Jime’s anti corruption campaign at the ports
His first coming was at the Nigerian Export Processing Zone Authority (NEPZA), where he proved his mettle as a no-nonsense administrator, especially when integrity is involved. As the managing director, he epitomized leadership by example. Everyone knew that once he puts his foot down, there is no twisting anything.
Although he is a quiet administrator, his colleagues at the House of Representatives, where he represented Makurdi/Guma Federal Constituency of Benue State between 2007 and 2015, knew him as a dogged advocate and a man who will leave no stone unturned when it comes to probity and constitutionalism. Nowhere else has his sterling commitment to national development shone forth as his fight against corruption at the Nigerian seaports?
It is not in doubt that these qualities persuaded President Muhammadu Buhari to appoint Barrister Emmanuel Lyambee Jime, former Speaker, Benue State House of Assembly (1992-1993) as the Executive Secretary and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) in 2021.
The astute administrator minces no words during his meeting with executives under him that he meant business in eradicating corruption at the seaports. According to him, “I was convinced the Nigerian Shippers Council has one of the most technically proficient and efficient members of staff, which ultimately makes my job very easy. Relying on the rich knowledgeable staff, I knew achieving success was just a question of time.”
One of the areas Jime focused on is the achievement of twenty-four-hour port operations, even though confronted by the inability of some government agencies to stand against working round the clock. Even at that, the executive secretary galvanized relevant stakeholders’ cooperation through consultations and dialogue to ensure the 24-hour port operations become a reality. He knew the task was herculean, yet he confronted it headlong. The fact is that he had to harness the potential of the terminal operators, shipping lines, clearing agents, and security agencies among others.
Unknown to many, corruption in the maritime industry was highest at the shipping companies and port terminals resulting in sky rocketing charges which led to the diversion of cargo to Benin Republic, Togo or Ghana. One of the causes is the fact that the government gave shipping companies’ licences but no charges limits.
They, therefore, charged at their discretion, which needed to be checked. The uncontrolled charges and endemic corruption also led to capital flight in the sense that there was no direct foreign investment in the sector since the concession of the ports terminals. Importers complained that all elements involved in goods clearance are corrupt as extortion is the order of the day. Arm twisting of importers is said to be so rampant that no matter how smart anyone thinks he is, one would still be subjected to “shake body” when the cargo is finally delayed to attract demurrage.
Fighting corruption has engaged Jime’s attention and concern since 2021. This concern was fueled by several reports fingering the ports as hotbeds of corruption. One of such reports was the 2019 study by Centre for International Private Enterprises in conjunction with the Lagos Chambers of Commerce and Industry and Financial Derivatives Company titled: Nigeria: Reforming the Maritime Ports.
The report submitted that while the efficiency of port processes is a major driver of trade and economic activities across countries, Nigeria’s case was rather gloomy. It went further to identify the major challenges facing the sector as including infrastructure deficits, policy and regulatory inconsistencies, overlapping functions and duplicity of roles among government agencies operating within ports across the country. In the circumstance, importers had to deal with bureaucratic red tape, constant delays; high costs, harassment, and demands for illegal charges by representatives of government agencies operating at the ports.
He has put in place a system of cargo clearance method that has reduced to the barest minimum the huge corruption of the past at the ports. Although his goal of attaining 24-hour cargo-clearing rendezvous is yet to be fully achieved, efforts are at top gear to reduce contact between givers and takers of services to avoid corruption.
Importers are now breathing an air of freedom and hoping that one day, they will be able to sit in the comfort of their homes to clear their goods without visiting the port. All he would just need to do is to key into the system by feeding his document and other profile from the office and pay necessary bills electronically to receive order for clearance at a given time.
Part of what Jime is emphasising in his campaign for corruption-free shipping is the institution of a virile pre-shipment inspection so that information concerning a shipment is received before the arrival of goods to make the automation system work. When this is done, contact between shipping companies, customs, the importers and Nigerian Ports Authority officials will be eliminated. In same vein, the goods, on arrival will go through scanning machines to avoid one hundred percent inspection by the customs.
Although it is not yet time to shout Uhuru, but the season of hope has come to the Shippers Council and with the support of the Governing Council and the various agencies and cooperation of the shipping companies, there is hope for corruption-free seaports across Nigeria. Jime, has instituted a disciplined workforce and as an advocate of freedom is already winning the campaign against corruption. The sustainability of the current campaign will be determined by time.
Ayela is a veteran journalist based in Lagos.