As China aligns with making the Belt and Road Initiative a reality in Africa, the China Harbour Engineering Company is assisting in constructing a deep water sea port in Lekki. With a deadline set three years from now, in this feature, the company behind the construction reveals efforts put in to make the Port a reality. BUKOLA OGUNSINA writes…
Lekki port, still under construction is set to become Nigeria’s first deep sea port. In a report, the Commissioner for Commerce and Industry, Nigeria Olusola Oworu had said that when completed, the port would relieve pressure on the Apapa and Tin-Can Island ports and would also support business activities at the Lekki Free Trade Zone (LFTZ).
The LFTZ which began in 2002 positioned in Lagos State at Lekki, a natural peninsula city with Victoria Island to its West and Ikoyi Districts is to harbour the Port. On the south side of the peninsula is the Atlantic Ocean, with Lagos Lagoon to the north and Lekki Lagoon to the east. Lekki is known to have many estates, gated residences, agricultural farmlands including the areas allocated for a Free Trade Zone. Its air and sea ports are under construction.
The company behind the construction of the sea port is China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), a subsidiary company of China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) which handles overseas business aspect of the company. Established in 1980s, it has over 90 subsidiaries and branches all over the world. It is appraised as number 4 as Top Global Contractors by Engineering News Record. Focusing mainly on transportation, infrastructure projects such as ports, and highways, bridges, railways and airports, it also involves itself in real estate development.
In 2017 CHEC signed about 140 billion USD contract, with revenue estimated at five to six billion USD. In an interview with the Chairman, CHEC, Lin Yichong, in the company’s offices in Bejing China, he revealed, “The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), when we talk about this for Africa…I just want to mention what we have done in Nigeria. We started our business in 1994 in Nigeria. At the time we did some dredging, reclamation from about 1994 until 2012. We had only finished about four to five projects. All other projects involved dredging, reclamation, some port rehabilitation,” he said.
“I think with the BRI, Chinese government already has provided different kinds of mechanisms for financing solution. This is why in the last two or three years’ time, we have discussed with the relative ministry of Nigeria to see what we can have as solution for the financing, in order to meet the demands for infrastructure.”
Noting that the port development in Lekki was brought to the table at a ground breaking ceremony he had been opportune to attend. “You may know that in Nigeria at the moment you don’t have a deep sea port. If we are talking about the deep sea port, the water depth must be over 16 metres, but at the moment the existing water depths in Lagos as I know is about 13. Which means that it cannot meet the requirement for the fleet generation container ship,” he revealed.
He also added, “Normally we need over 16 metres, so when we talk about the size of the country and population, I think the poor facilities at the moment is far behind. This is why right now we are the EPC contractors of Lekki Port. At the meantime we are also negotiating about the investment, and we probably will become the major shareholder of Lekki Port. Hopefully we can finalise all negotiations in a few months’ time,” he said.
With completion of Lekki port, it will become the first deep sea port in Nigeria. “And of course the port the highways and utilities for the water and power supply and waste water treatment are still needed in Nigeria. With the BRI, I believe it provides more solutions not only for Nigerian government but also for Chinese companies to have a different solution for financing,” he stated confidently.
Deadline for the port according to the contract from 2018 will be finished in three years’ time. The EPC contract was signed in 2015. CHEC anticipates a timeline of financing negotiations in two or three months’ time.
“We hope that during the Forum On China Africa Cooperation Summit (FOCAC), we can sign the agreement. And then we can continue to construct Lekki Port. I believe you know the efficiency of Chinese companies. As soon as we can start for sure we can finish in three years’ time,” he said.
He also educated that the new Lekki Port water will be constructed at 16.5 metres depth. “The size of Nigeria and its economy in Africa is the biggest, so I think you need at least one deep sea port. And I don’t think that one deep sea port is enough for the whole country. But right now you don’t have the deep sea port. This is why we are very glad and also very pleased that the relative ministry and your officials realised that Nigeria should have the deep sea port. Right now we can really start it,” he emphasised, adding that the estimate cost is over 1 billion USD.
In terms of challenges in building the Lekki port, Lin said, “Of course each country has its own investor regulations. We need to abide by all the regulations. Sometimes it may take longer between the government departments to approve all the necessary documents, but fortunately I think for this project we have almost finished all the necessary approval already. So, I do not think there is any other issues for us to solve.
“Right now we already have the concession contract. I just mentioned I hope in two or three months’ time we can finalise. Because this is investment business, we would also need to deal with the banks. This is when the bank also requires us to provide all the necessary documents. They also need time to review. This is why I think we need two or three months’ time to go for the procedures. We will become the major shareholder of this port. There are several shareholders and we will take about 45 percent. It’s the biggest.”
On the importance for transfer of knowledge, the Chairman stated, “Normally we have some training classes. We train the local people after they finish some classes. For example, we will issue some kind of certificate. It means that after the training, they can work for us and when our project finishes, with the certificate they can work for other clients. This is for the labour, the worker. In some countries we also provide some scholarships for the young men to come to China to study at university level. Every year we have a number of students from Africa to study in China.
“For Nigeria, for example this project, I am sure after the construction, even the construction project for sure we need to have some local engineers join us. At the meantime, after the construction of this project, because we are responsible for the operation also, truly we need local people to help us with the operation also. So in different ways we will provide the job, work opportunity for the local community.”
An estimate of about 1000 people would benefit from employment during construction alone of the port. Lin stated that in his opinion, Nigeria is the most important country not only in Africa but also in the world.
“We are willing to make more contributions to a country like Nigeria, because I always have confidence for this country. When we talk about the economic development because you have the huge population, the demand is very huge, so the room is very big for us to think about it. What’s important right now is that we need to have more and more understanding of one another. For example we are doing quite well in other countries but in Nigeria not many people know China Harbour,” he pointed out.
In terms of proposals, plans for upcoming FOCAC Summit in China, he noted, that the company would like to see the possibilities of signing a loan agreement, the framework agreement of the investment of Lekki Port. “We also will see if can sign some kind of loan agreement for the phase two of Keffi – Markurdi road. So this two projects, at least we want to be signed during this summit.”
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