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Port in Profile, Part 1 of 2: Tin Can Island Port, Nigeria

PortandTerminal.com, May 25, 2019

Apapa, the port district in Lagos, a once-thriving port city, has become a no-go area for visitors, hellish for those who reside and work there, and traumatic for business owners and those exporting or importing cargoes. In this two-part series, we’ll look at Tin Can Port, Nigeria’s second largest port.


Nigeria is Sub Saharan Africa’s largest economy and relies heavily on oil as its main source of foreign exchange earnings and government revenues. Since the 2008 global financial crisis, Nigeria’s economic growth has been driven by growth in agriculture, telecommunications, and services.

Economic diversification and strong growth though have not translated into a significant decline in poverty levels; over 62% of Nigeria’s over 203 million people still live in extreme poverty.

Nigeria is also Africa’s most populous country and is composed of more than 250 ethnic groups. Just over 50% of Nigerians are Muslims. Today, 25% of Africans are Nigerian.


Photo: Aerial view of Lagos market

Officially Lagos has a population of 17.5 million people making it both the largest city in Nigeria and the largest in Africa as well. Unofficially, Lagos has a population of 23.5 million — estimated because Nigeria has not had a proper census in decades. Lagos is also a port city, home to the Tin Can Island Port and the focus of this two-part series.

Lagos has been called the “mega-city” of slums where an estimated 66% of its population live. The city is a sprawling, writhing mess of traffic jams, people and endless construction. In new Lagos, houses sprout upon land reclaimed from the sea, and in older Lagos, buildings are knocked down so that new ones can be built.

Real Estate listing for a luxury apartment building on Banana Island, Lagos

Lagos is not all traffic jams and urban sprawl though. Companies such as Chevron, which is one of the largest oil producers in Nigeria and one of its largest investors, has its headquarters in Lagos. There are pockets of serious wealth in Lagos such as the residential community called Banana Island, considered to be one of the most expensive addresses in the world.

Tin Can Island Port

The elephant in the room, of course, is why the funny name?

The name Tin Can Island comes from the 19th Century method of delivering mail to the island.  Traders put mail and packages in sealed biscuit tin cans, tossed them overboard where they were retrieved by strong swimmers from the island.  

Tin Can Island Port (TCIP) is owned by the Nigerian Port Authority and is classified by World Port Source as a medium-sized port. TCIP is Nigeria’s second largest port after neighbouring Apapa Port.

Photo: Aerial view of Tin Can Island Port, Lagos, Nigeria

About 80 percent of Nigeria’s trade passes through Apapa and TCIP where many criticize the infrastructure there is shabby. “Cargo clearance is frustrating because the estimated 1.5 million containers that pass through the ports annually are being inspected by human agents” (Source: DredgeWire)

It is not all bad news in Lagos and at the Tin Can Port though. Maersk has invested heavily in Nigeria and is the country’s largest shipping line.

Photo: Tincan Island Container Terminal

The largest of TCIP’s five terminals is the Tincan Island Container Terminal which is operated by a consortium made up of Bolloré Ports and a Chinese partnership formed by China Merchants Holding International (CMHI) and China Africa Development Fund (CADF). Containerized cargo makes up about 30% of the port’s total volume.

Importers’ containers presently spend weeks at Nigeria’s seaports over delayed clearance, such that containers that were supposed to be cleared in seven days now spend about 22 days or more to be cleared due to the delay.

Next in this Series

The real story about the Tin Can Port happens outside of its gates. The road network leading up to the port can only be described as a living hell.

The port district in Lagos has become a no-go area for visitors, hellish for those who reside and work there, and traumatic for business owners and those exporting or importing cargoes

Any real improvement in logistics in Nigeria will require major investment in road, rail and port infrastructure. In Part 2 of this series we’ll look at hinterland logistics in Nigeria today and what its prospects are for the future.

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