and from ports. So, when you don’t have substantial backup from alternative transport modes, the capacity of the roads to carry the volumes of import and export traffic generated by the ports influences the efficiency of the cargo movement. In the analysis of the impact of inefficient transport operation in the Nigerian ports, underutilization and congestion in the sea ports stand out as the identified consequences of the problems as the importers and agents are forced to have long dwell time and the utilisable area in the ports are not put into maximum use. The federal government has spent trillions of Naira on repair and construction of roads but none on the ones around the ports, the port roads have been in deplorable conditions and have been subjected to neglect. In view of this, the dwell time of imports is on the high side leading to severe congestion, limitation, and breaks in trade which have effect on national and individual economic survival. The government has to improve maritime infrastructure particularly at the ports, jetties, and harbours. The building and maintenance of substantial and effective internal transport networks which extend beyond the ports, including haulage links and high-quality access to the national road and rail systems should also be in place. This will allow the cargo generated in other ports and regions to be managed over a wider area and help to increase operational efficiency in individual ports. It will also facilitate the development of the short sea traffic and the development of industries in coastal regions and in the port’s hinterland. The overall efficiency of the transportation system and global competitiveness also depend on the efficiency of other modes of transport. Enhancements must be made in order to validate the use of sea transport and to align the necessary technical progress in the maritime sector with the goal of an integrated and sustainable transport chain, in which all modes are used efficiently and at their best. Also, to ensure that the country can develop and consolidate its position as a major maritime centre in the region, it is crucial that the policy makers place a high emphasis on sustainable infrastructure development, research, and innovation in the maritime sector. The federal ministry of transport and other government agencies in charge of maritime and land transportation should work together to ensure that the right policies, investment, and exports are made towards the development of sustainable and efficient maritime infrastructure which deliver robust and resilient transport services, both now and for the future. This will help to solve the challenges of inadequate maritime infrastructure and inefficient cargo movement in the Nigerian ports.
2.2 Congestion at Ports
The continued congestion in ports in Nigeria has negative impacts on the economy. When a port is congested, it becomes difficult for ships to find a place to offload their cargo. This, therefore, leads to shipping agents having the problem of finding ships that will carry their cargo. This subsequently results in demurrage, which is a charge for the detention of a ship beyond the time allowed for unloading. This has led to an increase in the cost of cargo handling at Nigerian ports. It has been estimated that due to the congestion in Nigeria’s ports, shipping agents spend about 34 hours in ports for cargo clearance compared to 3 hours in the United States. Besides, the average cost of clearing cargo in Nigerian ports is about $265 which is more expensive than the West and Central African average of $110. The congestion at the ports is further made worse by the fact that most of the Nigerian ports do not operate a 24-hour system. For example, the Lagos Port Complex, which is the biggest port in Nigeria, only operates within the hours of 8am to 5pm on Mondays to Fridays and between 8am to 12 noon on Saturdays. This means that the turnover time for ships is slow, thereby causing congestion. The problem of port congestion has been made worse by the fact that the ports do not have enough stacking areas for containers. For example, the two major ports in Lagos, the Lagos Port Complex and the Tin Can Island Port, have only a stacking area of about 30,000 and 24,000 square meters and the ports receive an average of 155,000 Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEUs) annually. This means that they handle about 80% more TEUs than they have the capacity for. As a result, containers are stacked everywhere, sometimes obstructing established roads within the port and this has caused traffic chaos within the ports. The problem of congestion at ports in Nigeria is further compounded by the problem of inefficiency in cargo clearance. When cargo arrives at Nigerian ports, they are taken to the ports’ designated examination area for examination and release. The Nigerian customs and other related government agencies like the Standards Organisation of Nigeria and the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control are responsible for the examination and release of cargo. However, corruption in the cargo examination and release process has led to inefficiency as well as a high turnover time for the release of cargo. For example, the cargo clearance process involves many documentary checks, physical examination of cargo and finally the issuance of the customs release order and most often, clearing agents have to part away with money in order to have their cargo released. As a result cargo is kept at the ports, thereby leading to congestion.
2.3 Poor Intermodal Connectivity
Poor intermodal connectivity, segmental or non-existent intermodality among the modes is yet another major challenge in the hinterland movement of cargo from the Nigerian ports. Intermodalism, a principle of enhancing the compatibility of different transport modes in order to facilitate a seamless and efficient physical transit of goods from the ports to the hinterland, is a serious challenge faced in the port industry. Even where the ports are accessible by rail lines, the rail network from the ports to the real hinterland is non-existent or non-functional. The implication of this is that cargo evacuation by rail is limited only within the immediate environment of the ports or between the sea ports and the Inland Container Depots (ICDs) but cannot be extended to cover more geographical areas of cargo destinations. Moreover, the existing rail connections to the ports are operational at sub-optimal levels of performance in terms of capacity utilization and lead time of cargo movement. Any attempt to transit cargo movement to rail is always faced with the challenges of inadequate rolling stocks and poor maintenance culture which lead to low fleet availability, derailment, and service breakdown along the rail corridors from the ports to the hinterland. Similarly, the road corridors which usually bear the burden of cargo movement from the ports to the hinterland are designed without due consideration to easy access to the rail network or without any facility for multiple transport modes. This means that proper planning for a seamless switch over from road to rail intermodality has been lacking in most of the road infrastructural provisions. The road features such as road geometry, vertical and horizontal clearances, route alignment, and junction designs are not enabling for the construction of rail lines or the provision of rail haulage facilities. It shares the same opinion with Ameh and Dakhie that the current mode of transport from the Lagos ports to the real hinterland, such as the sole reliance on road, has intensified the pressure on the existing road infrastructure which has been overstretched and overstressed beyond functional service limits. This further exposes the limited life cycle of the road infrastructures to early deterioration and potential failure; and it predisposes the road corridors to perennial traffic congestion, accidents, and numerous transport delays. It is regrettable to note that the use of inland waterways as a suitable alternative and complement to rail intermodality has not been properly recognized and harnessed in Nigeria. The potential benefits of water intermodality from the ports to the hinterland, especially to those regions that are far away from the ports and those along the dredgeable rivers and streams, have been greatly underexplored. Thanks to the various studies being carried out by some players in the maritime sector in recent times in the same direction of digitization and automation, it is expected that the current manual methods of conducting the port logistics process in Nigeria will give way to a more advanced technological approach. Such development will not only enhance the process of intermodality and the application of ‘just in time’ logistics in the cargo movement but it will also help in reducing to the barest minimum the numerous man-made inefficiencies and bottlenecks that have characterized most of the seaports in Nigeria today.
3. Solutions for Efficient Cargo Movement
Infrastructure development is one of the most important solutions suggested to improve cargo movement efficiency. For instance, the paper notes that the current capacity of Nigeria’s sea ports and the narrow road network around the ports is not sufficient to handle increased cargo traffic. It suggests that developing existing ports and building new deep sea ports would improve the situation. Moreover, enhancing the capacity and the quality of roads is important in moving cargo from ports to the hinterland as well as from the source of production to the ports. This could also help reduce congestion at ports as cargo could be moved out more quickly. Furthermore, the development of a national freight and transit rail will ensure multi-modal transportation for cargo movement. The coordination among Nigerian Ports Authority, Nigerian Railway Corporation and the management of ports has been recommended for such infrastructure development. Streamlining port operations is another solution the paper focuses on. The paper points out that the current cargo clearing process is too complex and time-consuming. For example, in Lagos, it takes more than 20 different authorities to have import cargo cleared. Also, multiple security agencies, including the Nigeria Customs Service, the State Security Service, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, use different criteria and procedures to open and inspect cargo passing through the ports. The paper proposes smart technology such as scanners and electronic goods examination as ways to increase the efficiency and standardization of cargo clearing. Furthermore, the introduction of a single window clearance system that allow parties involved in cargo clearance to input standardized information through a single platform electronically and relevant authorities could have access to the registered information. This will greatly reduce the massive duplication and reduce the time needed to clear cargo. Last but not least, improving intermodal connectivity is suggested as a long-term solution to enhance cargo movement efficiency. The paper explains that even though Nigeria has an increasing amount of freight traffic, the utilization of waterways and the national rail system is still very low. This is due to the lack of proper and efficient transshipment points that allows the transfer of cargo among different modes of transportation. The paper suggests that with the development of more intermodal terminals which allows the direct loading and unloading of cargo between sea and land transportation, the current dependence on roads as the main mode of cargo movement could be reduced. Also, the national rail system should be integrated into the intermodal transportation network so to provide alternative and efficient freight route. The established and popular sea routes could be connected through Nigeria from the west to the east of the continent which could potentially make Nigeria a regional cargo distribution center, according to the paper. This will increase the attractiveness of the sea ports in Nigeria and hence create new business opportunities.
3.1 Infrastructure Development
It is hoped that the recent introduction of the Presidential Order 7 Project will ease infrastructural inhibitions. This policy, first signed by President Buhari in 2018, aims to improve coordination between Nigeria’s various public sector agencies and increase the president’s direct influence over infrastructure development. Such centralization may help streamline the often complex processes required to secure permissions for large projects, potentially expediting both the maintenance and modernization of existing cargo networks and the development of new infrastructure.
But it is not only a lack of space that can cause inefficient cargo movement: poorly maintained roads, a lack of digital automation in the operation of a port, and a fragmented approach to the collection and sharing of data can all obstruct cargo flows. This viewpoint – that infrastructure is not just about the presence of physical networks but also how they are managed and maintained – is consistent across much of the academic literature. From discussions of how to best improve cargo movement in Nigeria to investigations into how the country’s ports measure up against regional competitors, experts continuously stress the importance of an integrated, efficient infrastructure system.
In the main port of Lagos, for example, a UNCTAD report on port conditions in West Africa notes that the average time a container spent in the port (known as the “berth stay” of a container) was around 9 days. Such congestion at the port is symptomatic of poor infrastructure; in this case, the Lagos port lacks the capacity to store the volume of incoming cargo, meaning that clearing goods becomes a drawn-out affair.
Insufficient infrastructure in the ports and the hinterland has been identified as the most significant challenge to efficient cargo movement. “Infrastructure,” in this context, encompasses a variety of physical inputs – such as roads, railways, and storage facilities – as well as systems through which these physical inputs are managed. The efficiency of cargo movement is largely dependent on how well these physical and systemic inputs interact with one another.
3.2 Streamlining Port Operations
One major solution to the challenges of cargo movement identified in the previous section is to streamline operations at the ports. A port is a busy place where a lot of activities take place simultaneously. Without a proper system of work, there will always be bottlenecks and more time is spent on moving cargoes through the system. The paper highlights some strategies for streamlining port operations. First, the paper proposes the introduction of a single window system. The single window concept is global. It is a trade facilitation idea that enables a trader to declare his imports/exports to a sole customs station, and automatically the data is transmitted to other regulatory agencies like the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) whose duties are needed for the release of cargo from the ports. The introduction of this system would reduce the documentation of cargo delivery and examination that can sometimes take days or weeks. The second strategy is to expand operations to 24 hours a day. The paper argues that by allowing the ports to be opened throughout the day and night, it will reduce the over-reliance on daytime port operations and further reduce the turnaround time for vessels visiting Nigerian ports. It will also help in the optimum utilization of other port facilities like berths, yard spaces, and handling equipment. Another strategy the paper recommends is the decentralization of port operations. It is suggested that the port system should be decentralized to enable ships that call at the Apapa port to have other alternative ports in the country where they can easily discharge their cargoes. Other smaller ports in Nigeria have been underutilized; hence decentralization of shipping activities in the country is a good strategy that can help decongest the Apapa port and promote easy discharge of cargo. Also, the most important ports in other geopolitical regions of the country like Warri, Port Harcourt, and Calabar should be improved upon in order to attract shipping activities and encourage decentralization. By having many shipping ports, it will reduce the extent of congestion usually associated with one port.
3.3 Enhancing Intermodal Connectivity
Improving the intermodal transport system is one of the several solutions to the challenges of cargo movement in Nigeria discussed in the previous section for efficient cargo movement. Intermodal transportation involves the movement of goods using two or more modes of transportation such as road, rail, or waterways without handling the freight itself when changing modes. The seamless connectivity between seaports and inland freight distribution centres and dry ports as well as the connection among various modes is very critical. Presently, the Nigerian urban freight transport is dominated by road and there are no proper linkages between maritime and other modes of transport. This situation not only leads to immense pressure on the limited road infrastructure but also increases haulage and shipment cost and lowers the overall efficiency of transporting the goods. As a matter of fact, it is widely known that the current road networks cannot cope with the increasing volume of consolidated shipments in Nigeria. Therefore, there is an urgent need to properly construct and maintain the freight corridors that connect important seaports with other geographical areas in the hinterland – a task which should be taken up in the proposed National Freight Transportation Master Plan. This will result in a reduction of travel delay, transportation cost and energy consumption and also increase reliability and enhance competitiveness of freight distribution in Nigeria. Hence, policy-makers should take intermodal transportation as an opportunity to minimize the negative consequences of each mode, and shape a sustainable and efficient urban freight transport system for Nigeria.
4. Conclusion
In conclusion, the identified challenges including inadequate infrastructure, congestion at ports, and poor intermodal connectivity contribute to the inefficiency in cargo movement in Nigeria. At the same time, the factors that triggered these challenges such as historical context of Nigerian port, organizational inefficiency, seaport and shipping line practices, and a general lack of investment were discussed. An overview of the port and maritime organization practices in Nigeria were also provided in the article. Last but not least, the article has outlined a number of solutions to improve the current situation. The range of solutions was from small and immediately implementable fix to larger proposals involving changes at a policy level. The potential solutions proposed by the article included immediate layout and process changes at the Lagos port, further streamlining paperwork, customs and final mile transportation, addressing some anti-competitive practices within current seaport operations, and investing in better training for workers and improving labor practices. It was however emphasized that these measures should not be pursued to the exclusion of a comprehensive and large-scale infrastructure solution but instead, such measures should be targeted to further improve the current situation which we have gained in-depth understanding after the analysis. Last but not least, the article has outlined a number of solutions to improve the current situation. The range of solutions was from small and immediately implementable fix to larger proposals involving changes at a policy level. The potential solutions proposed by the article included immediate layout and process changes at the Lagos port, further streamlining paperwork, customs and final mile transportation, addressing some anti-competitive practices within current seaport operations, and investing in better training for workers and improving labor practices. It was however emphasized that these measures should not be pursued to the exclusion of a comprehensive and large-scale infrastructure solution but instead, such measures should be targeted to further improve the current situation which we have gained in-depth understanding after the analysis.

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