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Port expansion: We’ve spread services to North, moved 300 containers to Kano, Kaduna – MD ICNL, Yusuf

Ismail Yusuf, the Managing Director of Inland Containers Nigeria Limited,  has said his company is spreading port services to the Northern part of the country…

Ismail Yusuf, the Managing Director of Inland Containers Nigeria Limited,  has said his company is spreading port services to the Northern part of the country with hopes to extend to Niger Republic and beyond.

In a chat, Yusuf said his company has moved over 300 containers from Itokin, in Ogun State to Kano and Kaduna in the last one month

ICNL, which is the parent company of Kaduna Inland Dry Port, according to Yusuf thought ahead and started engaging the Nigerien authorities in Maradi, Niamey and other provinces ahead of Government’s plan for rail linkage.

He described the planned railway connecting Niger with Nigeria as a plus to trade as it will promote the objectives of African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) in the area of bringing maritime activities to landlocked areas

“Kano we all know is a hub of commercial activities in the north. If you look at the volume of import that goes to Kano and aggregate the total that goes to the north, Kano takes 50% of it.

“This company was established in Kano in February 1980 and the purpose is to move the maritime activities closer to the people of the hinterlands, saving them the stress and much cost of coming to the coastal areas themselves.

“I believe they are happy with the services rendered and we are number one, no competition. Even if we have competitors, they are not doing 30% of what we do in terms of efficiency,  effectiveness and customer satisfaction.

“I was in Kano three weeks ago to meet with some of my customers. I met with the Commissioner for Commerce to discuss business and how we can organise seminars with the business community in Kano.

“I also met with the deputy governor who assured us of the state’s support. Very soon a change will also come for Inland containers, Kano, in terms of upgrading.

“It’s a good move for us because we have been looking for how to penetrate the suburb and surrounding countries. With this planned African Continental Free Trade Area, our target is to see that we do business with countries like Niger, Mali, Chad and even Cameroon.

“Earlier this year, I and our subsidiary company went to Maradi in Niger to canvass for business and we were accepted, with the people eager to do business with us.

“We had been there with the President of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA). We visited about three states; Maradi, Niamey the capital and one other state.

“In Niger ,we met with their Chamber of Commerce and they are willing and eager to do business with Nigeria. They even prefer Kano because of the local language similarities which makes transactions easier.

“When we came back from the trip, we reported to the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) and also wrote to the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), telling them our plan.

“The NSC set up a committee to look at the modalities to ensure that we have a smooth running in terms of business transactions with those countries. The committee has met thrice, and once they conclude their deliberation and report, we will take it up from there

“We are yet to be in Warri, but we are in Portharcourt and Onne. Necessity also made us have an operational office there due to the stress of accessibility in Lagos as a result of congestion and gridlock.

“Our priority is to service our customer with a lesser cost, but we discovered that trucks will come from Kano with exports and will not be able to access the Lagos port.

“Our drivers have to sometimes pay their way through Ijora, a move that does not work all the time. Sometimes, after paying, you are turned back.

“The Chairman and Board of Inland Containers are working seriously towards the expansion of the business and also how to make our services more attractive to our customers.

” Apart from opening an office in Onne, we have engaged barge operators who will move containers out of the port to suburbs and the truckers will not need to come to Apapa again.

“One of them is the Ikorodu Lighter Terminal. We have already started operations but we will increase our activities there next year. Secondly, we have also engaged another barge operator, operating in Itokin, after Ikorodu, in Ogun State.

“I have been there to assess the terminal myself and work has already started. I think in the last one month, we have moved over 300 containers from Itokin to Kano and Kaduna.

“We have started with Ikorodu, also moving nothing less than 200 containers there so that our customers do not need to come to Apapa to load with their trucks. These are steps we have taken to save time and achieve customer satisfaction.

“Next year, we are also looking at how we can penetrate the South-East. We want to have a presence there. our plan in the next six month is to have a bonded terminal in a town in Oba, Anambra, about 30 kilometers away from Onitsha.

” We have gotten a land and provisional approval from the Customs while we have an Architect already working on the drawing. I believe construction will start next year. We are also not surrendering our hope for the Onitsha River Port.

“We were told it has been given out but the preferred bidder has not done anything on it yet. Our belief is that we may still get it because our bid bond is still there and has not been cancelled.

“Non functioning of the rail system optimally has affected us 100%. The purpose of establishing inland dry port or inland bonded terminal is to make cost of clearing cheaper to the users. That is why the company was sited very close to the rail in Kano.

“With this new development, the narrow gauge we are talking about has been suspended by the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) as they are not operating fully due to Covid-19.

“We believe that by the time the pandemic subsides, they will go back to full functioning capacity.  Apart from that, the standard gauge that the federal government is working on has not gotten to Kano.

“We have discussed this with the NRC and they assured us that they will not abandon the narrow gauge. If the standard gauge is working to Ibadan, they will still put the narrow gauge to use for us to transport our goods from Lagos to Kano, pending the time the government extends the standard gauge from Ibadan to Kano.

 

‘COVID-19 affected sector’

The head of ICNL said 2020 has problems faced by stakeholders in the various sectors of the economy due to the coronavirus pandemic.

He said Inland Container Nigeria Limited, as the operator of bonded terminals in Kaduna and Kano was affected seriously because majority of the customers were unable to go abroad and place their orders.

He said, “You know 60 -70% of products brought into Nigeria are manufactured from China. A lot of businesses were affected around the world as a result.

“As per our own operations, the volume expected of us dropped drastically, notwithstanding that the federal government allowed us to come into the port and operate during that period.

“I think we have lost about 40% of what we were expected to make during that period. Even those ones that we got, we still have problem and challenges from government officials in terms of documentation, holding on to jobs, etc which affected our business.”

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