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Diamond jubilee in unsettled maritime sector

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Maritime


The future of Nigeria is here. But, it remains unstable, full of motion without advancement, unfulfilled promises, and dashed hope. The maritime sector of the nation’s economy is glaringly struggling to find its feet, even as the ‘Africa’s giant’ celebrates 60 years of independence.

Indeed, stakeholders in the industry disclosed that commemorating the Diamond Jubilee only amounted to celebrating failure. Although the sector has recorded some achievements over the years, they fall below expectations, given the huge potential. Corruption, greed and policy inconsistencies by successive governments have become a clog in the wheel of shipping development in Nigeria.

Other maritime nations, which had the same background with Nigeria, have since risen to become giants in all facets of maritime development. Countries like Malaysia, Brazil, and South Korea, have today grown to become shipbuilding nations. Other African nations such as Egypt, South Africa, and Morocco are also doing well, while Nigeria’s shipping sector struggles to find its feet.

President, National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Lucky Amiwero, told The Guardian the 60 years of independence is not commensurate with the development in the maritime industry.

He said: “The maritime sector has failed over the years and it has not fared any better. We have one of the most expensive ports. Our system is too laborious. The processes are cumbersome. You will find out that everything about the port is not working well.

“You will discover that NIMASA is just moving from one programme to another programme. Look at the Shippers’ Council, they are just jumping up and down; NPA is just adjusting, and the Customs is only about revenue and no more trade facilitation.

“So, the sector is not faring well and that is so sad. There is supposed to be a holistic reform to reposition the industry and make it contribute better to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP),” Amiwero said.

The Vice-President, Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Kayode Farinto, said the industry had been stagnant with no significant progress, while importers and clearing agents had continued to suffer.

“If you look at Nigeria’s maritime graphical illustration, you will see it was progressive from 1960 in arithmetic progression, but in the last 10 years, it has been stagnant in horizontal level. We are not moving forward or backward. This is as a result of frequent policy summersaults. We do not have a maritime/port development plan. So, I cannot say the maritime industry is progressing.

“The only area we can say the sector progressed a bit was the issue of concession, but human factors and some Federal Government’s policies have made us stagnant.

“Talk about dollarisation where terminal operators will have to source for dollars; port interconnectivity (intermodal transport) is not working. The roads and rail should be working. Just last week, the government banned barge operators from the marina on the excuse that they were defacing the marina. If the roads are good, and the rails are working, people will not resort to bringing goods through barges,” he said.

Farinto also claimed that genuine importers do not have access to foreign exchange (forex), while the commercial banks had continued to extort them.

“They will tell you there are 42 items on the prohibition list. To open the Form ‘M’ is very difficult. We have over 200 items on the End Users Certificate list, and you are in trouble if you don’t have the certificate. Meanwhile, to get the certificate from the office of the National Security Adviser will take you more than four months.

“There is no ease of doing business. Customs is the releasing agency all over the world, but in Nigeria, we have a situation whereby Customs will release a cargo and still indict herself.

“Nigeria is a signatory to the World Customs Organisation (WCO) instrument, but we are not making use of them. It is only in Nigeria that genuinely paid consignments would be having serious problems, when the one that is circumventing the system would be moving at supersonic speed. It is very unfortunate.

“We are not moving forward. Even the locomotive train was moving at a particular speed per hour, but our own speed continues to retard on a yearly basis, so you cannot even quantify the progress. We are not better off, and unfortunately the government is looking the other way,” he said.

The President, Shippers Association, Lagos State, Jonathan Nicol, said Nigeria at 60 with over N33 trillions debt was nothing to rejoice about.

He said: “The maritime sector has never been challenged so much like in these days! The government is trying to help out with efforts of the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) and the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) under the watch of the minister of transportation. Roads are under reconstruction, bridges linked to the Apapa main ports are under maintenance, so, the gridlock is unbearable.

“Cost of doing business is on the high side. The regulators are now being regulated by stakeholders and this shows a red signal.
“Concessioners are not given free hand to manage their terminals even though the ports are concessioned. Empty containers everywhere within our domestic corridors. The global coronavirus pandemic sacked the entire business environment. This affected industry and commerce for several months. The sudden increase in pump price escalated high volume of power generation within the manufacturing sector and costs went high.

“The many unsolvable problems in the maritime sector makes it look as though the Federal Government is not doing enough. No COVID-19 palliatives for the maritime sector. Interest rate from banks is high and not encouraging. The sector did not achieve much in 2020,” he said.

Nicol added: “We demand equitable and down to earth solutions and seamless port operations for the sake of posterity. Vessels are now leaving to other African countries to discharge their cargoes, especially those on time charter contracts.

“We also demand reduction in the cost of doing business; removal of all the numerous security agencies in the ports, with the exception of Nigeria Customs Service. If that is done, hold Customs responsible for any failure in the Port. Since the ports have been concessioned, the security of the seaports should be left with the concessioners, while the Nigeria Police patrols the ports,” he said..

However, the Executive Secretary, Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Hassan Bello, in a recent interview with The Guardian said there was light at the end of the tunnel.

Bello, who also bemoaned the state of the port access roads, said the situation contributes to the high cost of doing business.

“I know they are groaning now, but we are looking at the effects of these things. The moment we fix that, you will see things coming to normal, and I am happy the Federal Government is aware of this, and even the traffic would disappear once we have rail and electronic systems in place.

“Everybody comes to ports now, but once electronic systems are introduced, it will make sure that you are only invited to Apapa when you have either cargo to deliver or pick up at the ports.

“About 5,000 trucks are always on the road, we don’t need to have all these 5,000 trucks clogging the roads; we need only 2,400, including the tankers.

“That is the essence of these reforms because people are just coming to Apapa unnecessarily. It shouldn’t be so, and it has to be restricted at a time.

“So, the issue is that we have to give priority to export. Those trying to export sometimes stay two months without getting access to the port and Shippers’ council has intervened and it’s a bit faster now. We could do a little bit more because some of the exports are perishable, some are weather and temperature sensitive and we need to look at all these things.

“But we are working and coming together with the agencies every month to assess the situation. It is helpful because we meet to harmonise, we have to synchronise our positions to see how we can help this economy,” Bello said.

He continued: “Things are turning round now, and I hope these dark days of distortions will go away, the reason being that the infrastructure is being looked into. Now we have finished two important roads: Creek Road and Liverpool Road. We are looking at Mile 2 – TinCan Island roads. If that is done, it will give us some respite.

“Secondly, we are experimenting with a multimodal approach for evacuation and delivery of cargoes from the port. We are experimenting with the train, the Shippers’ Council is working with Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), to ensure that these things are done and we think we will have about four trips delivering and removing empty containers and also taking out laden containers from the port by rail.

“For every trip, the rail line will remove about 38 trucks from the road. Then we have the barge operations, although it is currently there, it is not moderated and then NPA and shippers’ council are working to see that we have regulations as far as barge operation is concerned,” he said.

On the cumbersome processes, Bello said digitization will change the situation for better by next year. He said: “There are lots of challenges. We have found out that we have only about 60 per cent digitisation of the ports, which means many people go to the ports to transact business physically. Now, we are going to work with others to eliminate that. We have already carried out some research since that time to see what the things involved. Some transactions are done manually, some are done electronically, and some are both. We are now working to see that we change that, for example, going to collect invoices at the ports. Why will you go to the ports to collect an invoice when this transaction could be done electronically?

“Another is going to the ports to look for rotation numbers or even the expected date of arrival of vessels. These are minor things that you sit down in your office and do. So we are going to eliminate that and we hope, I am talking about all the other agencies that we are working together with the banks and Customs to see that by March next year (2021), 90 per cent of transactions are done online,” he said.


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