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Orderliness Yet To Return To Seaports One Year After FG’s Executive Order

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As the Federal Government’s Executive Order enters its second year of implementation, YUSUF BABALOLA looks at the factors militating against the successful implementation of the order in the maritime industry.

On May 17, 2017, then Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo signed an Executive Order on the Promotion of Transparency and Efficiency in the Business Environment into law to ease procedural hiccups being experienced by shippers a the nation’s seaports. The federal government then directed all relevant ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) operating at the nation’s seaports to harmonise their operations into a single interface station

The order reads: “All agencies currently physically present in Nigerian seaports shall within 60 days harmonise their operations into one single interface station domiciled in one location in the port and implemented by a single joint task force at all times, without prejudice to necessary backend procedures.

“The new single interface station at each port shall capture, track and record information on all goods arriving and departing from Nigeria, and remit captured information to the head of the MDA and the head of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on a weekly basis” according to the statement.

The order was initiated against the backdrop of the desire of the federal government to improve the ease and cost of doing business in the nation’s seaports. But, the Executive Order since its signing, is yet to change activities at port even though the country movesd14 points further on the Ease of Doing Business global ranking last year.

The implementation has been riddled with obsolete equipment, dilapidated port roads, obsolete and archaic clearing procedures and return of sacked agencies of government back to the seaports. For instance, the Shipper Association Lagos State (SALS) recently raised the alarm that the ease of doing business that was supposed to reduce cost at the seaport has fueled increase in the cost of doing business at the ports.

The President of the association, Rev. Jonathan Nicol said the ease of doing business couldn’t drive down the cost of doing business at port. “Now, we thought that with the Ease of Doing Business, the cost of doing business in this country would have been reduced because that is the purpose and I told them, without the reduction of the cost of doing business in this country, there will be no Ease of Doing Business. Just mentioning of the Ease of Doing Business, Nigeria catapulted to the costliest side.

“Let government give order for them to reduce the cost of doing business, then you and I will say yes, we have a country to do business with. The first quarter came as a result of inevitability; goods came because they have nowhere else to go. Where do you want industries to send their containers to other than our ports? So, the first quarter came as a result of goods that are already trapped in the system” said Nicol.

Dilapidated Ports Access Roads

The access roads leading in and out of Tin-Can Port has presently collapsed and remained in shambles. The roads which are presently in an abysmal state is left in the shadow of itself that truck drivers spend days to move out cargoes from the ports to owner warehouse. The state of Tin-Can road has made it impossible for 24- hour cargo operation at the port.

The truck drivers described the harrowing experience they endure daily to enter or exit the Tin Can Island port in Lagos as harrowing. The truck drivers, who spoke in separate interviews while being held on the long queue, said they spend as much as three to four days on the Mile 2 – Tin-Can road enroute to the port which is a distance of about two kilometres – a journey that should normally take less than five minutes.

They said they wash on the roads, eat from hawkers and answer the call of nature on the curbs. Lamenting the sufferings they go through, one of the truck drivers, Anas Abubakar said, “The bad road is what is causing the traffic. I have spent three days here just to pick a consignment at the port. We want government to fix the roads so that we can easily go to wharf and drop our containers. The suffering is too much for us. The police and army also collect money from us.”

Another truck driver, Ademola Adebayo appealed to the government to fix the bad road to ameliorate the plight of commuters. “The bad roads are the major cause of the traffic. If those leaving the port do not have chance to come out, we that are going in can’t also go in. We are appealing to the government to repair the road. If the road is ok, there will be free flow of movement and there won’t be traffic. We eat from hawkers and bath on the road on a daily basis”, he said.

Lack of Functional Scanners

In the whole of Nigeria seaports, only one scanner is working and the only scanner working wasn’t working to capacity. To this end, the Nigeria Customs Service perform 100 percent examination on cargoes that are imported into the ports. This, according to clearing agents do not facilitate trade but stifles business and trade and increase chances. Maritime experts who are alarmed by the state of scanners at Nigerian ports say they have frequently caused delays in goods clearance as well as escape of contraband goods into the society.

Also, the Controller, Port Harcourt Area II Command of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Onne, Comptroller Abubakar Bashir, decried the high level of physical examination of containers in Nigeria, describing it as “very tedious” and “usually not very effective”. Bashir said that manual un-stuffing of containers for physical examination is fraught with myriads of challenges, blaming the situation on the non-availability of scanners at the port.

Stakeholders also say one scanner is grossly insufficient to handle the number of cargoes being discharged at the Apapa Port and worse is that Tin Can Port has none. According to maritime experts, busy ports like Apapa and Tin Can, need four functional scanners each in other to handle containers coming to the ports.

Aside this, lack of scanners expose the nation to risk of allowing dangerous items slip into the country. For instance in January 2017, the operatives of the Federal Operations Unit (FOU) A, Ikeja of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) intercepted a 661 pieces of pump-action rifles that have exited the port for owners’ warehouse.

The pump-action rifle exited Apapa port undetected before it was intercepted on the highway by eagle eye Customs Officers who probably may be working on intelligence. Also, last year, customs raided a warehouse in Lagos where imported furniture which is on import prohibition list was warehoused after making its way through the Lagos seaport into the country undetected. These and many more are ways port prohibited items and dangerous wares exited Nigeria ports due to absence of functional scanners.

Need For Single Window

The Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), managing director, Ms. Hadiza Bala Usman in a way to begin the enforcement of the executive order, sacked some agencies of government from the port. According to her, the sacked agencies would not be allowed to operate at the port but will be called upon to inspect only on cargoes within their jurisdiction.

The agencies to operate at the ports are the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), the Ports Health Agency (PHA), the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), Nigeria Police Force (NPF) and the Department of State Security (DSS).

Single window system in the form of the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) aims to facilitate the import and export of goods. A single point of entry for the exchange of electronic information between regulatory agencies and trading participants is simpler, faster and more efficient.

Also, many key development agencies and financial institutions across the globe, including the World Bank, now see it as veritable tool for trade and economic competiveness as it is the case in many developed world, but stakeholders have argued that the federal government should make single window available for easy interactions among agencies of government.

They opined that instead of having agencies domiciled at seaports, they should instead interface at single window which will reduce costs, cargo dwell time and facilitate trade. The implementation of Single Window in clearance of goods and trade has many benefits such as improving the gains of African nations by 50 per cent. Trade processing in Nigeria at the moment is limited by excessive bureaucracy.

Nigeria needs to embrace Singe Window in order to enhance trade and competiveness in its economy. The world is now a global village and those who do not see the need to embrace change in line with international standards and practices may be left behind. Trade facilitation is basically about ‘process reforms’ that would improve documentation and reduce cargo dwell time. The reforms would enhance national trade competitiveness by improving import/export procedures and document handling among government agencies.

Automation

For 24-hour operations at the port to be successful in Nigeria port environment there is need for automation of the port system. This will reduce human contact and ensure efficiency of services. The automation, which will align the ports with ports in other countries, will reduce clearing time, encourage transparency and boost revenue. The automation, which will align the ports with ports in other countries, will reduce clearing time, encourage transparency and boost revenue.

The automation of services is believed to be the only way to improve trade facilitation at the seaports. It is through such technological advancement as automation that one can remain in any part of the country and operate his or her account irrespective of where it was opened. With automation, one can pay for services and even purchase products within and outside the country without having to go to the bank or shops.

Automation is the only way to bring the industry at the same level with other maritime nations. In the ports of advanced nations, clearing of goods and services take place without the physical presence of the brokers at the ports. Those at the ports are mainly key security staff, who monitor operations.

Lighting Of Port Access Roads

For the Executive order to be effective there is need for the federal government to lit-up the port access roads for effective night operations. It is believed that the road leading to the nation’s seaports is badly lit that conducting night operations may be dangerous. For instance, Truck drivers have complained of hijack of cargoes in a badly lit area. Hence, to put confidence in port operators, there is need for proper lighting of access roads leading to the port nationwide

The President, Senior Staff Association of Communications, Transport and Corporations (SSACTAC), Benson Adegbeyeni has complained of inability of the port to operate 24-hour because of lack of infrastructure like good roads and proper lighting of the ports. “Talking about 24 hour port operations, where is the lighting? Can you work inside the ports at night? No, because of poor lighting of the ports. My people are complaining that they always sleep inside their cars” said Adegbeyemi.

Conclusion

However, for the ease of doing business, the government need to fix the dilapidated port infrastructure such as reconstruction of the Tin-Can Port road, repair of faulty scanners at port, lighting of port access road for 24- hour operations and a 24 hour/ 7 Days a week operation. This will reduce the cost of doing business and help the government achieve its objectives on Ease of Doing Business.



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