Aba-bound shoe materials, spare parts stuck in Onne Port

… cargo dwell time hits record high of 35 days

Makers of footwear in Aba, cars and other household consumables in South-Eastern Nigeria that depend on Onne Port, the gateway to the Eastern market, for the importation of raw materials are now facing hard times due to difficulties in clearing goods from the port.

According to port users, imported containers now dwell for an average of 35 days at Onne Port due to the inefficiency of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and other government agencies involved in cargo clearing.

The situation, port users say, compels importers to pay millions of naira as demurrage and storage charges to shipping companies and terminal operators for not taking delivery of their containers as and when due.

“Cargoes such as industrial chemicals, spare parts, Completely Knocked Down (CKD) kits for car assembling plants, raw materials like foreign leathers, chemicals, and shoe soles for footwear industries in Aba come into the country through Onne. I know of many footwear industries that bring in their raw materials from Onne Port,” Tony Anakebe, managing director of Gold-Link Investment, a clearing and forwarding company, said in an interview with BusinessDay.

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According to Anakebe, all the Eastern markets including Onitsha Main Market, Ariaria International Market, and Nkwo Nnewi depend on Onne Port to bring in their goods.

Anakebe, who noted that the major problem in Onne Port was the bad state of the access road, which has become a thorn in the flesh for port users, said there were other bottlenecks to the timely delivery of goods at the port.

“Government agencies are not helping, and there are multiple Customs units that also frustrate Ease of Doing Business at Onne. These Customs units have a way of delaying cargo clearing at the port, and Customs officers expect cargo owners to tip them before they would do their jobs, and this results in economic losses for cargo owners,” he explained.

Continuing, he said: “This situation results in a hike in inflation rate and prices of goods because these bottlenecks force importers to pay demurrages and storage charges. A manufacturer that would have pegged product pricing at N5 would be forced to charge N50 due to the delay and high charges at the port. The consumers would always be the ones to bear it by paying a premium for goods.”

Warredi Enisuoh, a seasoned ship captain, blamed the delay in cargo clearing at the port on the inability of Customs to change its inspection regime to match modern times.

The Customs needs to automate its processes, use scanners rather than physical inspection and modernise cargo movement at the port to fast track delivery of cargo, he said.

Noah Sheriff, commercial manager of the West African Container Terminal (WACT), told newsmen at the Onne Port in Rivers State recently that the 35-day long dwell time for containers was hampering efficiency at the Onne Port.

“We appeal to consignees to take prompt delivery of their containers to reduce the dwell time, which has risen to 35 days,” he said, disclosing that the company was considering an additional investment of $111 million, a show of commitment to national revenue generation.

BusinessDay check shows that this delay in cargo clearing is coming one year after WACT, Onne terminal operator, injected about $100 million into the acquisition of terminal handling equipment and expansion of the terminal yard in 2020.

On why cargo dwells longer, John Oforbike, a licensed customs agent, said despite the Federal Government’s Executive Order on Ease of Doing Business at ports, doing business at the port remained very difficult due to lack of enforcement of the order.

According to Oforbike, port terminals are supposed to be transit points for cargo; rather, they have become a detention bay for government agencies that interfere in the release of containers for one reason or the other.