The trade agreement involving moving Niger’s international trade through the deep seaport in Lekki is under threat as Nigeria has shut down its land border with its landlocked neighbour following the July 26 coup that brought in the military leadership of Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani.
President Bola Tinubu had directed the Nigeria Customs Service to shut down the Ilela border station and place an embargo on any cargo moving from any Nigerian border to Niger to avoid the smuggling of arms and ammunition.
This came a few months after the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) started championing the recovery of Nigeria’s lost transit cargo, with a target to capture businesses going to landlocked West African countries such as Niger and Chad.
The NPA got some countries including Niger and Cameroon to express interest in using the highly automated Lekki Port to ship their import and export containers.
Niger Republic recently disclosed its intention to start using Nigeria’s Lekki Port to bring in its imports and take out exports, during the commissioning of the Lekki Port early this year.
Mme Tchima Moustapha, director general of the Ministry of Transportation in the Niger Republic, who visited Nigeria at that time, said the modern facilities available at the Lekki Deep Seaport have created an alternative for Niger importers.
Moustapha said Niger was ready to stop using the ports in Cotonou, Benin Republic and Lome, Mali in order to move their cargo through the Lekki Port using the newly commissioned Dala Inland Dry Port in Kano.
“Lekki Port is a new port, a modern one. It will definitely be a good relationship between the Niger Republic and Nigeria; that is why I am here to see the port and go back to my country with the report,” she said.
She expressed happiness with what she saw, promising to ensure that the Niger Republic brings its cargo through Nigeria.
“Our major port is Cotonou, but we are trying to divert our shipment to Nigeria because of this port. Nigeria to Niger is about 1000 kilometres, but since this is a modern port and I know there will be a response on time, we are going to be using it more, so the cost and guarantee will be valid,” she said.
Transship cargo are goods bound for landlocked countries but are imported through Nigerian ports for the destination country. These cargoes were hitherto lost to seaports in the sub-region due to infrastructure and congestion issues that clogged efficient service delivery in Apapa and Tin-Can Island Ports in the past.
“With the closure of Nigeria-Niger and ban on movement of Niger bound containers from crossing all Nigerian land border, Nigerien containers already in any of the Nigerian seaports would be stocked until the political dispute between both countries is resolved,” said Tony Anakebe, a licensed Customs agent, told BusinessDay.
He said it was unfortunate that things turned out the way they did because the Nigerian seaport is seriously positioning itself to become the hub for the West African region using the newly built $1.5 billion Lekki Deep Seaport as a transit port for cargoes going to landlocked countries in the West African region.
Anakebe said the situation will compel Nigerien importers and exporters to stop bringing in cargo through Nigeria in order to cut their losses.
BusinessDay understands that over 1,000 trucks conveying goods worth over N350 million from Nigeria to other West African nations have been trapped at the borders for over one week since the border closure.
“Once there is embargo by the government, it means that nothing moves and no Niger bound cargo will leave any Nigerian seaport because those that were evacuated from the port and were already on their way, are presently queuing on the border,” a source very close to one of the container terminals in Lagos told our reporter on Tuesday.
Confirming that the terminal he works for has few numbers of boxes going to countries like Niger and others, the source said the coup happened unexpectedly because nobody anticipated it.
“The truth was that no shipper will bring in his cargo in Nigeria if he or she knows there is no road to move it to the destination. The coup came as a surprise to everybody, and the aftermath is what is being managed internationally. Therefore, importers have to exercise some patience,” the source added.
Nigeria had earlier started investing in infrastructure to harness opportunities provided by handling cargo for other countries and to be a hub in the region.
First, the NPA invested in marine equipment to handle bigger vessels with an economy of scale in all Nigerian seaports, especially in Lekki. It recently acquired and inaugurated two tugboats for Lekki Port.
Mohammed Bello-Koko, managing director of the NPA, listed Cameroon, Chad, and Niger as countries that had opened discussions with Nigeria to have their cargoes moved from Nigerian ports.
He said Cameroon, Chad, and Niger officials came to Nigeria to discuss how to move their cargoes through Nigerian seaports.
“They are looking for a port that would reduce the waiting time for import cargoes. We are also working with the relevant government agencies to put relevant protocols in place to achieve this without hindrances,” Bello-Koko said at the time.
The Federal Government recently commenced the construction of a 284km Kano-Maradi rail line to the Niger Republic at the cost of about $2 billion.
About a month ago, the contractor in charge of the project, Mota-Engil Nigeria Limited, took delivery of $200 million worth of equipment to undertake the big-ticket project.
Taking delivery of the equipment at the Tin-Can Port in Lagos, Nuno Colaço, logistics manager of Mota-Engil Nigeria Limited, said Kano-Maradi Standard Gauge Railway lines, a three-year project that is expected to be delivered in 2025, will comprise 100 bridges and three base camps along the line from Kano to Maradi in the Niger Republic.