Disquiet over new route to Lagos Ports

By Anya Njoku

The Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, may have discovered Badagry as new access for international ships to Lagos ports, perhaps in preparation for take off of the multi billion dollar Badagry deep seaport, currently being built by AP Moller and Intels. Recently, its management approved a multi billion naira contract for Dredging of the Badagry Creek to the Lagos Channel Management, LCM, to aid tanker operation. But two years after monies were released for the job by NPA, work is yet to begin on the project. Why?

#TrackNigeria – Every second, the sounds of birds singing in the trees and humming of crickets, squirrels, among little and harmless creatures living in the wild rent the air in the cool and windy evening. Like most riverine communities, the Badagry Creek is a serene environment.

Devoid of everyday hustle and bustle of life which characterizes most parts of the cosmopolitan Lagos as a city state the trees, among numerous vegetations in sight, provide shades for the Badagry River banks and giving the water a dark and perilous look in the marshy environment.

Beyond those characteristics, this inland river has until recently been devoid of navigation by ships. Informed sources say this situation about the river has been so because it is shallow and has never been dredged to accommodate vessels. And following the discovery about this water, it was revealed that the Federal Government has over the years not approved it for navigation by ships among the numerous inland rivers that provide passages to ships moving upland. The Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, which statutorily receives both local and international ships that call at Nigerian ports and jetties, is yet to officially grant vessels access to this inland water as sources said the Badagry Creek is not charted. This means that the river has not been dredged to accommodate vessels. Informed sources said because of the state of this river, movement of vessels along the creek is currently unsafe. Investigation revealed that because of the low draft of the water, vessels that sailed to the area risked running into mud. Until the time of filing this report, there were speculations about current depth of the river. Industry sources put draft of the river at about six meters while official figures relating to the actual depth is yet to be established by the Nigerian Ports Authority.

Meanwhile, in the absence of ship traffic along the Badagry Creek, common sights are some economic activities engaged in by residents of surrounding environments. And these include fishing, sand-dredging and commercial boat services. Water crafts commonly sighted along the creek include canoes, speed boats and passenger ferries which convey passengers between Mile 2 area of Lagos, Satellite Town, Navy Town, Ijegun, Badagry and beyond to Cotonou, capital of the Republic of Benin.

Following the danger facing navigation by vessels along this creek at present, the NPA recently took some measures to prevent marine accidents involving ships in the area. The authority, in a circular in 2018, warned ships’ masters to avoid sailing to the Badagry Creek. It declared the creek too dangerous for navigation. The NPA had in particular restricted vessels’ movements to Tin Can Island and declared unsafe sailing beyond the dolphin which is located opposite Port Terminal Multipurpose Limited, PTML.

Captain U. Eboreime, the Harbour Master in charge of the Lagos Pilotage District at Apapa Port, who issued the warning told this Newsdiaryonline that vessels should desist from sailing to the unapproved route, ‘’because the area is not charted’’. He believes that with the current state of the water, it was dangerous for ships to exceed sailing beyond the approved area, ‘’because, it is not navigable’’. According to him, the dangers surrounding the area were enormous that even a vessel that is escorted by NPA’s pilot boats might still run aground. And for this reason, he warned pilots operating under his watch not to escort ships to the shallow water.

But against this warning by the Harbour Master, Newsdiaryonline reliably gathered that pilot boats operated by NPA have allegedly continued to escort international ships to the restricted area. Informed sources alleged that some of the pilot boats have at various times been sighted escorting vessels illegally to the Badagry Creek. Anonymous sources revealed that this activity often takes place at night. Other sources who are conversant with night operation of NPA’s pilots unveiled that the unlawful activity has been a constant occurrence in the area. The sources revealed that all it takes for a merchant to have a ship bearing his consignment to be illegally escorted to his choice of destination beyond the unapproved route is for him to bribe the pilots. Despite the imminent dangers that confront navigation in the area, the pilots, according to sources, allegedly collect cash as bribes which range between N800,000 and N2million per vessel. This is a racket which the newspaper reliably gathered has flourished unabated. An inside source explained that the pilots undertake the risky operation under the cover of darkness in order not to be sighted by their superiors. And when that was done, investigation revealed that the vessels hurriedly discharged cargo and sailed before dawn. It however, could not be established before press whether punitive actions have been taken against those who have flouted the danger warnings in recent times.

And when confronted with information concerning nocturnal activities of his men, Eboreime angrily threatened to arrest any ship Captain who disobeyed his warnings. ‘’Look, that area is not charted. We are trying to prevent accidents and other emergencies that could happen on that water. And you are telling me that some ships are going to the place. I will arrest any ship that goes to that area,’’ he vowed. Insisting that he personally would effect the arrest. But when told about new findings which revealed how much millions of naira as bribes which pilots operating under his watch have allegedly been collecting from shipping companies and merchants to unlawfully escort vessels to the forbidden creek, Eboreime surprisingly maintained silence.

Before this time, it was authoritatively gathered by the newspaper that attempts at measures that sought to prevent negative occurrences along the water via memos were instituted by some top NPA officials.  In one of the memos perused by this newspaper, recommendations were made to the management of NPA to halt berthing meetings at the Tincan Island Port. Sniper Weekly reliably gathered that reason for this recommendation was to bring berthing meetings for incoming vessels at a central point which is Apapa Port. However, this advise was unheeded to by some traffic officials who it was gathered felt autonomy of the port on pilotage was paramount and insisted on holding separate berthing meetings for ships allocated to the Tincan Island Port. But why has this been so? Knowing full well that sailing to the unapproved area is unlawful and inimical to navigation, observers wondered if vessels that ended up berthing along jetties located in the restricted zone were ever declared and berths allocated to them officially during the berthing meetings at the port.  They also wondered if statutory payment of port dues is done by the ship owners since berthing of ships at the jetties located in the restricted area is not captured by NPA. Sources believe that since the area is not recognized by the NPA, it might be that the ships have not been paying ship dues. This newspaper also gathered that reason why the memo to establish single berthing meeting for vessels allocated to the two ports was discarded was for them to surreptitiously allow vessels access to the restricted area after huge sums of money have exchanged hands.

Following the revelation by the Newsdiaryonline sources, investigation revealed that despite the order restricting ships from sailing to the unapproved route, merchant vessels have continued to moor in the shallow waters of the Badagry Creek. Sources said the destination of the merchant vessels which are mostly tankers has been berthing facilities owned by private oil companies that are located in the area. Along the creek, the companies established jetties and storage tanks for refined petroleum products, otherwise known as tank farms. The sources said at the jetties located in this area, merchant tanker vessels that berthed at the jetties discharged petroleum products. 

Some of the operators of the facilities who were interviewed by this newspaper said they were licensed by the Directorate of Petroleum Resources, DPR, which is a subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, to handle refined petroleum products.

It was gathered further that reason for the construction of the facilities along the creek, was to create new areas for the discharge of the products and to reduce the current congestion around the Lagos ports.

Now, with the high concentration of tank farms along the Badagry Creek, it was revealed recently that this project caught the attention of the management of the NNPC. The NNPC management led by Dr Maikanti Baru, as its Group Managing Director, had in a memo recently appealed to the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority, Hadiza Bala-Usman, for the dredging of the Badagry River to accommodate ocean going merchant tankers. According to informed sources at NPA, the NNPC’s boss also requested that NPA allowed tanker operation to extend beyond the restricted area where most of the facilities were located. When contacted, Nigerian Ports Authority’s spokesman and General Manager in charge of Corporate and Strategic Communications at NPA, Engineer Jatto Adams, confirmed the findings by this newspaper. He revealed that contract to dredge the river has been awarded by the authority to the Lagos Channel Management. Finance sources who also confirmed award of the contract to LCM believe that up to seventy percent of funding for the job may have been released to the dredging outfit.

Jatto could not disclose details and cost of the job when asked questions further but information sourced by the newspaper revealed that LCM was asked to extend its on going contract of both capital and maintenance dredging of the Lagos channels to the Badagry River.

Other sources believe that another objective for awarding the contract to the joint venture company was for LCM to deepen the draft of the Badagry River to accommodate bigger vessels and extend the length of the channels for inward passage of international vessels via Badagry, following the on going construction of the Badagry deep sea port, currently being built by AP Moller and Intels.

It will be recalled that the LCM is a joint venture company that was established in 2005 between NPA and its foreign partner, Depasa Marine International. On a sixty/forty arrangement, both parties share benefits that accrue from the partnership. The port reform which was instituted by the federal government under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, led to NPA ceding some of its core functions which include pilotage, terminal operation and both capital and maintenance dredging of the ports’ channels to private companies. Sources said when information about this project filtered in, it caught the fancy of many stakeholders in the Nigerian maritime industry. Those who lauded the initiative believed that vessels sailing into Lagos would by pass the on going Eko Atlantic City project along the Atlantic Ocean to create new route for shipping. It is also believed that it will boost tourism and physical development of the Badagry axis of the state.

But nearly three years after the award of the contract and tranches of payment made by NPA to LCM, observers say the job is yet to be implemented. Why?  The Managing Director of LCM, Segev, declined comments when approached on the issue. He told this magazine that his reason for keeping mum was because he disliked journalists.

Sequel to further enquiries by the newspaper, Engineer Jatto tacitly responded that work was yet to commence on the dredging contract because discussions between NPA, LCM and the local communities on the impact of dredging of the Badagry River on the riverine environment were still on going. At Ijegun and Teddi Village, which are local communities located along the river, many residents in the areas expressed doubt about authenticity of Jatto’s claims. According to Alhaji Tiamiyyu Bashiru, a community leader in the area, Jatto’s claim was false. He said neither he nor any of the leaders in the area have been approached for discussion on the project. Since this is so, why has work not started on a project that has gulped hundreds of millions of naira from the public treasury? Observers believe that part of huge sums of naira released for jobs of that nature perhaps end up in private pockets of highly placed Nigerians or were diverted to fund electioneering campaigns of political parties in an election year.

On sighting our correspondent at the Headquarters of the Nigerian Ports Authority recently, Mr Segev who seemed ruffled by media enquiry into the project quickly fixed an appointment for discussion with the newspaper. But few hours before the meeting, he cancelled the appointment following what sources said were assurances he received from his media handlers.