Maritime experts set agenda for next administration
As the country prepares for a change in guard on May 29, stakeholders in the maritime industry have intensified calls for the development of the sector, which is struggling with challenges left unattended to by previous administrations.
Under-development of its shipping industry, poor port infrastructure, insecurity, unease of doing business, absence of synergy between government agencies, untapped resources, poor investment, among other challenges, have deprived the country of the potential of the sector to drive economic growth.
Recall that the Nigerian Export-Import (NEXIM) Bank, earlier in the year, said the country loses over $5 billion yearly as freight payment for shipping services without any concrete plans to domesticate such funds.
Also, President Muhammadu Buhari had said that Nigeria loses an estimated $26.3 billion yearly to maritime crimes.
Stakeholders in the sector also pointed out areas that should be addressed, as a matter of priority, once the new administration comes.
A lecturer with the Federal College of Fisheries and Marine Technology in Lagos, Captain Fola Ojutalayo, said maritime security needs to be urgently addressed.
He said based on the sector’s potential, it has come under siege by criminal elements who orchestrate acts of piracy, sea robbery, arms proliferation, crude oil theft, terrorism, migration, illegal and unregulated fishing and oil theft within the country’s territorial waters that must be looked into.
Ojutalayo said other areas that must be addressed include, total port reform, new economic agenda for the sector as well as an overhaul, especially with the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS).
Others are workable direct foreign investment policy, cabotage regime, green field development, free trade zone restrictions and tariff.
Ojutalayo said attention should also be given to coastal states, adding that the country needs to utilise its resources such as, the 900 nautical miles of coastline, 572 inland waterways and 10,000km of navigable waterways among others, to generate more revenue to revitalise the economy.
“Statistics show a total freight cost estimate of between $5 billion and $6 billion yearly, while the maritime component of Nigeria’s oil and gas industry is worth an estimated $8 billion alongside seaborne transportation, oceanic extractive resource exploitation and export processing zones.
“There is no other time than now for the incoming administration to protect the country’s over $14 billion maritime trade. I must say that a safe, secure and efficient shipping industry would assist in revitalising and diversifying the economy away from crude oil exploration to a vibrant maritime trade,” he said.
The Acting President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Dr. Kayode Farinto, called for the creation of the Federal Ministry of Maritime Affairs to harness the full potential of the industry.
He explained that the creation of the ministry will enable the country to fully explore its blue economy project and increase revenue earnings for the Federal Government, create employment for youths and add value to the nation’s economy.
Farinto also called for the reduction of 15 per cent levy on used vehicles and an increase in the age limit of imported used vehicles to 15 years from the date of manufacturing.
He urged the President-elect, Bola Tinubu, to appoint Special Advisers on Maritime and Customs Affairs, as this will help his government have professional and technical advice that will grow the industry and generate more revenue for the country.
The Secretary of ANLCA West Zone, Nnamdi Ibekwe, said high duty on imported goods is crippling, trade as the effect is being felt in the decline of import and manufacturing.
According to him, imports are no longer coming into the country due to the unstable and varying customs duty at the different commands.
“The Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR) is N3 million for a 20ft container and N5 million for a 40ft container at Tin Can. Initially, it was N1 million for 40 containers. Customs arm twist importers and their agents and as a result of this, many importers have diverted their containers to ports in neighbouring countries and this is affecting business a lot,” he said.
Former President of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Dr. Increase Uche, said there is a pressing need to ease cargo clearing processes and vessel turnaround time at the ports to ensure ease of doing business.
According to him, having a shorter vessel turnaround time can be achieved by reducing delays, curtailing bureaucracy and curbing extortions in the clearance of vessels.
He also stressed the need to fix the breakdown of Customs servers that have become more frequent and a major bottleneck in cargo clearance at the ports in Lagos, especially the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) valuation policy on imported vehicles.
Uche further stressed the need for better engagement of stakeholders in the implementation of the vehicle identification number system.
Also, a freight forwarder, Nnadi Ugochukwu, urged government to engage more providers of Information Technology (IT) infrastructure for seamless trade.
He said having only one provider has caused more loss to the country, importers and agents owing to the constant network fluctuation and server breakdown that has led to billions of naira lost to undue delays and demurrage payment.
A Customs broker, Basil Agbara, called for the implementation of friendly trade policies to streamline the multiple agencies cluttered in the ports that hinder trade facilitation.
Agbara also called for the speedy implementation of a single window system to minimise human interface at the ports.
He said there should be the deployment of technology at all stages of approvals and documentation.
The Administration Secretary of the Association of Maritime Truck Owners of Nigeria (AMATO), Mohammed Sani, called for urgent action on the artificial extortion barrier that has taken a serious toll on the ability of the maritime haulage and logistics sector to deliver efficiently and profitably.
He said there are over 60 checkpoints of extortion from Ijora Olopa, Costain, Mile 2 down to Tin Can and Apapa ports, where uniformed and ununiformed men collect unofficial and unreceipted monies from truckers.
According to him, before a truck can access the ports to pick up imports or drop off export containers, the owner must pay between N5,000 and N10,000 to officials assigned to ensure sanity on the port access roads, who are in collaboration with hoodlums.
Corroborating Sani, a maritime lawyer and freight forwarder, Fred Akokhia, called for a review of the current call-up system with a view to making the system efficient and less vulnerable to corruption and extortion.
He said while other countries deploy multimodal transport systems in cargo evacuation from the ports to the hinterlands, Nigeria still depends on roads through trucks, which has led to traffic congestion on the port access roads.
Former President of the Nigeria Merchant Navy Officers and Water Transport Senior Staff Association, Matthew Alalade, stressed the provision of a national fleet and indigenous vessels, which would create jobs in the industry and improve revenue generation for the country.
He said the vessels would enable cadets and seafarers to have more sea-time training to compete globally, just like the Philippines which earns from its maritime sector and exportation of seafarers.
Alalade also pointed out that the seaports need adequate security, noting that insecurity is depriving investors and importers of trading in the country.
Maritime practitioner, Patrick Osita Chukwu, stressed that fixing access roads to the seaports should be made a priority, noting that the bad state of the roads is the major cause of the problems at the ports.
He said due to the bad roads, containers spend more time than is expected inside the ports, as cargo owners are forced to pay more in demurrage.
B Chukwu said this has also made clearing costs expensive and forced some importers to take their cargoes to neighbouring ports.