Steve Agbota                                   

Over the years, intermodal transportation has been adopted by  nations around the world as the means of moving goods from the port to the consignees destination. The reason being  that, intermodal is considered secure, efficient cheap, environmentally friendly and the fastest way of evacuating cargoes.

Asides, these maritime nations invested hugely in intermodal transport infrastructure to make their ports efficient, competitive, create employment opportunities and also to boost their economy.

Today, Nigeria’s lack of investment in infrastructure over the years has come back to haunt it as the hurdles of transportation system in the country continues to expand.

Ironically, Nigeria is still being known for running a single mode of cargo evacuation, which is the road, and it is killing her roads as about 6,000 heavy-duty trucks invade the ports access roads daily, vying to lift petroleum products, imported goods or drop goods/empty containers at the congested holding bays.

Moreover, this make Nigeria’s road network remains one of the most overstretched due to the inability of successive governments to link the rail and other modes of transportation system in the country. Consequently, this has also contributed to the gridlock around the nation’s two major seaports because Nigeria has not been able to link or connect its transport modes to fast track economic development across board.

With apparent lack of connectivity in Nigeria’s transport system, cost of doing business has continued to escalate especially at the nation’s seaports across the country making it impossible for shippers and importers to turn to neighbouring seaports to do business.

Already, the lack of connectivity of its major transportation modes including the rail, pipeline, air, water and road transport compelled the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) to recently score Nigeria low on Ease of Doing Business.

Out of the over eight seaports in the country, only the Apapa Port is connected by rail, while cargoes in the remaining seven can only be evacuated by roads and in rare instances by rail. Again, looking at the cargo section of the airport across the country, only Abuja airport is connected by rail while other airports in Nigeria are independent of other modes of transportation.

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This was due to the failure to invest in transport infrastructure pushed up the country’s production cost by 46 per cent a major reasons Nigeria ranked low in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business ranking.

Stakeholders who spoke with Daily Sun believed that if other modes of transportation, such as rail, barges, inland waterways and others, are put in place, it will decongest the ports  and, as well, boost revenue.

They said that no port system could be efficient without an intermodal transport system, and the traffic gridlock that characterises Nigerian ports’ access roads would continue until there are sufficient linkages with railways, inland waterways to complement the road mode.

Speaking after the meeting of heads of maritime agencies in Lagos recently, on intermodal means of cargo evacuation, the Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Hadiza Bala Usman, said the need for intermodal means of cargo evacuation at nation’s ports is paramount.

She hinted that currently, Nigeria is running a single mode of cargo evacuation, which is road, and it is killing the nation’s roads. She said that it is important to reiterate the importance of intermodal means of cargo evacuation.

“We must have rail, we must have the water and pipeline for liquid bulk evacuation. This is the only way we can have seamless cargo evacuation at our ports. No matter what the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Traffic Control does, if we don’t realise the importance of intermodal means of cargo evacuation, Apapa gridlock will remain. That is why among the key discussions today was the need to have an expansive utilisation of our inland waterways.

“As I speak, we have certain consignees who have an average of a thousand containers daily, coming to us that they will like to move their cargoes by barges to Onitsha from Lagos. These people are willing and anxious to move these cargoes by water to Onitsha. If we can utilise our inland waterways on a daily basis for operations like this, then Apapa gridlock will become history,” she stated.

According to her, It is also important that the building of the standard gauge rail tracks which has been slowed down by the COVID-19 pandemic is quickly concluded to widen cargo evacuation options. She said: “Rail is an integral part of decongesting Apapa. We cannot continue to move about 1.3 million Twenty Equivalent Units (TEUs) of cargoes that come to Apapa by road. As you can see, this government is keen on actualising all these. The rail is being actively done, and the inland waterways are being given attention.”