Real Obstacles To 24-Hour Port Operation

Real Obstacles To 24-Hour Port Operation

AJIBOLA ABAYOMI in this analysis examines and draws attention to the challenges that may mar the recent Federal Government order targeting 24-hour operations at the nation’s ports, as part of the ease of doing business in the nation. Excerpts…

On the 18th of May when the Presidency reeled out the Executive Order signed by Acting President Yemi Osinbajo (SAN) aimed at commencing 24-hour operation at the Nigerian ports, the move was viewed as a right step in the right direction.

As contained in the order, all relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of the Federal Government at the sea/airports and elsewhere shall within 30 days of the issuance of the order merge their respective departure and arrival interfaces into a single customer interface, without prejudice to necessary backend procedures.

For ease of referencing, government went further to approve that only the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA); Nigerian Customs Service (NCS); Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA); Nigeria Police Force; Department of State Security (DSS); Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) and Port Health shall operate at the ports henceforth, to reduce the undue bureaucratic procedures.

The order was a product of government’s interaction with the various stakeholders in the maritime sector to boost the ease of doing business in the country.

The move could not have come at a better time that now when Nigeria is ranked 182 among countries in terms of Trade Across Borders (TAB).

The nation is blessed with over 100 kilometers of coastline, and more in terms of navigable waters, thereby underscoring its importance to development of the ports.

Statistics by the Joint Council Of Seaport Truck Operators (JCOST) of Nigeria dating back to 1990 put container throughput in the nation’s ports at about 93499 and tons of cargo throughput at 161, 691,57 which excludes 3440 tons of crude oil.

In 2014, Apapa Port alone hosted 690,690, 1503 vessels and 19,825,488 tons of cargo making the total general cargo throughput 20,645,266. Despite recession in 2015, the same port also witnessed a traffic of 20, 202, 767 tons of general cargo throughput.

Given the afore-stated huge traffic and economic advantages, the round the clock operation is long overdue.

However it is not certain that the current state of facilities and trade procedures at ports can accommodate the 24-hour operation as expected.

Godwin Ikeji, Secretary of JCOST, believes that the Executive Order is set to bring positive changes to port performance, but quickly warns that not until some fundamental challenges are addressed, the maximisation of potential benefits may record negative consequences.

Worried about the development, a frontline maritime lawyer and former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Olisa Agbakoba traced the infrastructure decay and unstable policies hampering growth of Nigerian ports to direct consequence of successive government’s inability to invest in the ports, beginning with the Nigerian Maritime Act of 1987.

The legal practitioner noted that “the government has not enacted any policy to review, examine and implement a plan. So, what you see now is a heavy decline in the way maritime policy is carried out, in the way new laws are even made to meet new challenges”.

In as much as the Executive Order is a necessary intervention, there are critical challenges that may reduce it a mere wishful thinking if they are left unattended as witnessed 10 years ago when government laboured in vain to achieve a 48-hour port operation.

Executive Secretary/Chief Executive of the Shippers Council of Nigeria (SCN) Hasssan Bello identified technology, infrastructure, process and people as major factors that nailed the 48-hour port target and urged the government to be wary of them in order to make its recent move a reality.

Fortunately, these challenges are not strange to both the government and other stakeholders. That the road leading to the major ports like Apapa and Tin-Can, both in Lagos, remains a death trap is a fact known to the whole world.

The less than two kilometers road-stretch has become nightmare to the economic wellbeing of the ports and Lagos, the hosting state to the extent that the Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria ( RTEAN) estimated that over N4.1 billion revenue are being lost on daily basis apart from human lives.

In this age of technology, it is absurd to note that most of routine checks by the NCS ditto for other agencies are still analogue driving not to talk of the epileptic power at the ports, yet government is dreaming 24-hour operation.

Apart from that the mystery behind the unnecessary duplication of charges not known to the law coupled with open corruption surrounding the trade procedures is yet to be unraveled.

To cap it all, the nonchalant attitude of the NPA to live up to its billing is a serious concern rather the agency is more interested in what it can gain from the ports in terms of charges at the ports where terminal operators have become gods unto themselves among other knotty issues.

Despite these, the potentials of the ports are still enormous. Although government through the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing promised to fix the ports road valued at N4.3 billion recently, even at that given the past experiences, the promise remains a pledge to be accomplished.

At a recent seminal organised by the Association of Maritime Journalists of Nigeria (AMJON), major players who are the conscience of the ports like NSC, JSCOST, National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) and Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANCLCA) voiced out the truth to the government.

Although, they remain optimistic about the intention to turnaround the ports road but there are still miles to cover to make the 24-hour operation effective.

The submission of the NCMDLCA as articulated by its National President Lucky Ehis Amiwero, captioned the pains of the ports business communities.

Ranging from untold gridlock forcing truck drivers to spend over six weeks to access the less than 300 meters road to the ports, shipping companies not regulated by any government agency, cumbersome and lengthy port procedures breakdown of scanning and physical examinations.

Others include block staking of containers, non-availability of holding bay for trucks, no trailer and tanker park, duplicated charges and charges not tied to services, cargo dwell time and non-compliance to port act of 1999, it is apparent that government may have beat the gun in its quest to achieve the round the clock operation.

For NAGGAF, the way forward is for the government to stop paying lips service to infrastructure development.

President of NAGAFF, Uche Increase wants checks to be put in place to curtail what he alleged as high level of corruption among officials of National Agency for Food Drugs and Administration (NAFDAC), Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON), NCS and Police officers and make them respect regulations set by Council for Regulation of Freight Forwarding of Nigeria (CRFFN).

Uche said: “Nigerian ports are under landlord model. It is apparent that the ports authority is only interested in collecting royalty, fix rate charges and cargo through put charges from concessionaires without ensuring that terms of concessionary agreement are observed and obeyed”.

ANLCA advised government to focus on policies and implementation, regulatory framework and attendant impediments affecting the maritime ports

Prince Olayiwola Shittu J.P, the President of ANCLCA counseled that there should be less emphasis on paper documentation to encourage seamless operation and A-One- Stop-Shop Module/Portal to access all standard operating process of all government security and regulatory agencies.

Both the Police NCS and other government agencies have repeatedly stated that none of their officers were authourised to extort money at the ports.

Deputy Commissioner of Police, Western Port Lagos, Adeyemi Gbola said: “Now that government is talking about 24-hour port operation, we can make it happen. It is possible.

“No police officer is mandated to extort money from anyone at the ports. If any officer demands bribe from you, you should refuse and follow it up to the logical conclusion.” he challenged the stakeholders.

Controller General of NCS, Colonel Hammeed Ali (rtd) has already adjusted operations of the Customs to cope with the dynamics at the ports by introducing ASYCUD++ PLATFORM thereby moving from manual long room procedure to automated model.

NCS has shown readines for the 24-hour operation by releasing guidelines to be met by the importers for pre-assessment to ensure speedy clearance of cargo.

Bureaucratic procedures, inefficiency and corruption forced the government to concessional the ports in 2006, now to make the ports more viable, there must be adequate security in line with the provision of International Ports and Security Code (IPSCode).

If the infrastructures are developed to make provision for visible intermodal coordination to revive and create other intermodal coordinators like rail and inland water ways connected to the ports and the man-power are put in place with relevant technology to reduce human interface with the trade procedures, there is no stopping the 24-hour ports operation. Until these are done, the target will remain a dream.

Ranging from untold gridlock forcing truck drivers to spend over six weeks to access the less than 300 meters road to the ports, shipping companies not regulated by any government agency, cumbersome and lengthy port procedures breakdown of scanning and physical examinations, block staking of containers and non-availability of holding bay for trucks, no trailer and tanker park.

Including duplicated charges not tied to services, cargo dwell time and non-compliance to port act of 1999, it is apparent that government may have beat the gun in its quest to achieve the round the clock operation.

For NAGGAF, the way forward is for the government to stop paying lips service to infrastructure development.

President of NAGAFF, Uche Increase wants checks to be put in place to curtail what he alleged as high level of corruption among officials of National Agency for Food Drugs and Administration (NAFDAC), Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON), NCS and Police officers and make them respect regulations set by Council for Regulation of Freight Forwarding of Nigeria (CRFFN).

Uche said: “Nigerian ports are under landlord model. It is apparent that the ports authority is only interested in collecting royalty, fix rate charges and cargo through put charges from concessionaires without ensuring that terms of concessionary agreement are observed and obeyed”.

ANLCA advised government to focus on policies and implementation, regulatory framework and attendant impediments affecting the maritime ports

Prince Olayiwola Shittu J.P, the President of ANCLCA counseled that there should be less emphasis on paper documentation to encourage seamless operation and A-One- Stop-Shop Module/Portal to access all standard operating process of all government security and regulatory agencies.

Both the Police NCS and other government agencies have repeatedly stated that none of their officers were authourised to extort money at the ports.

Deputy Commissioner of Police, Western Port Lagos, Adeyemi Gbola said: “Now that government is talking about 24-hour port operation, we can make it happen. It is possible.

“No police officer is mandated to extort money from anyone at the ports. If any officer demands bribe from you, you should refuse and follow it up to the logical conclusion.” he challenged the stakeholders.

Controller General of NCS, Colonel Hammeed Ali (rtd) has already adjusted operations of the Customs to cope with the dynamics at the ports by introducing ASYCUD++ PLATFORM thereby moving from manual long room procedure to automated model.

NCS has shown readines for the 24-hour operation by releasing guidelines to be met by the importers for pre-assessment to ensure speedy clearance of cargo.

Bureaucratic procedures, inefficiency and corruption forced the government to concessional the ports in 2006, now to make the ports more viable, there must be adequate security in line with the provision of International Ports and Security Code (IPSCode).

If the infrastructures are developed to make provision for visible inter modal coordination to revive and create other inter modal coordinators like rail and inland water ways connected to the ports and the man-power are put in place with relevant technology to reduce human interface with the trade procedures, there is no stopping the 24-hour ports operation. Until these are done, the target will remain a dream.