24 HOURS PORTS OPERATION: Putting The Cart Before The Horse

PIX: Nigerian Seaport

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 Nigerian Seaport

 

Although a laudable move which agencies such as the NPA and the Shippers’ Council are feverishly championing, the recent directive by the acting president, Professor Yemi Osibanjo, for the ports to operate on 24 hours basis raises many questions than answers. ROLAND EKAMA x-rays the workability of the executive order when many inhibiting factors remain unresolved.

It may sound exciting to people who do not understand how Nigerian ports function. But the recent order by the federal government directing 24 hours operations at Nigerian ports is definitely putting the cart before the horse. The order failed to answer critical questions especially on the role of key government agencies, the port users and infrastructure that have become decrepit owing to many years of neglect.

PIX 1: Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbanjo

Port users who were not overly impressed by the executive order that mandated the immediate commencement of 24-hour operations knew it was akin to putting the cart before the horse. It was an order that stood no chance of coming into effect, at least not in the near term. They know that as is the case in other port facilities, efficiency and quality services are not decried. They are the product of careful planning and adoption of international standards of operation. More importantly, efficiency in port services comes with the provision of multi-modal transport infrastructure for the quick handling of ships and evacuation of cargoes.

Despite handling over 140,000 ships and 503 million metric tonnes of cargoes annually, the Port of Singapore has the global template for 24-hour operations and prompt cargo delivery. They which is missing in the Nigerian port system is a network of rail lines that promptly evacuate cargoes away from the port and to any part of the country. This is complemented by other modes of transport, especially roads.

At the time of construction,  Apapa Port had rail lines right up to the quayside for direct deliveries. The rest of the goods are evacuated through the multi-lane routes to the port. A similar system was supposed to come on stream at the Tin Can Island Port, but never saw the light of day.

Just the nation's rail system was left to rot, the two major arteries to the ports - Wharf Road and Creek Road - were left to progressively fail and virtually become unusable.

Palliative measures the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) recently promised port users to ameliorate the suffering faced by commuters and other stakeholders on the roads in the wake of the shut-down by operators were too ephemeral to bring succour to the nightmarish operational environment of port users. Ab initio, it was bound to fail with the increasing intensity of the rains. The last- minute intervention by the Ministry of Works, Power and Housing permitting ports access routes  reconstruction by a consortium, though a big relief is already fraught with additional challenges everybody must brace up to bear.

According to the acting president’s directive to the agencies, on-duty staff of designated agencies shall be properly identified by uniform and official cards. They must stay away from the ports except when the lead agency approves that they enter the ports. Already, the directive is creating serious misunderstanding among the agencies over the issue of which parastatal should remain at the ports and which would not. Some of the agencies who feel sidelined by the order are reading political meanings.


PIX 2: Hadiza Usman, NPA MD

On June 8, 2017, NPA's managing director, Hadiza Bala Usman, had unveiled the agencies authorised to deploy operatives to the ports. They are the Customs, Immigration, Police, Port Health, Department of State Services (DSS), the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and, of course, the NPA.

Organisations such as the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and other groups with ill-defined functions at the ports were ejected.

In 2011, former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, had sacked some of the agencies from the ports over delay in cargo clearance. She said at a meeting with some key stakeholders that there was the need to streamline port operations in order to create an enabling environment that could lead to a 48-hour cargo clearance regime. With particular reference to Apapa and Tin Can Island ports, government cynically failed to factor keeping the access roads to the ports in functional state into its game plan.

PIX 3: A Section Of The Dilapidated Port Acccess Road

From 2011 to 2017, the state of the roads linking the seaports turned from bad to worse, making the goal of clearing goods under 48 hours and commencing round-the-clock operations untenable.

But the federal government may have taken a hardline this time. "Any agency that is operating in the port outside of these seven agencies is not required to be in the port and should be aware that they need to vacate whatever location they are currently having within the port, because the current approval and position provides that they are not to operate in the port", Hadiza Bala Usman, managing director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) said at a forum where details of the new measure were unveiled.

PIX 4: Another Section Of The Port Access Road

 

NEED FOR THE ACTING PRESIDENT TO VISIT THE PORTS

The logistics performance index of the World Bank shows that Nigeria is retrogressing on the ease of doing business scale. Accessibility has been a major factor in evaluating the ease of doing business in Nigerian ports as it determines the ease of delivery of imports and exports. Without good access roads, there is no way the word ‘24 hours’ will make sense to port users.

PIX 5: Port Of Lagos Apapa Quays

For failing to first of all address fundamental issues affecting port operations, the declaration by the Acting President on specific timeline for clearance of goods from the ports are untenable. It remains a huge mirage!

Stakeholders say that in his determination to address the issues of cargo clearance, the Vice President should have personally visited the ports, at least the premier ports in Lagos, for on-the-spot assessment of existing infrastructure on the access routes, the respective terminals and the need to appreciate reasons the 24 hours operation can not and may never be achieved.  Having a first-hand experience of the routes and what people and container-laden trucks go through in efforts to come into or exit the ports would have come before any official pronouncements.

The Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) chaired by the Acting President hurriedly released a report card on the 60-Day National Action Plan on Ease of Doing Business which was implemented from February 21, 2017 to April 21, 2017. The report which highlighted 31 completed reforms across the Council’s eight priority indicators was unveiled on Monday, April 24, 2017 during PEBEC’s monthly meeting.

PEBEC, as it is called, did not really engage stakeholders in the industry on the best ways to achieve speedy clearance of goods from the ports. 

From a critical point of view, stakeholders aver that the assignment executed by PEBEC failed due to the sudden assumption that it would be possible to achieve 24 hours cargo clearance.

For failing to address the immediate problems associated with ports, the government has missed the crucial first step in the long road to improving the country's ease of doing business rating. That first step, the horse that will pull the cart, is in ensuring that the roads are rehabilitated before imposing a timeline for the clearance of consignments from the ports. It is in this context that the recent memorandum of understanding initialled by the Works, Power and Housing minister on the reconstruction of Apapa roads is hailed. But before the usual Nigerian factor’, bureaucracy and other inhibiting issues start influencing the delivery of the  project, what will be the lot of port users as regards ease of movement?

Hadiza Bala Usman, managing director, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), took a bold step to visit the seaport in Lagos at night on a weekend. The NPA boss whose motive was to have a first hand undiluted appraisal of operations at the Lagos Ports Complex from Saturday through to Sunday, urged stakeholders at the ports to be committed to the Executive Order towards actualizing a 24-hour operations practice. The Vice President should have taken a cue from this before the executive order especially as concerns port operations.

 

24 HOURS PORTS OPERATIONS: HOW POSSIBLE?

Speaking on the possibility of 24 hours ports operations, Seni  Edu, general manager, Eko Support Services Limited, says it is achievable but will take the reorganization of certain agencies in the way they are set up and their shift hours to be able to work at night. He was categorical on the view that it is not achievable if the roads are not fixed. “The roads make everything slow. If you are talking about the ease of doing business, importers can decide to take their goods to neighbouring ports.  But once the agencies are united and the challenges are fixed, the executive order can be implemented.”

PIX 6: Babatunde Raji Fashola, Minister For Works, Power & Housing

For Prince Olyiwola Shittu, national president, Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), the basis for all the distortions in the ports is corruption. It starts from the importer who is non-compliant and does not want to pay the correct duty; security agencies at the port who are not supposed to allow such infraction but who also take advantage to enrich themselves. There are also the licensed customs agents and freight forwarders who see the interplay of forces and help themselves to the till. He called for all hands to be on deck so that Nigerians would significantly improve the ease of doing business in the ports.

PIX 7: Prince Olayiwola Shittu, (ANCLA President)

Dr. Taiwo Afolabi, executive vice chairman of Sifax Group, identified the dilapidated ports access roads as a major inhibiting factor against the actualization of the Executive Order on the Ease of Doing Business in Nigerian ports. “The Ease of Doing Business Executive Order is good and a brilliant initiative to improve the customer experience, particularly at the nation’s points of entry. I want to commend the government for it”. He submitted, however, that the initiative should be an all-encompassing one where other hindering factors, especially critical infrastructure, are attended to without delay. 

Managing Director, Mickey Excellency Nigeria Limited, Alhaji Abdulazeez Babatunde Mikhaila, said that the access roads would be instrumental to 24 hours operation at the ports.

The foremost customs licensed broker stressed the need for government to deploy security personnel outside the ports to ensure that cargoes are not hijacked by criminals at night. According to him, the security of cargoes exiting the ports either by night or day must be guaranteed. “Container delivery at night to shippers will be important if the government is serious in achieving the 24 hours dream.

I believe that the 24 hours port operations is realizable but there ought to be some fundamental infrastructure that need to be in place for that to happen. All over the world today, 24 hours port operations is a reality. Even in Cotonou and Ghana the ports operate on 24 hours basis.

He lamented that failure on the part of the government to provide lighting may truncate the process of achieving the desired 24 hours drive.

Mikhaila accused some agencies of government of carrying out certain shady operations at night which cannot work out in the day.

“During the night, Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) operatives harass truck operators and that is why I say there must be heavy security presence at night within and outside the ports.”

In his submission, managing director, Waltoye Nigeria Limited, Joseph Atoloye, noted that the Acting President should have visited the ports before the directive. "It is very possible to achieve 24 hours cargo clearance from the ports if the right structures are in place", he stated. He hinged the success on the adoption of the single window portal, noting that "there are lots of benefits if we can embrace the single window portal, which will also enhance trade facilitation.”

PIX 8: Seni Edu, GM, Eko Support Service Limited

Atoloye criticized the federal government's performance in the maritime industry, saying that not much has been done for the sector. However, he expressed optimism that recent policy statements from the executive and legislature might bring about efficiency in the sector.

"There is nothing impossible as regards 24 hours port operations and I believe implementation is the problem we are facing in the country.

 

GOVERNMENT AGENCIES AND THE DRIVE FOR 24HOURS OPERATIONS

The Nigeria Customs Service has resolved to embrace shifting of personnel deployed to the ports. Speaking to the media recently, the Comptroller General of the Service, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd), stated that the only way to meet up with the executive order is to adopt the shift system of work schedule after officers have been intimated and are ready to comply accordingly.

Giving the conditions for the Customs to discharge its functions under the new order, Ali said advance cargo manifest must be submitted at least seven days before the arrival of a vessel to the nation’s seaports.  The advance cargo manifest would enable risk management profile and separation on time before the arrival of ships.  

He also directed that import processing documents be reduced from 14 to eight, while that of export should be brought down from 10 to seven.   

In order to achieve greater service delivery at the ports, there is the need to streamline the current import and export guideline procedures, Ali said.  The Department of Home Finance of the Federal Ministry of Finance recently revised Nigeria’s import and export guidelines, streamlining the current procedures.

The new guidelines, according to the Customs boss, would focus on some of the issues causing inefficiency and delay at the ports.

  Ali, who was represented at an event by the Customs Area Controller, Ports and Terminal Multi-services Limited (PTML), Comptroller Modupeola Adeyanju Aremu, explained that some of the new guidelines would impact directly on the operations of officers and men at the ports.

On the actualization of 24 -hour ports operation, the Customs boss maintained that the service is positioned to implement it, saying the impediment to the attainment remains the integrity and compliance of the trading public in ensuring proper documentation and honest declarations.  

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