Working with creative solutions to the massive congestion problems at Nigeria’s ports, Eko Support Services has seen high demand for its services and is working at full capacity.
How have you diversified your business as a result of the pandemic?
Oil and gas prices have gone up, but projects have not jumpstarted. The PIB has been signed, and this will hopefully bring some clarity in fiscal terms for oil and gas companies. There will indeed be new projects, though we cannot just focus on that sector especially due to capacity constraints. Currently, we are doing a large amount of movements for containers shipping lines have become more efficient there by managing the supply chain better and getting involved in transportation especially via barge. We are also engaging some partners to have greater control over the trucking. We are using a tech app called Sabi Road that provides real-time data on transfer and delays. We are also handling container vessels; the containers come to a bonded off-dock facility, as there is no room at Apapa Port, which is one of the challenges causing congestion. Thus, we are able to alleviate the congestion by fast tracking the movement of containers, shortening the waiting time for containers. In 2020, the e-call up system was put in place in Apapa, whereby trucks cannot enter Apapa unless they have this e-call up. The idea itself is positive, but companies face great challenges in utilizing the system, and there are many elements that do not want it to work and are frustrating the efforts. There was a vested interest in the old system, so it is really at a standstill right now in terms of trucks moving in and out. Because of that, we are having more challenges with congestion and have to be creative to find solutions. We are doing more full containers, whereas last year they were empty. We are also doing a great deal of break bulk cargo and are well known for this now. With the amount of enquiries we are getting, we cannot really take on new clients as we are at full capacity.
As you are operating at full capacity, how would you be able to expand the business?
We cannot physically expand our facility. We are looking at having some additional berthing linked to Eko Support in Lagos, so we are talking to the Nigerian Ports Authority and Ministry of Transport. There are some islands we could use to build additional berthing although only for certain things. We can build a quayside in the land available on these islands and attach it to Eko Support. Getting there by truck it is a problem, but for barges it could be an additional facility with a quay. We are also looking at some private facilities that are no longer used. We want to expand our footprint by being outside the port, as there is nowhere else in the port to go unless there is another concession that is available for whatever reason so we can bid. We have visited Lekki Port and spoken about the possibility of having some additional space there. We were impressed with what is being built there. We could perhaps do a feeder service there and are seeing what can be done.
What progress has been made on road congestion and ports’ efficiency?
There are more solutions through the private sector in moving cargo, so there are more ways to move the cargo out since people have invested in more facilities and are more organized in certain aspects. However, the congestion is worse than before. Because this is so slow, more and more people are moving by barge, and therefore our terminals are congested with barges as well. The ports are too small to meet the size of the Nigerian economy. Both were built in the 1950s for a population that was far smaller, while the surrounding infrastructure has not improved since. You need rail, roads, and barges. Rail, in particular, is the missing link. They are trying to work on it but it will take time. Our demand has outgrown our capacity.