Why Nigerian ports remain uncompetitive – Russo

Ascanio Russo

The Managing Director of PTML Terminal, Tin Can Island Port, Lagos, Ascanio Russo, has identified infrastructural deficit and unfavourable trade policies as some of the challenges facing Nigerian ports and placing the ports at a disadvantage compared to the ports of neighbouring countries. 

Russo, who spoke in an interview in Lagos recently, said that the level of infrastructure around the ports are poor compared to the level of development inside the port. 

He said, “It is very sad in a way because while the port operators have invested in the ports, and as a result have been able to increase the capacity inside the ports, most of the infrastructure around the ports have not been upgraded. That is why we are now experiencing this complete chaos, because basically, the roads have fallen apart, and accessing the port area is really becoming a nightmare.

He said, “All these infrastructural problems, including absence of functional rail line, I think, put the Nigerian ports at a disadvantage compared to other ports in the region because at the end of the day, we benchmark against our competitors, which of course first is the region.” 

“Not only because of the infrastructural problem, but also because the trade policies have not been particularly friendly to the development of additional volumes of cargoes. So in a way, I will say we are less competitive with the other ports in the region.”

Russo noted that Nigeria is losing more than half of its cargo to the port of neighbouring countries due to unfavourable trade policies thereby causing huge revenue loss to the government.

Russo, whose firm owns the biggest terminal for vehicle importation in West Africa, complained that the Federal Government’s National Automotive Policy introduced in 2013 to encourage investment in local assembly plants has failed.

The policy, he noted, was not adding any value to the nation’s economy but has given rise to smuggling of Nigeria- bound vehicles discharged at the Port of Cotonou through the nation’s porous land borders.

According to him, “What we saw immediately this policy was introduced was that duty was increased. We saw an immediate diversion of cargo to Benin Republic and you know that Cotonou especially has always been known for used vehicles, which are smuggled to Nigeria.

“This auto policy made things worse. After this policy, the volume of cars increased to 70 per cent all going to Cotonou. Almost overnight, we saw a collapse of the number of vehicles being discharged in the port and it’s almost five years since this policy was introduced and it has not helped the automotive industry in Nigeria.

“What we have seen rather is that used vehicles are still coming to Nigeria through the border, one way or another, and the sad thing is that the good quality vehicles are coming through Cotonou. This is because the level of duties is much lower (in Cotonou) and so they can afford for them to be discharged there while the old vehicles; the accident ones are coming to Nigeria.

“With the unfavourable trade policies, sometimes it is very expensive to bring in some goods. You may want to go through the back door because it is easier and it is cheaper, so I will say that this is the reason why we have not grown as much as we could have grown. 

“If everything was in place, if we have favourable trade policies, we would have much more cargoes and much more revenue for everybody.”