In fulfillment of its promise towards actualising the ease of doing business in the country, the Federal Government, yesterday, flagged off the first movement of import units of containers from Apapa port, after two years of its inauguration amid several setbacks.
Respite came to the congested Apapa corridor as movement of containers commenced on one of the three $1.5 billion standard gauge rail line constructed by the Federal Government from Apapa port to Moniya in Ibadan, Oyo State.
While inaugurating the wagon freight train haulage at APM Terminal, Apapa, the Minister of Transportation, Saidu Alkali, said the wagon freight train from Apapa Ports to Ibadan would move 90 container cargoes daily, which would not only decongest the ports but also save shippers from accumulation of demurrages.
The construction of the 157km rail line was inaugurated on June 10, 2021, with the aim of supporting cargo evacuation from Apapa port to reduce the burden of cargo movement on the roads, as well as congestion at the ports and access routes.
Recall that there have been setbacks to the construction of the three rail tracks due to the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) scanner building, which is now impeding two tracks.
The Minister of Transportation, while flagging off the freight movement with three coaches of 30 wagons loaded on the completed one rail track, said efforts are on to remove the Customs scanner building impeding the other two tracks.
Alkali said the freight services would start with three coaches per day, totaling 90 trips per month, while the Nigerian Railway Corporation’s capacity would be strengthened to scale up the numbers.
He said by the time the Customs building is removed with the remaining two standard gauge lines ready for use, NRC would be doing 270 train trips from Lagos to Ibadan in a month, and nine train trips in a day.
“The ministry is going to liaise with the Minister of Finance and the Customs concerning demolition of the scanning centre, which is affecting completion of the remaining tracks into the ports.
“With the movement of containers from Apapa to Ibadan, we expect the Apapa port to be decongested and our roads to be free of container-carrying trucks,” he said.
Also speaking, NRC Managing Director, Fidet Okhiria, explained that the Corporation hopes to increase the trips from three to four as time goes on.
“What you are all seeing is a 30-wagon train fully loaded with import units of containers going to Ibadan. The freight of containers from Lagos Port will be taking off from APM Terminals in Apapa. We have the facility to move four trips per day, but we are starting with three trips for now.
“What we are using now is a temporary transitional line, we are making headway to ensure the Customs building gives way to make us have the three lines that are slated for this terminal.
“We are ensuring that the operation starts so that we don’t give room for vandalisation. When the tracks are not in use, it is vulnerable to attack,” Okhiria said.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Apapa port recorded 64.04 per cent of total imports into the country, amounting to N3,560.52 billion in the first quarter of 2023, while for export, it recorded 93.56 per cent, valued at N6,069.43 billion.
Stakeholders have commended the commencement of the freight movement and called for the completion of the two other lines to address issues of cargo congestion at the Lagos ports.
Public Relations Officer, Association of Registered Freight Forwarders of Nigeria (AREFFN), Taiwo Fatomilola, said functional cargo movement by rail is very vital in port efficiency, noting that it will create jobs and boost revenue for the government. He further lamented that laudable projects in Nigeria are short-lived because there are no plans for sustainability.
Also reacting, an exporter, who is the Managing Director, Standard Focus Royallere International Limited, Adebayo Sulaimon Oyelere, said: “In every part of the world, rail transportation comes first, specifically in the area of commercial haulage and movement of people from place to place, which is crucial in measuring economic metrics in terms of cost, security and time.
“We are going to see a tremendous improvement in our port activities compared to what it used to be. It will also give exporters many benefits, such as a shortest-time cycle of commercial goods exchange, which will enhance gains of trading and competitive prices in line with sales contracts,” he said.
The former president, Shippers Association of Lagos (SALS), Jonathan Nicol, said the cargo freight movement will ease the burden of trucks while also reducing the cost of container haulage.
Managing Director, Bueno Logistics, Jetson Nwankwo, said he is happy the railway is now optimally utilised.“This is a big deal, meaning we will be seeing less containers on the roads and bridges. The deal is to move the containers from Apapa port complex to Moniya in Ibadan where we have a very big freight terminal.”
Recall that Nigeria earned N1.3 billion in the second quarter of 2023 in rail transport revenue, representing a 33 per cent increase from N983,874,805 earned in the first quarter of the year and a 76.6 per cent increase compared to N740 million achieved in Q2, 2022.
Of the total revenue generated in the period, N1.10 billion was received from passengers. This is an increase of 83.88 per cent from the N598.74 million recorded in the same quarter of 2022.
Similarly, N188 million was received from goods/cargos conveyed in the period under review, up by 105.04 per cent from N91.70 million received in Q2, 2022. Other receipts amounted to N18.7 million, indicating a 62.31 per cent decline from N49.73 million recorded in Q2, 2022.
According to the ‘rail transport data Q2 2023’ report released by the National Bureau of Statistics, a total of 474,117 passengers travelled via rail system in the period, as compared to 441,725 and 422,393 in Q1 2023 and the corresponding quarter of 2022. The volume of goods /cargos transported in the period stood at 56,029 tons compared to 31,197 tons recorded in Q2, 2022.
At the Apapa Command, the NCS has generated N676 billion as revenue for the Federal Government between January and August this year. The Assistant Comptroller General of Customs, Auwal Mohammed, said this while handing over to Comptroller Babajide Jaiyeoba, the newly deployed Customs Area Controller in Lagos.