Barely five months into the outbreak of the Coronavirus (Covid-19), some operators in the sector are already feeling the heat on their operations.
One such operator is the Inland Containers Nigeria Limited (ICNL), operators of Kaduna Inland Dry port.
The Managing Director of ICNL, Ismail Yusuf, said the economic effect of the Covid-19 has taken a toll on firm’s projections for the year.
This, he further lamented, had reduced its operations to less than 70 percent of its projections for the first half of the year. The implication of this is that it has become almost impossible for the dry port to meet its 2020 target, he added.
“You may see that we are working, but in the next two or three months, we may have less work to do. Even though the Federal Government allowed the maritime sector to operate during the COVID-19 lockdown, it didn’t imply that all our customers made orders to purchase goods abroad.
Normal importation is yet to resume. Importation has been affected during this period. What you see people bringing in now are things they have ordered before the covid-19 pandemic,” Yusuf lamented.
His lamentations are hinged on the performance of the ICNL so far. Yusuf explained that the firm’s projection for the year was about 30,000-Twenty feet Equivalent Units (TEUs) of containers.
However, so far, only about 70 percent of the 15, 000 TEUs projected for the first half of the year has been achieved at the beginning of the second half of the year.
“We have done just about 10,000 TEUs and we are in the seventh month of the year and there is no hope that the volume will increase later in the year.
Most of the jobs we did in the half year are those orders that customers have made towards end of October, November and December last year that they shipped, and they are just coming in.
Most of our customers have not gone to the market to place orders because no flights, no transaction, banks are not working normally and even the exchange rate is going up every day because of scarcity of dollar.
So, definitely the volume of activities will continue to drop until we are able to salvage the problem on ground ,that is the pandemic,” he explained, adding that the plan was to surpass last year’s target, but which this pandemic has made an illusion.
Yusuf also rues the effect of the suspension of rail transport as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic on ICNL. He explained that owing to this, the firm spends N1.2 million to move a container by road from Lagos to Kaduna instead of N500,000 and N600,000 they paid when such operation is carried out by rail.
“The majority of our containers have been moved by road instead of rail and that has increased the cost of doing business.
The truck that we used to hire N600,000, N700,000 before, we are paying N1.2million now and if you use rail you will not pay more than N500,000 or N600,000.
Look at the gap from N600, 000 to N1.2million, we are losing about N600, 000; who pays for it? It is still Nigerians that are going to patronise what the importers has imported,” he said.
According to him, the purpose of establishing the dry port is to serve the people at the hinterland that are very far away from the coastal area or the seaport so that they can also enjoy the facility and opportunities the people living around seaports enjoy.
However, given that some of the support infrastructure for the effectiveness of this dry port has been hampered by this pandemic, the full benefits are not being felt.
ICNL, Yusuf further said, had to engage third party transporters to move cargoes using their trucks, so it could savage the backlog of cargoes following the stoppage of the railway operation of cargo movement. This mode, he added, would remain in place until the return of the rail services.
For now, stakeholders warn that Nigeria may lose more if a developing trend continues. This is because neighbouring countries like Niger Republic are taking advantage of the country’s inability to move cargoes from Lagos to Kaduna and Kano by routing their transit cargoes from Benin Republic to Niger Republic.
Yusuf said his firm has visited Niger Republic to seek their patronage for the Dry Port and that a reciprocal visit has been made by the neighbouring country so that an agreement can be reached because Kaduna Inland Dry Port is closer to Niger than Benin Republic.
“We will go back to see how we can ensure that Niger Republic can move their goods through our dry port. We still have a lot to do in this area.
We understand that the government is being careful over issue of border closure because they don’t want any country to bring in prohibited items into Nigeria through trans border trade. I am sure the government will solve these issues soon,” he added.
– The Nation.