Lekki Seaport: Aso Rock, NPA And The 2023 Elections
BY EGUONO ODJEGBA
It is no longer news that the Lekki Deep Seaport which has become a critical political asset and ornament of electioneering campaign by the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) has experienced over five false starts in relation to the commencement of its commercial operation.
It would appear that while President Muhammadu Buhari has since fallen for the game, the Federal Ministry of Transportation (FMOT) and the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) have not ceased to put the seaport contractor and its development partners under intense pressure to deliver quickly on the project.
Unfortunately, at every turn, the political projections appear to have repeatedly crashed on their faces, as the construction of the deep seaport assets and facilities, structures and super structures are far from been completed.
As the presidential election scheduled for February drew near, again acting on government pressure, the contractors in December 2022 announced that they will be ready for commercial operation before the end of the first quarter, this year.
Thus in reality, what President Buhari will be commissioning today is trial commercial operation, which by implication denotes that the full commercial operation is not in the core investors agenda.
Is it morally and political right for the FMOT and NPA to push the president around on the altar of political expedience? What happens to the assurances that President Buhari will give today in respect of the state of the seaport if after returning to Abuja, the commercial operations stall?
Truth is the president and his appointees are not telling themselves the truth about the economy’s real situation, and hence the Buhari government has also continued to mislead Nigerians.
While savouring the moment, after politics and elections have come and gone, President Buhari will be left alone to salvage his post power image. His personal integrity and moral standing would most like come under public debate. The loser if there is a change in public perception about the president’s character and personality will not be his men, but solely himself; the loss will be personal.
Those at the helm of affairs at the ministry, ports authority and elsewhere would be fishing in new ponds and water and making efforts to build other political alignments, and walking new bridges.
The seaport contractors who were apparently dragged out in December to announce the commencement of the port’s commercial operation, said they were doing everything possible to meet with the deadline.
The politicians gave the Chinese contractors the task of inviting President Muhammadu Buhari to the launch. The Managing Director, Lekki Port Lagos Free Trade Zone Enterprises Ltd. (LPLEL), Mr Du Ruogang, who disclosed the arrangements said:
“The terminal operator, Lekki Free Port Terminal (LFT) is putting everything in place to give a world-class port experience. All relevant agencies have been sensitised to undertake their roles in the new port.’’
An objective analysis of his statement clearly indicated that the so-called arrangements were far from over. A project completion is determined by the coefficient of all the structural frameworks, otherwise, it will amount to official deception to lay claim to completion of work in the expected endeavour, when in fact the reality is work in progress.
While thanking the Nigeria media for its support, Ruogang urged journalists to extend the same support to the container terminal operator, Lekki Freeport Terminal, as it prepares to begin operations.
But since there is a limit to which we can suppress the truth, he was obliged to note that the Lagos State Government has just begun work on the construction of access roads to the port, even as he hinted of the need for more infrastructural development to ensure easy movement of cargo.
It is imperative to note that in his remarks, the Chief Operating Officer, of Lekki Port LFTZ Enterprise Ltd. (LPLEL), Mr Laurence Smith, said full commercial operations would begin at the end of the first quarter of 2023.
Smith reportedly said that the terminal operator, Lekki Free Port Terminal would carry out trial operations once it completed the installation of necessary port equipment and infrastructure.
One would wonder why the rush to fast track the commissioning of the commencement of port operations billed to begin end of the first quarter, now. Why is President Buhari being dragged into a premature commissioning, bond to fail in delivery?
Smith further hinted that Lekki Port has already opened up discussions with potential operators of the Liquid Berth Terminals (LPLBT), which he said is critical to the commencement of the construction of Phase II of the port.
The LPLBT is the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) that was awarded the Concession Agreement for the development and operations of the Lekki Deep Sea Port by the Nigerian Ports Authority.
It was required to develop, build and operate a common user multipurpose port. The company however sub-concessioned the container terminal operations to Lekki Freeport Terminal (LFT), a subsidiary of CMA/CGM, the world’s largest container shipping company.
Two days ago, ahead of the commissioning of the Lekki Deep Seaport today, one of CMA\CGM largest container vessels berthed at the port; in an insider house arrangement.
Expectedly, NPA which announced the arrival of the vessel said, “Ahead of President’s commissioning of @LekkiPort for commercial operations tomorrow (Monday), one of the largest container vessels, the CMA-CGM, has berthed at the port”, in its official twitter handle; which is a twist of fact since the port has not been opened to global traffic.
The LDSP shareholders are the Nigerian Ports Authority, the Lagos State Government, China Harbour Engineering Company, and Tolaram. In December 2022, as part of its preparations for the commencement of commercial port operations, Lekki Port LFTZ Enterprise Limited the promoters of the Lekki Deep Sea Port, approved the expedited construction of a truck park close to the gate of the port.
The unanimous decision took place during the company’s Extraordinary General Meeting which took place at the Administrative Office, Lekki Port, Free Zone, Ibeju Lekki, Lagos. Shortly after the meeting, Mr. Du Ruogang, who reportedly presented the issue to the shareholders for approval, explained that the truck park was necessary for the efficient and effective operations of the container terminal.
Ruogang added that the truck park would have an initial 153 truck parking slots, together with a security booth, offices and waiting area. To support the truck park, Lekki Freeport Terminal will operate a vehicle booking system, widely used by major container terminals globally.
“Once the truck park is constructed, one can rest assured that the challenges associated with loss of person-hours in traffic congestion and delays in port operations will be minimised. We are doing everything possible to ensure that there is ease in cargo movement out of Lekki Port. The objective is to ensure that gridlock does not become part of Lekki Port”, he said.
Is the truck park in place? Shortly after the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu said despite that it has done nothing to expand the port route roads, there wouldn’t be traffic problem, the Minister of Transportation, Muazu Jaji Sambo, announced that cargo evacuation from the Lekki Deep Seaport would by be done through barges and tug boats.
The conflicts in the new port system, both in operations and official positions have continued to defy simple logic, political fidelity, with a stunning miasma of contractual gaffe.