Congestion, corruption and chaos at Lagos port

The port of Lagos has long had a reputation in the
shipping industry of being a headache — a hub
where costly delays and other obstacles are legion.
But many in the business say the gateway to the
huge market of Nigeria has become even more
choked in recent months, its problems amplified by
Covid and maritime piracy.
“It’s total chaos,” “a disaster,” “an absolute mess,”
were some of the terms used recently by several
company representatives who spoke to AFP on
condition of anonymity.
“Some of my ships have to wait up to 80 days off
the coast before being allowed to enter the port.
It’s unacceptable!” said an operations manager at a
large shipping company.
“Also, because of the insecurity off the coast of
Nigeria, they have to wait in Cotonou or Lome.”
Last year, each of the port’s terminals was able to
host six to seven container ships per week — a rate
that has since fallen to three per week.
The mouth of the sprawling complex is a slow,
unending ballet of container ships, freighters and oil
tankers as they crawl up in the queue for loading or
The port authorities did not respond to AFP’s
requests for comment.
Bottlenecks at this crucial port ricochet along the
Gulf of Guinea, the operations manager said.
“The situation in Lagos creates congestion in all the
ports of the region, from Abidjan (Ivory Coast) to
Pointe-Noire (Congo-Brazzaville),” he
Iweala’s first official visit to Min of Foreign
Lagos, Nigeria’s economic capital of 20 million
people, is where most of the country’s goods are
exported from, and imported to, feeding a market
of 200 million people.
Early last year, before the pandemic hit, 99 percent
of Nigeria’s exports and 89 percent of imports
transited via its ports, nearly exclusively via Lagos.
After oil, port activities in Lagos, which extend from
Apapa to Tin Can Island, are Nigeria’s second
largest source of revenues.
Yet Nigeria loses an estimated $55 million (46
million euros) daily because of congestion,
according to Dynanmar, a Dutch consultancy firm.
Neighbouring Togo, with only eight million people,
has now become the leading container port in the
region in terms of capactiy.
– Structural problems –
With Nigeria’s booming population, “imports are
increasing each year,” said Pascale Jarrouj,
commercial director of GMT Nigeria Limited, a
Lagos-based logistics service provider.
“But last year, because of Covid, the lockdown and
demonstrations in October, imports fell by about 40
percent, which creates even more congestion now.”
The economic and social crisis ushered in with the
pandemic comes on the back of the port’s long-
running structural problems — lack of infrastructure
and investment, decrepit roads and a reputation for
corruption at all levels.
Limited space to unload containers and manual
processing of loads, as well as searches by
customs agents, all slow down handling.
Around 2,000 trucks enter and leave the port each
day. The exit road is strewn with 20 or so
checkpoints manned by police, customs, special
brigades and others, where bribery is notorious.
– Huge costs –
“Before, trucks could get out for 400,000 naira
($1,050 / 876 euros)”, said a logistics agent with
31 years of experience who helps companies
extricate their goods from warren.
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“Now, it costs about 1.3 million… In December, it
even went up to 1.7 million!”
“There is no fixed rate for logistics in the port, it
depends on the chaos,” said a private transporter
who has been working at Apapa for 17 years. “And
it depends also on who is able to pay more”.
Added together, the official and below-the-line
costs of shipping through Lagos directly affect the
prices of goods and therefore consumers.
And this, in a context where many people are
already struggling post-lockdown, with high
unemployment rates and double-digit inflation.
– Digital failure –
Aliko Dangote, Nigeria’s richest man, has said he
lost nearly 55 million euros between 2017 and
2018 because of congestion at the port.
Only top oil producers or multinational companies
seem ready and able to absorb such costs.
But most companies cannot survive such
challenges. Many think twice before attempting to
conquer Nigeria’s massive market.
At the end of February, the Nigeria Port Authority
set up a digital platform, ETO, on which trucks are
meant to register. They are theoretically called
once their containers are ready for pickup.
But two weeks after the launch, transporters say the
platform has been a disaster. There is already a
burgeoning black market in the documents that
transporters need just to be able to register on the
“The problem is too many people are profiting from
the absolute chaos,” said one source. “There is no
incentive for things to improve.”

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