Navy’s return to seaports will increase burden on importers, agents – stakeholders
The Nigerian Navy’s plea to the Federal Government to allow it to return to seaports to participate in cargo examination to check the importation of small arms and weapons into the country has been greeted with negative reactions from stakeholders.
The Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo had at the weekend, told the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, that since the Navy left the ports around 1996, the influx of small arms and light weapons into the country is scary, hence the move to return to the port.
He said his request for the naval presence at the port has not gained the necessary traction, adding that he would not give up on the quest to involve his men in cargo examination at the port, especially with the establishment of the Office of the National Coordinator on Small Arms and Light Weapons by the Office of the National Security Adviser.
But stakeholders have kicked against the naval return, saying the cost of doing business at the nation’s seaports is alarmingly high due to the proliferation of government agencies.
Most of these agencies see the port as an avenue to make quick money, thereby inadvertently contributing to the high cost of doing business at the nation’s gateways.
They said there is nowhere in the world the military is involved in cargo checks at the port, adding that too many government agencies at the ports are already overburdening hapless shippers.
They charged that the Nigerian Navy maintains its strong presence on the waters and concentrate on protecting the nation from external aggression through the waterways as well as help the country put an end to crude oil theft and pipeline vandalisation.
Already, some of the agencies involved in cargo examination at the seaports include the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Nigeria Police Force (NPF), Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS), Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) and the Department of State Security (DSS), among others.
The Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) also maintain a strong presence at the ports.
In addition to these, Customs as well as other security and traffic control agencies maintain a strong presence on the port access roads, intercepting and examining every cargo that exits the ports.
Meanwhile, all the agencies impose some form of a levy on consignees before allowing their cargoes to exit the port.
The stakeholders are also arguing that the presence of the Navy at the ports will lead to an increase in cargo clearing time and hinder trade facilitation, which will further lead to the diversion of Nigeria-bound cargoes to neigbouring countries.
The General Secretary, Association of Bonded Operators of Nigeria, Haruna Omolajomo, kicked against the presence of the Navy at the seaport, saying: “ Don’t they have primary assignments they are supposed to do? If yes, have they achieved it 100 per cent for them to say they are seeking more responsibility?”
He said there are many relevant and irrelevant agencies at the ports adding unnecessary costs to the importers through extortions, unnecessary delays, demurrage and many other bottlenecks, which will eventually be passed to the consumers.
He said rather than participate in the clearing and examination of cargoes at the ports, the Nigerian Navy should focus on their duty which is to regularly monitor and secure the nation’s waterways.
“They should be made to collaborate with other similar agencies in the maritime industry such as NIMASA, Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA), Marine Police, National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), NPA, etc, in the safety and security of our waterways. They will be more relevant there than be part of cargo examination that is far beyond their jurisdiction,” he said.
Omolajomo stated that currently, importers and their agents are still complaining about the multiplicity of jobs at the ports, which is seriously affecting the international standards of 48-hour service delivery as approved by the Federal Government.
He said if the concerns of the Nigerian Navy are genuinely the issue of compromise or checking appropriately the proliferation of ammunition, they should write Customs to express their concerns and plead for their total cooperation and understanding.
A former Director of Operations at the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Captain Warredi Enisuoh, said scanners should be deployed for cargo examination rather than the human interface.
He said while other countries are using scanners, Nigeria is still doing a physical examination, which he said is hazardous, especially containers laden with nuclear waste.
Enisuoh questioned why the importers of the arms and ammunition intercepted by the government agencies at the seaports and land borders have not been prosecuted nor court proceedings held to know those responsible for its importation.
Enisuoh said importers of illegal ammunition ply their trades at night, noting that ships come into the nation’s water at night and discharge the weapons into canoes that take them to their various destinations.
He charged the Navy to go after illegal activities on the nation’s water rather than station themselves at the ports.
The National President, National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Lucky Amiwero, said the seaport is a civilian zone and not for the Nigerian Navy as backed by Decree 61 of 1999, which saw the removal of the agency from the port.
He said having the Navy at the port is against International best practices in which Nigeria is a signatory to many conventions that kick against the presence of the military at the ports.
He said the Navy has to defend the nation’s territorial waters from pirates, adding that the presence of other agencies at the ports is illegal as they are not backed by law.
Amiwero noted that Subsection 1(a)(b) of Act 61 of 1999 empowers the Nigeria Customs Service to check for the importation of arms, ammunition and illegal goods.
Amiwero further called for a change of the nation’s pre-inspection regime to pre-arrival inspection, that is pre-screening, which he said is what other countries are doing today.
The National Publicity Secretary of the Association of Registered Freight Forwarders of Nigeria, (ARFFN), Taiwo Fatomilola, questioned what the Nigerian Navy is going to do at the port when there are other security agencies present with duplication of duties.
He said the Navy was removed from the port due to extortion, noting that their return to the port is going to be a duplication of duty, which will amount to extortion and a hindrance to trade facilitation in the country.