BusinessDay

‘Lekki Port needs better road, rail infrastructure to be successful’

Du Ruogang is the chief executive officer, Lekki Port LFTZ Enterprise Limited, a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) which was awarded the Concession Agreement for development and operations of the Lekki Deep Seaport by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA). The multi-purpose, deep seaport located in the Lagos Free Zone will be one of the most modern ports in West Africa, offering enormous support to the burgeoning commercial operations across Nigeria and the entire West African region. In this interview with Businessday’s AMAKA ANAGOR-EWUZIE, he expressed serious concern on the need for enhanced connectivity to and fro the port to ensure efficient movement of cargo. In addition to other things, he also gave insight into the LFTZ team’s commitment to ensuring the project completion by the end of 2022. Excerpts:

Sometime ago, you started extensive construction works on the Lekki Port project site beginning with the main breakwater, and recently the quay walls. How far have you gone with the construction works?

We are very pleased with how well things are going with the construction despite the challenges being encountered all over the world with the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic, which is also being felt in Nigeria and specifically in Lagos State. While ensuring that strictest care is taken to avoid any risk of infection, the EPC Contractor, China Harbour Engineering Company has been able to move efficiently, and the main breakwater has now reached 1,500m out to sea. The eastern breakwater core dumping is ongoing. Production of tubular steel piles are ongoing in the pile fabrication yard and so far, piles have been driven for the quay wall with steel sheet pile infill.

In addition, dredging is ongoing with approximately 6.5M m3 dredged to date. Approximately 45 percent of ground dynamic compaction and site clearance has been achieved and the foundations for landside buildings have commenced.

In total, as at end of December 2020, we have reached 40 percent completion of the construction timeline and we are sure to see even more progress in the first quarter of 2021.

We have seen several completion dates for the port project in the past, but with what is in the public domain, your current target is to deliver by the last quarter of 2022. How ready are you to ensure that this latest date would be met because several businesses are anxious to see the port start operations?

Personally, as the CEO of Lekki Port, with full responsibility for delivering this project, I am fully committed to ensuring the project completion by the end of 2022. My team and I in conjunction with the EPC Contractor are working very hard to meet this deadline, and we are doing our best to anticipate any unforeseen circumstances that can derail this goal, so we can eliminate them and stay focused. We are very committed to honouring our pledge to the Honourable Minister of Transport, Rt. Honourable Rotimi Amaechi for a 2022 completion date. This was in November 2020 when he visited the port site.

Tell us about the equity partners of Lekki Port and how much they have committed to the project?

The equity partners of the project are China Harbour Engineering Company and Tolaram Group (together 75 percent), Lagos State Government (20 percent) and the Nigerian Ports Authority, on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria (5 percent). All the equity partners have fully funded the project and the last infusion in March 2020 was US$221 million from China Harbour. The equity contribution is an estimated US$370 million.

Nigeria’s economy is today facing serious crisis that cuts across growing inflation rate, scarcity of foreign exchange and recession. What impact do you think these economic challenges would have on repayment of these loans sourced to complete the project?

Our view is that these challenges are not peculiar to Nigeria and they will be temporary, as the Nigerian government is taking a proactive approach to tackling these challenges. In fact, we see our project as contributing to solving these challenges, as we are plugging the gap in the maritime infrastructure in the shortest time possible. Lekki Port has a 45 years concession period, so we are taking a longterm view on the economic potential of Nigeria.

So, for now, these factors will not affect the project as it is under construction and not yet in the operation phase.

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The outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic has affected several businesses globally. How has it affected the progress of work at the Lekki Port project site?

In line with the measures laid down by the Presidential Task Force tasked with managing Nigeria’s Covid-19 response and Lagos State Government’s directives, construction activities at the port site were stopped from March to May 2020. Thereafter, work started on a skeletal basis until September when more technical workers were able to arrive in the country from China.

Even when we started again in May 2020, we had difficulties getting delivery of key materials like rock and cement from other States, and also delivery of machinery from other countries was slow. Based on all the above, work progress was impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic same as it was around the world. However, we remain committed to working with the EPC Contractor, China Harbour Engineering Company to make up the lost time so we can complete the construction in 2022.

Apart from Covid- 19, were there other challenges that you are facing?

Lekki Port has a 45 years concession period, so we are taking a long-term view on the economic potential of Nigeria

One issue that we remain concerned about is connectivity. Lekki Port needs enhanced road infrastructure as well as railway connectivity. The success of any port depends greatly on these two factors being present to ensure smooth flow of cargo and containers to and from the terminals. So, these are critical for the successful operation of the port, when construction is completed. We are aware that the Lagos State Government is already taking steps to address the road infrastructure issue.

With regards to rail, His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari sometime last year directed that Lekki Port be connected to the national railway, and this will surely ramp up the efficiency of the port when it is done. We are working with the Nigerian Ports Authority to liaise with the Federal Ministry of Transport to achieve this.

Congestion in port terminal and roads leading to Apapa has been the greatest problem facing Ports in Lagos. What plans are you putting in place to ensure Nigeria would not see a repeat of Apapa within the Lekki Port axis?

Lekki Port is unique in the sense that the Lagos State Government and the Federal Government are shareholders in the project, and this will be invaluable in ensuring that the critical access roads identified for enhancement are developed and maintained. This way, we can avoid road congestion due to port operations in Lekki. Lagos State Government recognises the impact of inadequate transportation infrastructure on port efficiency and they have plans to upgrade the highway access to the port.

On 1st November 2020, His Excellency, Babajide Sanwo-olu flagged off the upgrading work on the 19km access road Lekki-epe Expressway from Eleko to Epe T Junction which will have six lanes, three lanes on each side where the extreme lane will be reinforced for dedicated heavy container trucks. It is estimated that this road will be completed within 20 months.

In addition, the Lagos Government will construct two other important roads for port access, namely Lekki-epe Expressway from Ajah to Eleko with a length of 31km and the Old Ibeju-lekki Road from Eleko to Akodo, which has a length of 21km. As stated above, we are also looking at rail connectivity to our port. The plan is for our port users to enjoy excellent road infrastructure and rail connectivity thereby promoting economic prosperity for Lagosians in particular and Nigerians in general.

Unemployment has been the major reason for youth restiveness in Nigeria. What role would Lekki Port play in creating jobs for Nigerian youths?

When completed, Lekki Port project will have immense macro and catalytic economic impact on Lagos State, and Nigeria in generally. This includes the creation of about 170,000 jobs over the term of the concession.

Currently, we have almost 500 Nigerian employees undertaking various technical activities with regards to dredging operations, the quay wall, the breakwater, landside building as well as site operations and head office staff. We will continue to take on qualified Nigerians, while ensuring that there is adequate training and transfer of knowledge and competence at all levels of operations.

When Lekki Port will eventually come to full stream, one would expect serious competition between the port and other existing port facilities. What are you going to do differently to attract sufficient business and customers to the port?

We believe that we will be able to show right from the beginning that there is a huge advantage to port users to do business with us instead. Lekki Port will be a modern and international world class facility, which will offer container, liquid, and dry bulk terminal operations.

Once operational, Lekki Port will be the deepest port in Nigeria with a draft of 16.5m alongside quay to accommodate 18,000 TEU container vessels.

In terms of marine infrastructure, we are aiming for global standards. Vessels will approach through a 9km long and 19m deep navigation channel reaching the 600m wide turning basin. The port is protected against the ocean waves and currents by a main breakwater of 1,900m long and a secondary breakwater of 300m, providing a controlled environment for the handling of vessels alongside the 1,500m quay at a water depth of 16.5m, and 3 Liquid Bulk Jetties with 19m water depth. For safe and secure handling of shipping, berthing facilities for marine services (tugboats, pilots’ boats) are provided as well.

The Container Terminal will have a 1,200m long quay for three container berths and a storage yard with over 15,000 ground slots. The terminal is designed to support a throughput of 2.7 million TEUS annually. The Dry Bulk Terminal will have an available quay length of about 300m which will be sufficient to accommodate one berth for a Panamax size vessel (75,000 DWT). The Liquid Berths will be capable of servicing vessels up to the size of 45,000 DWT initially, with design flexibility for expansions, catering to an increase to a capacity of 160,000 DWT. The berth will be equipped with loading arms and connected by pipelines running along the breakwater to carry cargoes between tank farms and the vessels. Finally, there will be inbuilt technology that allows for screening and processing which will promote efficient movement of goods within 48 hours.

Based on all of the above characteristics, we are very confident that Lekki Port when operational will be the preferred Port of Call for existing port users and new customers.

Globally, port operations have gone digital with the use of scanners, electronic gates, intermodal transportation and e-customs. What plans are you putting in place to ensure that manual operations and human interference would be reduced to the barest minimum?

As a modern port, Lekki Port will harness the advantages of information system for the port community to enhance collaboration with all port users which include shipping lines, shippers, importer, exporters, consignees, truckers, custom brokers, agents, free zones, business owners as well as Government authorities and agencies.

Lekki Port needs enhanced road infrastructure as well as railway connectivity. The success of any port depends greatly on these two factors being present

Tell us about your CSR projects?

As a socially- conscious organisation, we carry out many corporate social responsibility initiatives to support the indigenes of our host communities particularly the youths, women, and the fishermen.

For instance, we have provided portable water, constructed toilets, etc. Another key initiative that we have had running for many years now is the Science Challenge – a competition to encourage the teaching and learning of science related subjects among the students of the hosts’ communities. This way, the children in the communities get to study sciences, and when they graduate, they are qualified to work in the port.

In addition to all the above, this year was a difficult year for people all over the world, and Lekki Port in collaboration with the EPC Contractor gave out food items and other palliatives for the host communities.

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