Thursday, 30th November 2023

Building competitive ports infrastructure: Introspection on NPA’s pre-concession roles

By Adaku Onyenucheya
21 August 2023   |   3:08 am
Despite the concession of the country’s seaports, stakeholders and port users have continued to raise questions, while also expecting the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to perform its pre-concession roles to enable the country to regain its position as the maritime hub in West and Central Africa. ADAKU ONYENUCHEYA examines the roles of the authority and…

Despite the concession of the country’s seaports, stakeholders and port users have continued to raise questions, while also expecting the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to perform its pre-concession roles to enable the country to regain its position as the maritime hub in West and Central Africa. ADAKU ONYENUCHEYA examines the roles of the authority and measures taken to address cargo operations.

To bring development to Nigeria’s seaports and ensure competitiveness with neighbouring countries in West and Central Africa, the Federal Government, in 2006, under the former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, embarked on reform of the ports.

This ports reform by Obasanjo’s administration helped to reposition and transform the seaports for competitiveness and efficiency. It also enabled the country to compete favourably with its contemporaries in the African region and indeed the rest of the world.

In achieving the aforementioned milestone, the Federal Government adopted the Landlord Model of port concession, which ceded cargo-handling operations to private terminal operators, while the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) retained the responsibility of providing marine services.

Interestingly, the policy of port concession stemmed from the desire of the then Federal Government to infuse private-sector efficiency into the port value chain by embracing public-private partnership (PPP) as a model of global business approach.

The port concession era transformed the operational functions of NPA to a more technical regulation with core responsibilities of providing and maintaining common user facilities such as port internal roads, illumination, dredging, buoyage, pilotage, towage and other technical enabler of safe navigation, in addition to exercising regulatory oversight on terminal operators.

However, the presence of various Federal Government regulatory and security agencies at the ports, whose roles affect port efficiency and operations, has continued to create confusion among stakeholders and port users as to which agency is in charge of what function at the seaports.

This is even as stakeholders continue to raise questions on the specific roles and responsibilities of the various Federal Government regulating agencies, while the trade blames whose fault it is for the state and operations of the ports.
Responsibilities of government agencies

Many port users are still unaware of the specific roles and responsibilities of the various Federal Government agencies in port operations. The external access roads, which are of key importance to the evacuation of cargo to and from the ports, are under the management of the Federal Ministry of Works, while waterways security is the responsibility of the Marine Police, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and the Nigerian Navy.

Electricity to illuminate the port for efficient operations under a bright atmosphere is under the purview of the power holding company while the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) was recently confirmed as the economic regulator of port activities.

However, while few agencies have been reformed, such as NPA, which radically changed its processes and procedures, most of the other agencies of government are yet to effect similar reform, which has huge implications for port operations.

A maritime expert, Nwachukwu Kelechi, explained that NPA is solely responsible for the development and maintenance of access roads within the seaport and not outside.

He noted that the maintenance and development of access roads to the hinterland is the responsibility of the government.

Measures to address efficiency in ports operations

NPA management has implemented several measures to address inefficiencies in port operations. This is just as stakeholders commended the current management of NPA for strengthening security architecture at the ports and reducing bottlenecks that hinder seamless operations.

According to the European Union (EU), the current management has reduced vulnerabilities, and risks as well as increased skills and vigilance at the ports.

The representative of EU, Nico Vertogen, said there is a huge improvement in Nigeria’s port security architecture, which is very reassuring for the international body to notice.

Although, Vertogen said there could always be improvement by way of doing more training.

“It was a very detailed needs assessment result because we need to understand how security and safety is organised in Tin-Can Island and Apapa and that constitutes a detailed training programme that was tailor-made, especially for security where we have international certification,” he said.

Also, port users, especially clearing agents applauded the NPA management for improving the ease of doing business at the ports. Recall that NPA was recognised by the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) for the sustenance of the Ease of Doing Business as it concerns the nation’s seaports and beyond at the World Bank 2019 Doing Business Ranking Award.

An importer, James Akinwale, noted that as part of measures to improve the ease of doing business at the ports, the Bello Koko-led management team approved the licensing of 10 Export Processing Terminals (EPT) to facilitate seamless export cargo evacuation out of the nation’s seaports.

He said the move provided a one-stop shop for export where quality control, cargo assessment by all government agencies and issuance of good-to-ship clearance will be obtained.

Akinwale said this has led to a significant reduction in truck turn-around time due to the successful implementation of the electronic call-up system.

Further checks also revealed that the enforcement of Minimum Safety Standards (MSS) on trucks accessing the ports has led to a significant reduction in the number of accidents recorded at the port corridor.

Another Clearing Agent, Chukwuka Ayam, confirmed that the enforcement of the MSS on trucks has ensured all trucks accessing the ports are inspected, certified and issued compliance identification.

According to him, this safety standard has resulted in at least 65 per cent reduction in the number of accidents recorded, arising from improved standards of trucks operating within the port premises.

Campaign against extortion
Disturbed by increasing acts of extortion by hoodlums and miscreants along port access road, the Managing Director of NPA, Mohammed Bello-Koko has taken the lead in advocacy to eliminate illegal checkpoints where these atrocities are perpetrated through intensified collaborations with security agencies.

Confirming the effectiveness of the collaborations, last week, the Lagos State Police Command arrested 15 hoodlums, three Police Officers, one Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) and one Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) personnel caught aiding and abetting extortion.

According to the NPA boss, this menace of corruption is doing reputational damage to Nigeria, given that the ports’ access road is an international business corridor.

Bello-Koko also established a standing partnership with the Nigerian Navy and Nigerian Army in addition to combating illegal checkpoints along the port corridor to make traffic management more effective.

Also, NPA ensured standardisation of operational procedures for different activities such as barging, private jetties, pilotage, and vessel berthing/sailing.

“There is a significant reduction in the traffic gridlock along the main port corridor and the internal access roads through enforcements, proper batching, continuous access control mechanisms and movement of cargo via barge operations among others.

On the engineering infrastructure/operational capacity strengthening front, the NPA boss initiated the creation of Forcados Signal Station to enable the authority to capture the movement of more service boats as well as the commencement and completion of bathymetric survey for the dredging of Escravos Channels.

Partnership with IMO
Further to its roles, the NPA has also engaged the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in the development of a port community system for the automation and digitalisation of the port processes.

An official of the NPA, who pleaded anonymity, said: “The current management has awarded the consultancy for the deployment of Vessel Traffic Service (VTS); a maritime safety measure that equips with Domain Awareness Capability to guide and provide safety information to vessels within the channels and ports in line with the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) conventions.”

Speaking further on the landmark achievements of the Koko-led management, the official said, “On the critical front of trade facilitation/ease of doing business/employment generation, the NPA management created new businesses and attendant job opportunities such as the barge operations services, which besides reducing pressure on the roads have grown into N2 billion yearly generation business, both from direct investment and accompanying externalities”.

According to him, the NPA boss has also covered remarkable grounds in the crucial maritime benchmarks such as improved navigational aids, enhanced port security, engineering infrastructure/operational capacity strengthening and employee welfare as well as training/industrial harmony.

“Procurement and deployment of Security Patrol Boats (SPBs) to all Pilotage Districts to address incessant attacks of vessels along the channels and at Ports’ waterfronts, his management considerably enhanced port security.

“Bello-Koko also adroitly established a robust partnership with the EU-funded West and Central Africa Ports Security (WeCAPS) towards risk prevention, vulnerability assessment of port infrastructure, skills acquisition to port personnel to strengthen the security and safety of the nation’s seaports,” he stated.