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‘Officials contribute to inefficiencies at Nigerian seaports’

By Benjamin Alade
11 October 2019   |   3:17 am
Among other irregularities witnessed in the Nigerian seaports, port officials have been identified as a factor that contributes to inefficiencies at the country’s ports.

Trucks causing gridlock at Berger yard in Apapa, Lagos yesterday… ` PHOTO:SUNDAY AKINLOLU

Among other irregularities witnessed in the Nigerian seaports, port officials have been identified as a factor that contributes to inefficiencies at the country’s ports.

Besides, the anomalies including corruption and exercise of discretionary powers by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and other port officials have had huge implications for the Federal Government ease of doing business in Nigerian seaports and terminals, leading to a revenue loss of about N2.5 trillion annually in the ports industry.

These assertions were revealed in a survey titled ‘Operations at Nigerian seaports and terminal’, made available to participants in Lagos, on Tuesday, at a Round Table Session by the Maritime Anti-Corruption Network (MACN) and its private-sector facing arm, Convention on Business Integrity (CBi).

Conversely, stakeholders at the session stressed the need for a review of the business processes of both government and private entities operating within the Nigerian maritime sector.

This, according to them, would ensure compliance with the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and improve efficiency and service delivery.

The report, which was jointly funded by ActionAid and UK Aid, revealed that negative operational elements had pushed many customers to now use ports and terminals of neighbouring countries, thereby leading to loss of foreign exchange earnings for Nigeria.

The report revealed that port capacity utilization in Nigeria stands at between 38 and 40 per cent, adding that approximately 40 per cent of businesses located around the ports communities have either relocated to other areas, scaled-down operations or completely closed down.

“There is a general consensus that corruption exists in the ports and have grown over the years to the extent that the most popular identities of ports in Nigeria are corruption and inefficiency.

“A major issue in the ports inefficiency marketplace is the role of noncompliance with extant rules by actors. While the SOP is clear on many of these issues, the real situation on the ground appears to vary. Many people subvert rules and refuse to comply with regulations.

“While this noncompliance is corruption in itself, it further builds direct corruption by creating a fertile ground for grand corruption.

“There is thus the need to further understand the compliance face of the inefficiency issues at the ports. There are usually high costs of doing business in the ports as charges are inconsistent, yet where the monies from high cost go is uncertain with very little fractions going into government coffers.

“The problem is not about relevant policies, frameworks or government order, and pronouncement but compliance. Even when authorities put relevant policies in place, compliance and enforcement are poor. Port officers/officials appear too strategically and creatively powerful that they manipulate the system and port operations with unwavering exercise of discretions against the rules even when this makes doing business at the ports difficult.”

The study recommended that the government needed to empower the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to be able to maintain effective oversight on all officials and officers at the port.

“The NPA should be able to sanction non-compliance and exercise of discretions directly and indirectly. There is also the need to empower customers to report corruption and inefficiency directly to the highest level beyond the ports in a way that will prevent witch-haunting and backlashes.

The survey advocated the need to further engagement with ports/terminals authorities and officials/officers on the need to smoothen ports/terminals’ processes and operations and the possible consequences (positive and disciplinary) of their (in) actions now and the future. There is a need to better institute change strategies at the ports and terminals.

“This does not only have to do with structures but also of attitude of not only the officials but also the customers. The promotion of a culture of integrity and excellent dispositions and practices against discretion are key. And where officials or any actors are found wanting, elaborate sanctions must be meted out for deterrence. There is a need for strategic partnerships with anti-corruption agencies like the Code of Conduct Bureau, Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to track and follow up complaints and officials.

“Customers should become strategic partners in enforcement/compliance and driving anti-corruption. Officials still exercise discretionary powers and perpetrate corruption without fear of consequences, “it stated.

The Chief Executive Officer, The CBi, Soji Apampa, said reforming operations in the maritime sector would help reduce obstacles hindering Ease of Doing Business and eliminate bottlenecks that encourage corrupt tendencies.

He said there were structures presently to facilitate the compliance of SOPs and ensure the training of people at various business organisations operating in and within the port environment.

“The SOPs as launch by the Vice president is to make business processes in port more efficient in service delivery, so all port users must review their processes to comply with the SOPs, as this would enhance accountability,” he said.

But speaking from the government agencies’ perspective, the Deputy Comptroller Enforcement, Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) Lagos, Dera Nnadi, said: “What we are going to do is to improve on our variable facilities and as much as possible to automate processes and improve much on human capacity, that is basically what we would do, but then we need to improve the infrastructures in the other ports in the country and eliminate all those areas that we think are not necessary; that way we would achieve a lot in service delivery.

“We have enjoyed great synergy with other government agencies in the country in terms of collaboration working as a team because” he noted.

On his part, Head of Collective Action and Partnerships (EMEA), Maritime Anti-Corruption Network (MACN), Vivek Menon, said key message from the event was that Nigeria in terms of port operations want more than port compliance, “as there are lots of systems to allow people engage further with Nigerian Port Authority (NPA) and make it a better place to ensure there is transparency, fair trade in the country.

“The government has already put in place the Ease of Doing Business procedure and not just in concept, but are also working very hard to put it into play with various agencies in involved,” he said.

The Chief Superintendent of Quarantine, MMIA Command, Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Service, Ogundele Oluwashina, stressed the need to urgently reintroduce the service of his agency at the various entry points in the country, saying the nation was losing a lot because of lack of effective certification of various agricultural produce.

Commissioner of Police, Maritime Command, Imohimi Edgal, urged stakeholders in the sector to employ technology in digitising the processes of maritime services while ensuring the safety of lives and property at the ports.