While in most countries, few residents have direct experience dealing with international shipments arriving at major seaports, Nigerians tend to be better acquainted with the country’s port terminals. It is not difficult to find a Lagosian with the number of a port agent or shipping line programmed into his mobile phone, yet you would be hard-pressed to find such an individual in London or New York.
Business at the container and general cargo terminals is a key indicator of Nigerian consumer demand, as many goods enjoyed by Nigerians are only available via the import market. And it seems business is booming indeed.
Netherlands-based APM Terminals, which operates the container ports at Apapa and Onne, has highlighted Nigeria as one if its core growth markets and cited “volume growth in West Africa” as a main contributor to the profits in the first quarter of 2012.
Motor vehicle imports make up a large portion of Nigerian inbound trade. Nigeria spent more than $4 billion in car imports in 2010, nearly doubling in value from the previous year. A look at the latest vessel line-up for the Lagos ports complex shows that one-quarter of the 126 ships expected to call at the port within the next month will be carrying vehicles, totalling 7,950 units.
Nigeria is not unusual in relying on imported cars; the United States is also a net importer of vehicles. What differs is the type of cars – Nigeria is a huge market for used vehicles from around the world.
Despite there being a sizable auto parts manufacturing sector in Anamabra State for several decades, Nigeria has only recently begun scaling up production of indigenous car brands. As such, for the time being, the growth of Nigeria’s motoring population will necessarily have a lot to do with the ability of our ports to manage high volumes and limit congestion – the shipping equivalent of “traffic jams”, However, these are primarily issues of efficiency and expediency, and most of the investment in this area will come from the private sector.
A growing problem is illegal activity at our ports. Last week, US federal prosecutors charged 19 individuals with smuggling more than 200 stolen cars to West African countries, with Nigeria as one of the main destinations. Not only are at least four of the suspects of Nigerian origin, one of the deals that led to the arrests was the shipment of three stolen Mercedes-Benz sports cars to Tin Can Island Port.
Just a few days after this raid, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) seized N2.2 billion worth of heroin – also being transported in containers via Tin Can Island. With so many Nigerians reliant on imported goods, a slow response to the issue of smuggling will have a real impact throughout the economy, as the cost of bringing in products will be impacted by increased scrutiny from international law enforcement and port operators – not to mention increased reluctance by ship owners to send their vessels to our ports in the first place.