Is Lagos the best place for ports?

The president is in Lagos this week to, amongst other things, flag off the construction of a deep sea port in Lekki, Lagos. Of course there are two other major ports in Lagos and no one needs reminding about the congestion at Apapa.

There have been a couple of discussions about why all the ports are in Lagos and why the FG can’t build a port in any other state. Lots of noise about cabals and politics and so on. Could the reason all major ports are in Lagos be much simpler?

As is turns out, one of the most important things for ports is the ocean depth, i.e. the distance between the sea level and the sea bed. If the depth is large enough then big ship can get to ports without the need for dredging. If the distance is too small then ships can get stuck. Building ports in relatively shallow water requires dredging (artificially increasing the depth) which costs money. Lots of it. What’s the smart thing to do? Build ports in places that naturally have more depth.

So, what does the ocean depth along Nigeria’s coast look like?

The graph above shows the depth in kilometres (or the negative elevation”) 0.05 degrees south of the coast according to Google (America really does know everything).

As it turns out, Lagos does have the deepest waters and is the best place for ports in Nigeria. So I guess we can throw away all the cabals and politics around the location of our ports stories.

Of course it does not mean that you can’t have ports elsewhere. They just won’t be able to handle large ships. And the ships nowadays are huge. Building proper highways to ease port access is smarter and cheaper than trying to dredge a naturally shallow harbour.

NB: Google maps API is actually really good. If you are an economist working with geographical data you should probably learn how to use it.


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