Port congestion is a familiar phenomenon in maritime business. Innovation in port operations led to the conception of inland container depots (ICDs) as veritable means to deal with port congestion and make business easier for shippers. An ICD is basically a dry port equipped with necessary equipment for handling and temporary storage of containerized cargo as well as empties. ICDs are designed to help importers and exporters handle their shipments near their place of location, hence they are located in the hinterland of a country. In the case of Nigeria, with functional ICDs, the shipper resident in Sokoto does not have to come all the way to Lagos to receive a cargo if there is a functional ICD close to him. A proper ICD has all the necessary loading and off-loading equipment needed to handle containers with all necessary customs services and officials. In essence, ICDs are meant to bring shipping services to the door step of shippers across the nation and aid the decongestion of the seaports, thereby making them user friendly. An ICD is generally recognised and operated as an extension of the seaport.
In the past, for a country like Nigeria with its major seaports concentrated in the south, clearing goods for shippers from the hinterland was a challenging endeavour owing to the distance to the seaports in Lagos and the inefficiency that characterised port operations.This is why ICDs are considered babies of necessity in Nigeria. The history of ICDs in the country can be traced tothe late 70s. In 1979, a United Kingdom company, Elder Dempster, partnered with the Nigeria Insurance Corporation of Nigeria (NICON) to set up two ICDs in Kano and Kaduna later. The ICDs were to be managed by Inland Container Nigeria Ltd. (ICNL) operating within the guidelines of the Nigerian Ports Authority. The first container was delivered to Kano ICD in 1980. The success of the Kano ICD prompted the government to initiate the Kaduna ICD, which commenced operations in 1982. However, the ICDs were faced with challenges and neglect on the part of government, which eventually resulted in their decline.
A series of reforms were introduced in Nigeria’s ports operations in 1995. The reforms were necessitated by the growing inefficiency in the ports at the time. The need for reforms in ports operations was further amplified by the looseness that followed clearing of cargoes. Goods were cleared without the required Import Duty Report (IDR) and many importers experienced long delays in the clearance of their goods. It was estimated that the inefficiency in the port operations caused Nigeria a loss of about NGN8 billion by the end of 1995. The newly introduced reforms further affected the operations of ICDs in the country because the government was more interested in fishing out malpractices that had characterised port operations. More importantly, owing to the huge loss in revenue, the government directed that all Customs inspection should be done at the seaports. The reforms also led to the promulgation of the “Ports Related Offenses etc, Decree 1996” that gave birth to a task force on sea port security in the country, and the adoption of the Automatic System for Customs Data Entry (ASYCUDA),which is a United Nations initiative.
Upon return to democracy, in 2000, the government felt the need to promote the establishment of ICD as a way to boost port efficiency in the country. The Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) was bestowed with the responsibility of spearheading the process. Recommendations were made to the Minister of Transport, who approved the express execution of a feasibility study for the creationof ICDs across the country. An ICD implementation committee was equally constituted to oversee the realisation of the plan to have ICDs across the country. Seven locations were marked to host an ICD each. They includeIsialaNgwa, Aba, Erunmu, Ibadan, Heipang, Jos; Zawachiki, Kano, Zamfarawa, Funtua; Jauri, Maiduguri, and ICNL, Kaduna. In 2006, the federal government entered into concession arrangement with six concessionaires to build, finance, operate, own and transfer inland container depots in six locations. Based on the agreement, the ICDs were meant to be completed in 30months with an installed capacity of 20,000 Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEUs) each. In September 2006, the government flagged off the Kano ICD. January 2007, the government laid the foundation for the Jos ICD, Heipang under the chairmanship of the former Head of State, Yakubu Gowon. Six years later, in 2013, owing to the apparent inactivity, the government through the Ministry of Transport, set up an inter-ministerial committee with representatives from the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), and the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) to assess and reposition the ICD projects in the country.
In spite of the different committees that were created at different times, the actualisation of the ICD project has remained an impossible task. However, events appear to be taking on a new dimension with the commissioning of the Kaduna Dry Port earlier this year. Currently, the Jos ICD is said to have attained 70% completion and expected to generate 5000 direct jobs upon completion. At the inauguration of the Kaduna Dry Port, President MuhammaduBuhari had hinted that “In the next couple of weeks we are meeting with the Plateau State government on how to fast track the project forward. The inauguration of Kaduna terminal has motivated the Plateau state government to do everything possible at her disposal to ensure its completion.”
In a similar vein, in 2017, Eastgate Terminal Limited, the concessionaire of Aba ICD, announced Emirates and Sung as the financiers of the Aba Inland Container Depot (ICD) at AvorNtigha in IsialaNgwa Local Government Area of Abia State. Expressing his pleasure, the Executive Director of NSC, stated that “We are very pleased with the arrangement that Eastgate has made so far, because in all the proposed five ICDs in the country, this one has the best arrangement so far, it has a technical partner and financier; others do not have this arrangement at all. So, it will be our pride to commission this project as either the second or third ICD in this country.”Eastgate Terminal Limited, the project concessionaire, and BRJ and Associates of the United States of America, its development partner, had signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to commence construction while Emirates and Sung provides the necessary funding. Motivated by the Kaduna Dry Port, the Edo State government also set up a State Implementation Committee for the Edo Inland Container Depot (EICD), to facilitate the actualisation of the project in the state. According to the Chairman of the Committee, Mr Charles Akhigbe, the first phase of the Edo ICD is expected to accommodate 15,000 TEUs, and the second phase to accommodate 12,000 TEUs. The project is also expected to employ 13,000 persons in direct and indirect employment.
There is no doubt that there is a renewed vigour towards the establishment of ICDs across the country. State governments are beginning to see it as an avenue to attract foreign investors and trigger the growth and expansion of business in their respective states. This new approach and commitment to the implementation of ICDs in the country is commendable. Apart from the jobs that will be created, and the decongestion of the Lagos ports, it will also contribute to the ease of doing business, since shippers may not have to travel far distance to clear their goods.
The question, however, is how do we ensure that the ICDs do not become counterproductive in the end especially for the Eastern corridor with Calabar, Warri, Port Harcourt and Onne Ports? ICDs are meant to play a complementary role in port operations. They are not meant to replace seaports. It is important to recognise that whilst we push for the implementation of the ICD projects, the ports in the eastern corridor are practically becoming moribund. The only surviving port is Onne Port. The negligence that has characterised the resuscitation of the ports in the eastern corridor has made many wonder if there is a clandestine plan to keep the ports in a perpetual state of inactivity.
In the same vein, the absence of effective rail network also calls to question the impact ICDs may have on shipping and the economy at large. The reality before us is that, in the absence of efficient rail network, containers will still be transported to the ICDs via the largely dysfunctional road networks, which will further contribute to the deterioration of the roads. In essence, until the country is fully networked by effective rail system, ICDs may not contribute much to the maritime industry. Whilst the northern region of the country may benefit from the ICD in Kaduna and the rest that will be inaugurated very soon, ICDs may appear misplaced for the eastern corridor.It will be ill-advised to keep pushing for the establishment of ICDs in the eastern corridor while leaving the ports in their continued state of inactivity. What is more important is for the government to take urgent steps to revive the ports in Port Harcourt, Warri and Calabar. We can develop all components of the maritime industry side by side. There are currently more than 15 ICDs projects that are either under construction, or approved for construction, yet the seaports are begging for attention. Dredging them has remained an insurmountable challenge.