Nigeria’s three major seaports, Apapa, Tin-Can Island, and Onne, are at risk of congestion as the number of overtime containers occupying a chunk of the space meant for imported goods has increased to over 6,000.
These 6,000 twenty-foot equivalent units of overtime containers were either abandoned by consignees or detained by the officers of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) for reasons including under declaration, false declaration, import duty infringement and contraband.
According to BusinessDay, the containers have spent between 90 and 4,000 days in the ports, and they occupy significant space at the terminals.
It was also gathered that the contents of some of the containers, especially industrial chemicals, have expired after having spent years at the ports, and they pose serious environmental and health risks to port users.
Further findings show that there are also over 1,000 vehicles and scraps at roll-on roll-off terminals that have spent years at the port, and they also occupy space at the port terminals.
Overtime cargoes are goods that have stayed for 28 days without the consignee coming up to take delivery, according to the Customs Excise and Management Act.
The law allows Customs to auction overtime cargo after 90 days, but it has failed to do so for several years despite claiming to have been carrying out e-auction. This has resulted in an increasing number of overtime at the ports.
The Nigerian Port Authority (NPA) also has the mandate to move overtime cargoes to Ikorodu Container Terminal, but the management of the NPA has encouraged Customs to do on-the-spot auctioning due to the increasing cost of transporting containers.
According to the NPA, rather than invest hundreds of billions of naira in evacuating overtime cargoes at a time Nigeria is experiencing a cash crunch, the goods can be sold at the ports, and the buyers would take responsibility for moving them out of the ports.
In 2019, during the tenure of the immediate past management of the NPA, led by Hadiza Bala Usman, it was said that over 4,000 TEUs of containers were left at various ports.
Funmilayo Olotu, port manager of Lagos Port Complex, said then at a stakeholder forum that at APM Terminals alone, the number of overtime containers stood at 2,259 boxes, which was about 3,000 TEUs.
WACT terminal in Onne had about 1,500 containers that were abandoned at the terminal then.
Mu’azu Sambo, minister of transportation, who expressed concerns over the volume of overtime cargoes in Nigerian ports, said the number has become alarming as it eats deep into the space for discharge of imports.
According to the minister, the cargoes are now occupying strategic spaces, with a negative impact on government revenue at the ports.
Sambo said it has also become very worrisome because some of the cargoes have expired and could have a very high risk of explosion at the ports.
He, however, called on the management of Customs to find a solution to the problem of the mounting number of overtime cargoes at the ports.
On his part, Tony Anakebe, a maritime analyst, said there are many cargoes that are abandoned at the nation’s ports that are ought to be auctioned by Customs.
According to him, the NCS has refused to tackle the issue of overtime containers that have taken up significant spaces at the ports across the country.
He said the mounting volume of overtime containers at the ports was heightening the fear of port congestion.
“The contents of most of those longstanding containers have expired. Customs should either auction or destroy them, and they can also carry out on-the-spot auctioning without having to spend money to move those goods out of the port,” Anekebe added.
Emma Nwabunwanne, a Lagos-based importer, said tackling the issue of overtime containers would help the terminal operators to decongest the ports, adding that the time had come for the Federal Government to take a decisive step on the issue.
According to him, the danger is that it threatens port efficiency through congestion, high cargo dwell time, and high turnaround time of ships as vessels spend between 18 to 25 days waiting time at the ports.
Meanwhile, Nigeria Customs can take a page from Customs authorities of Bangladesh that is currently destroying over 445 overtime containers to free vital yard space at Bangladesh’s Chittagong Port.
The containers were brought into the port between 2004 and 2018 but the importers did not take delivery.
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