The sudden decision early August by one of the key players in Nigeria’s port concession programme to close shop and pockets of negative criticisms from stakeholders suggests that all may not be well with an economic arrangement hurriedly packaged and implemented in 2006 by the Nigerian authorities.
In early August, the management of the Lillypond Container Terminal Ltd, an off-dock terminal of AP Mollar Limited, a Danish port manager, surprised industry players when it announced her decision to pull out of business. According to Mr Tristram Denyer, the manager, the company has been running at a loss since 2006 when it won a 10-year concession. Since 2006, the company has invested over 15 million USD to inject life into the former Lillypond Terminal, thus bringing it to world class standard. As at the end of July 2013, a debt profile of 5 million USD had been incurred by the company. The bad business environment, according to him, is attributable to inability of her parent company, APMT, to stem containers to the terminal. “Frustrated by a number of factors including the lack of overflow container volume available for ports generally, the high cost of operating the depot and increased capacity in Nigerian marine container terminals”, the company had no option than to throw in the towel.
Stakeholders trace the travails of the depot to two sources - the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and APMT. On the part of the NPA, she has a lot of questions to answer on her inability to monitor operations of private terminal operators since 2006 when the ports were leased out. According to Dr Boniface Aniebonam, Founder of National Association of Government-Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), if a terminal is running for over a year without profit, NPA should be in a position to ask questions and proffer solutions in line with her landlord and supervisory role as enshrined in the concession charter. He alleged that the Lillypond Container Terminal started to encounter problems when APMT stopped moving cargoes to the terminal based in Ijora. Rather than moving some containers to Lillypond Container Terminal to ease congestion in her facilities at Apapa port, he observed, APMT prefers piling containers up for days so that importers can pay for storage.
Similarly, Prince Taiye Oyeniyi, Secretary, Board of Trustees of the Association of Nigerian Customs Licensed Agents, ANLCA, alleges of a deliberate plan by APMT, to stifle the terminal as part of her continuing efforts to take over all ports operations in Nigeria ports. He alleged that APMT has refused to ‘feed’ Lillypond with containers even as loads of containers dot her depot. “They have dominated the maritime sector and they are going to kill it gradually. What they are doing is window dressing because if you want to position a container at Apapa port, you are given two weeks and nobody is asking questions”. Oyeniyi recalled the advice of stakeholders, including the Nigeria Customs Service, on how to revive the Lillypond terminal, but the concessionaire disregarded these.
However, APMT, through her spokesman, Bolaji Akinola, has debunked the allegation that she starves Lillypond Container Terminal of cargo, the main reason for the shut-down.
On her own part, the NPA image maker, Capt Ebubeogu could not respond to text a message requiring the authority’s response to the allegation of complicity.