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Pains of failed Executive Order linger at seaports

By Sulaimon Salau
03 June 2020   |   3:40 am
Hopes were raised amid optimism and expectations of better days ahead when the Presidential Order was declared at the nation’s seaports in 2017, but three years after, the whole thing came out in utter disappointment.

Hopes were raised amid optimism and expectations of better days ahead when the Presidential Order was declared at the nation’s seaports in 2017, but three years after, the whole thing came out in utter disappointment.

The Executive Order was meant to enhance the Ease of Doing Business, entrench transparency and promote efficiency at the seaports. To ease procedural hiccups, it directed all relevant ministries, departments and agencies operating at the nation’s seaports to harmonise their operations into a single interface station

Highlights of the ‘Executive Order on the Promotion of Transparency and Efficiency in the Business Environment’ signed by Yemi Osinbajo in his capacity as Acting President on May 19, 2017, includes that; “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 on a weekly basis.

“Each port in Nigeria shall assign an existing export terminal to be dedicated to the exportation of agriculture produce within 30 days of the issuance of this order.

“The Apapa Port shall resume 24-hour operations within 30 days of the issuance of this order.” The order also outlawed touting and bribe-taking by official or unofficial persons at any port in Nigeria.

It stated: “Any official caught soliciting or receiving bribes from passengers or other port users, according to the order, shall be subject to immediate removal from post and disciplinary as well as criminal proceedings in line with extant laws and regulations.” Unfortunately, these aspirations never see the light of the day.

The Guardian investigations revealed that not a single one of the Executive Order has been implement successfully at the nations seaports, as the government agencies threw caution to the wind and flagrantly violate the directives.

The Single Window project has become a mirage with the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) making unending promises. The 24-hour operations is still begging to be realistic, as customs officers goes to bed with all pleasure at night. Touting was barely reduced through the unrelenting effort of the Managing Director, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Hadiza Bala Usman who personally visit the ports often and ensure strict adherence to the port pass issued, but the bribery and corruption remains the order of the day.

Despite efforts by the government to rid Apapa and its environs of gridlock, the chaotic traffic situation has continued to linger unabated because those who have been assigned the responsibility of ensuring sanity on the port access roads are taking advantage of the situation to enrich themselves.

For example, the truck owners who always spend days on the dilapidated port access roads before gaining access to the ports have alleged that the Presidential Task Force established to clear and regulate the traffic are now exploiting them.

The deep-rooted corruption by the task team deployed to manage the gridlock had frustrated every effort by government including the call-up system initiative introduced by NPA to streamline truck access to the port.

Hapless truck drivers and owners have accused unscrupulous officials of the task team of demand huge sums of money ranging from N250,000 to N300,000 per truck in order to accord truckers not in the Lilypond park ‘priority access’ to the port.

President, Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO), Chief Remi Odugbemi said: “What is happening in Apapa is a situation of the more you look, the less you see. Business is still going on as usual and the task team has refused to leave because they are benefiting from the chaos. They have formed a cartel and if you are not in that group, they will not pass your truck no matter who you are.”

Yet, Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo had visited Apapa three times after the Executive Order to ensure that normalcy returned to the nation’s gateway. His efforts seems not yielding expected results, save for the ongoing construction of the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway billed to be completed before the end of this year.

The road is being constructed by Dangote Group. The firm is financing the reconstruction of the expressway at the cost N72.9 billion under the federal government’s infrastructure tax credit scheme. The expressway is being reconstructed using concrete pavement which, according to Babatunde Fashola, minister of works and housing, will last for 40 years.

As struggle to sanitise the ports continues, leaving activities of importation and exportation of goods in the doldrums, the terminal operators are counting their losses, while the importers groan under high demurrage accumulated as a result of trapped cargoes.

The terminal operators in the two major seaports in Lagos (Apapa and Tin Can Island Ports) are counting their losses, as operations have dwindled to the lowest ebb. Congestion has built up at the terminals; while importers are worried about the increasing demurrage accrued on trapped cargoes due to inaccessibility to the ports.

The NPA boss, Bala Usman has been at the forefront of implementing the Executive Order since the directive was issued, but assessed political intrigues, muscle flexing among agencies, security lapses and infrastructure decay have been a clog in the wheel of successful implementation.

Usman, on getting the order moved into action immediately. The first move was to restrict human and vehicular traffic at the ports, which the security unit of the authority enforced. With that, only those who have genuine business are allowed into the ports.
She immediately called for a meeting of stakeholders which was attended by all necessary agencies. The closed-door meeting was to review operations of every stakeholder and harmonise all operations in line with the executive order.

During the meeting, Usman announced the list of agencies to be at the ports. They include NPA; Nigerian Customs Service (NCS); Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA); Nigeria Police; Department of State Security (DSS); Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) and Port Health.

Although the Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) was not on the list announced by Usman, the agency cried out that it has always been on the list since 2011, a development that led to their being included by the NPA days later. Other agencies, such as Standard Organisation of Nigeria, SON, and National Agency for Drug

Administration and Safety Control, ( NAFDAC) are to be in the ports on invitation. Agencies not on the list were warned to keep off or face the wrath of government, but they have continued to lock horns with the authority till this moment.
Comptroller General of Customs, Hameed Ali had also said Nigeria Customs Service had embarked on a change process that required the full commitment of other stakeholders.

“We are trying to reduce the time and process in what we are doing and it is only when we abide by this that we can do that. I want to enjoin all of you to join hands with us and make sure that we implement this to the latter.

“When the orders are fully implemented, we will succeed in the mandate and it will also reduce time of doing business at the port,” he said. On the 24-hours cargo clearance, the customs had earlier in 2017 drawn up a roster for its officers to run a shift process, but that procedure only lasted for few weeks, before it was suspended.

National President, Association Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents, Tony Iju Nwabunike, said: “There is nothing like Executive order. Everybody is just doing what they like.”

He said, “the customs are still not operating 24 hours cargo clearance and that is the situation at the moment.”Spokesperson, Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria, (STOAN) Bolaji Akinola, also confirmed that none of the provision of the Executive Order was implemented, adding that the port is currently operating in under a stiff policy that does not promote Ease of Doing Business.

Meanwhile, the Chairman, STOAN), Princess Vicky Haastrup, had earlier told The Guardian that the Presidential Executive Order on Ease of Doing Business at the ports has not yielded any meaningful results, as agencies continue to frustrate businesses at the nation’s gateway.She said, for example, the 24-hour cargo clearance is currently not operational, just as the customs constitutes encumbrances at ports gates and on the roads.

She said: “I know the Vice President visited the port, and he was very concerned about the issue of traffic, and other things that are militating against the Ease of Doing Business at the ports, but I tell you, it’s one thing to give the order, and another thing for people to implement the order given.Let me say that as far as I am concerned, I haven’t seen any impact… Sometimes, I am forced to ask, is the NCS bigger than the whole of this country?” she said.

Haastrup also accused some government agencies that were asked to vacate the ports, but refused to obey. “Apart from the customs, government agencies that were asked to vacate the place are still there. In fact, they are even increasing in number. That is the true position of things at the ports. I am telling you this because if we don’t say the truth, things will never be fixed.

“Orders and instructions have been given, but nothing has been carried out, and I tell you right now, I am sure that even the Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority, Hadiza Bala Usman, must be tired because the situation on ground appears to be bigger. If so much effort is not getting enough support from where support should come from, I am sorry, nothing will happen.

“Terminal operators are working at night, but I haven’t seen a customs officer working at night. I know that by 6:00p.m. or 7:00p.m. you don’t get to see NCS officers around anymore, but I don’t know of any 24-hour cargo clearance that is going on. If anything, they are only carrying it out with mouths. It is not happening, and that is the truth,” she said.

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