Is Nigeria’s Only Functional Port in Lagos?


The Claim

On July 5, 2017, @AbangMercy quoted Nnamdi Kanu (of the Indigenous People of Biafra – IPOB) as having made an important point about Nigeria’s political economy by asking the question “Why is the only functional PORT in Nigeria in LAGOS? WHY?” (Emphasis in original tweet). A search for the original source of this question revealed several reports of Kanu’s questions to the federal government: “Why is Calabar Sea Port not working? Why is Portharcourt Sea Port not working? How about Warri Sea Port…why is it not working? Why Must we allow Only Lagos to Function as the Only Viable Sea Port”.


Other Nigerians have also, at various times, made similar claims on the number of ports existing or operating in the country.

We will therefore factcheck these claims regarding ports in Nigeria:

  • How many sea ports does Nigeria have?
  • Is it true that goods imported into Nigeria only come in through the Lagos ports?
  • Is the only functional port in Nigeria in Lagos? Is Lagos effectively Nigeria’s only port?
  • Is it true that only Apapa port is working?
  • Are seaports in Calabar, Port Harcourt, Warri working or not?


The Facts

The Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) was established in 1954 pursuant to the Ports Act of 1954 (Cap 155 of the law of the Federation of Nigeria –amended 1999) “as an operating port with the responsibility of providing all port services” in Nigeria. The body was initially responsible for two major ports in Lagos and Port Harcourt, and in 1969, “became responsible for all other ports owned by private merchant companies e.g Warri, Koko Burutu and Sapele”. This information is available on the NPA website.

What is a port? What are its functions?

A port (sea port) is a coastal shore location where ships can dock in order to transfer cargo (or people) to or from land. Part II of the Third Schedule of the NPA act recognizes the following functions of a port:

  1. berthing, towing, mooring, moving or dry-docking of ships, in entering or leaving a port or its approaches;
  2. the loading and unloading of goods or embarking or disembarking of passengers in or from a ship;
  3. the lighterage or the sorting, weighing, warehousing and handling of goods; and
  4. the carriage of passengers or goods;

We thus define a non-functional port as one that has fallen out of use and no longer serving the purpose of transferring cargo or people) as designed. A non-functional port is thus expected to record zero operational activities. A functional port is able to perform its regular function, and report visible statistics as evidence of operations.

The second schedule of the NPA Act lists the ports under the management of the ports authority as shown below:

It is thus established that Nigeria has more than one port in existence.


Are these ports functional?

In order to establish the functionality or otherwise of the existing ports, we consulted the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) website. Official information is available on the site for six (6) functional ports.

We analyzed the activities of these ports, using the total Gross Registered Tonnage (GRT) of all ocean going vessels for Q3, 2014, and Cargo Traffic / Throughput for Q1, 2016.

Also, a news report obtained from the Guardian Newspaper, cited a statement issued by the then Assistant General Manager (Public Relations) of NPA, Iliya Musa provided the GRT details for full year 2014 and 2013. The 2013/2014 reports are summarized in the table below:

Other reports provided by the NPA also show significant activities in all the six ports:

The features of each port facility are provided below:


The Lagos Port Complex also referred to as Premiere Port (Apapa Quays) is the oldest and largest port in Nigeria. The Port was established in 1913, while construction of its first four deep water berths commenced in 1921. Apapa port enjoys a “four-wheel gate of about 8 meters for oversize cargoes”, which, according to NPA, gives it “an edge over others in the handling of oversized cargoes”.


Lagos Tin Can Island Port was born in 1975 as part of the post-civil war reconstruction, and during the oil boom as a federal government intervention to decongest Apapa Port. Construction work started in 1976, and the new port was commissioned in October, 1977. The Tin Can port terminal operators specialize in unique services, including dry and wet bulk cargoes, boxed or containerized cargoes etc.


Many reports have highlighted the over-dependence on the Lagos seaports and under-utilisation of other ports in the country due to various factors.


Calabar Port served as a key trade route during pre-colonial and colonial times. The old port was privately operated and administered until December 1969 when the federal government took over the facilities and expanded and modernized it under the 3rd National Development Plan of 1975–1980. The upgraded Calabar Port was commissioned on 9th June, 1979. The port is gaining relevance and acceptance with the oil and gas industry and petroleum products importers. Furthermore, the Calabar Free Trade Zone (CFTZ) located within the Port offers unique advantage of duty waivers and other incentives.

The Calabar Port is said to be in a poor state and needs maintenance, but channel dredging is ongoing in order for the port to be able to admit bigger vessels. Container traffic waned from 2008 and ceased around 2014, but modern flat-bottom vessels can still access the port. However, the port remains popular with West cargo traffic as well as dry bulk cargo.


Delta Port is said to possess immense potentials, and is tagged “The port of the future” by NPA. Its uniqueness includes accessibility and proximity to states of Anambra, IMO, Enugu, Delta, Edo, Kogi, Ondo, Benue, etc compared with other operational ports. According to NPA, “There is the emergence of new growth drivers in the export of gas by the EGTL [Escravos Gas To Liquid] facilities that is about to commence production with a capacity next to non in the country”.

The Delta Port manager, Mr Okeke, is reported to have spoken about the challenges facing the port which have reduced its activities “to near zero”. The report highlighted government neglect, encroachment by host communities, and the need to dredge the port to attract bigger vessels. Mr Okeke also stated that the revenue generated between 2007 and 2016 was $607.7m, while revenue collected amounted to $1.2347m. However, the security situation has improved in recent times and port operations are ongoing.


Rivers Port is a hub of different activities. “The Rivers Port Complex in coastal Rivers State comprises Port Harcourt Port, Okrika Refined Petroleum Oil Jetty, Haastrup/Eagle Bulk Cement Jetty, Kidney Island Jetty, Ibeto Jetty, Macobar Jetty and Bitumen Jetty”, says the NPA.

The Port Manager of NPA Port Harcourt, Mr. Abubakar Umar, was reported to have said in May 2017, while addressing members of the Maritime Energy Media Practitioners of Nigeria, that “container vessels can now berth at Rivers Port”. He also urged importers to take advantage of the Port’s facilities which can rival other ports in Nigeria, and that with improved terminal operations, container vessels have started coming in. Rivers Port serves vessels of up to 188 metres long.


Onne Port Complex situated on the Bonny River Estuary along Ogu creek. According to NPA, it “is the first Port of its kind in Nigeria that operated the Land lord Port model devised to encourage private sector participation in the Port Industry prior to the Port Reform exercise in Nigeria”.

The port serves as an oil & gas hub for West and Central Africa sub-regions, with its advantage of accessibility and proximity to the Eastern Nigeria commercial centers like Onitsha, Nnewi, Aba etc, adequate depth for heavy ocean-going vessels, and security. Onne Port’s ship traffic averaged 9,791 between 2008 and 2014, and the Port “accounts for over 65% of the export cargo through the Nigerian sea port”. The port which boasts of one of the biggest habour mobile cranes in Africa is designated a multi-purpose cargo terminal, and its operations cut across all cargoes, including oil and gas. Work is also ongoing to increase the port’s capacity, to handle FPSO integration (Floating Production Storage and Offloading (FPSO) is a floating vessel used by the offshore oil and gas industry for the production and processing of hydrocarbons, and for the storage of oil) and other construction and industrial activities.


The concentration of port activities in Apapa, Tincan, and Onne appears to explain the misconception that other ports are not working. Contrary to this belief, container traffic is being recorded regularly in 5 of the 6 ports, while Calabar which stopped recording container traffic around 2014 still serves smaller vessels and is accessible by appropriately shaped modern vessels.

Although Lagos Apapa, Tincan and Onne ports process a significant percentage of cargo throughput in Nigeria’s sea ports, according to the 2014 and 2016 information reviewed and current operating status confirmed, all the six (6) ports are functional.



Nigeria currently has 6 working sea ports, in Apapa, Tin Can Island, Rivers, Onne, Calabar, and Delta, therefore, the claim that only Apapa port is working is false.

All the 6 ports in Nigeria are operating and recording count and tonnage of throughput and ostensibly generating revenues. Therefore, the claim that only ports in Lagos are allowed to function, or that the only functional port in Nigeria is in Lagos is false.

Concluding from various official reports shown above, goods come into Nigeria through all the 6 operational ports, albeit in different quantities and of various kinds. Thus, the claim that goods imported into Nigeria only come in through the Lagos ports is false.

In the same vein, the claim that Lagos is effectively Nigeria’s only port is false, as Onne port handles a significant part of port activities, whilst other ports are also operating, albeit with very low record of activities. Thus seaports in Calabar, Port Harcourt, Warri are working, despite the highlighted challenges, and the claim that they are not working is false.