BY ISAAC ORIEKA
Nigeria’s Water front is arguably the best in the world, but it lacks consistency and appropriate policy frame work for development even with the innovative measures put in place to up the competitiveness of Nigerian ports with other leading ports in the western world and Africa in general.
When the port reform it was to begin, the Obasanjo led government at the time; concession was picked as the only way forward that can position the ports to render excellent services to port users and operators.
By concessioning, this implies that the port is conceding four of its elements to the new port owners and operators. Thereby aiding a faster cargo clearance for importers before the arrival of the cargoes from Europe.
The Nigerian economy is tied to oil while other countries in the world guide its economy through the maritime sector. Maritime is supposed to generate 45 percent employment to Nigerians. Sadly this is not happening due to the inability of the Federal government to provide the enabling environment for a positive investment drive. Local industries have closed shop. While others are relocating to smaller African countries because of the harsh government policies. Sensitive sectors are not manned by technocrats in Nigeria. Everything in Nigeria is politicized.
The concessionary process is meant to speed up cargo clearance as fast as possible. The question is has cargo clearance within the ports been a reality since government set the 48-hour clearance target more than a decade now? Terminal operators are operating are operating a concession without a statutory law. There is no law backing the concession project. As it is designed by World Bank to milk Nigeria’s economy.
According to stakeholders, cargo clearance is being hampered by poor infrastructure, work environments, roads, non-linkage of rail to the sea ports, and unharnessed water ways. Low deployment of technology, inconsistent policies, unmotivated work force and unprofessional clearing agents, and dishonest importers.
Also issues of multiple and irrelevant documentations by government agencies, particularly the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), were also cited for delays in the cargo clearing process.
“With advanced technology, and information on the cargoes prior to their arrival, cargo clearance is expected to be faster since all the service providers would have prepared in advance for the reception and processing of clearance, compared to when everyone had to write for the manifest” says, and official of the Nigeria Shippers Council.
Some other experts believe that there should be a re-orientation of the port operators towards trade facilitation. Importers have also been urged to be honest when declaring their cargoes. Lack of integrity on the part of importers and inefficiency of bank officials contribute to the delays at the ports.
The Nigerian Customs Service is playing politics with their responsibilities. If they facilitate trade through speedy clearance of goods at the ports, more revenue will be generated which will increase the revenue base of the economy. Although, there has been some relative improvement in how businesses are being conducted in the ports, but a lot needs to be done in the area Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR) scheme of the Customs Service.
Globally, the inspection regime has changed. Inspection of cargo is at the point of loading to avoid arms and ammunitions coming into the country. We harbor the highest number of ammunitions in the country, because of our defective inspection process by Customs.
Everybody wants to make money at the port, including every government agency. Therefore, if we must achieve a faster cargo clearance in Nigeria, we need to plan well and check the duplication of duties at the port.
Terminal operators and the shipping companies embark on unwholesome practices, which indicate that their activities are injurious to the economy. The shipping companies do not have any law regulating their activities. They manipulate the porous economic policies to make money for themselves.
While Nigeria is battling to achieve 48-hour cargo clearance, Benin Republic is targeting 24 hours for clearing cargoes in Cotonou ports, which has since increased the volume of cargoes since 2011.
Another problem militating against this exercise is poor and epileptic power supply in the country “When there is no power, how do we go online? When you need to use the internet”. How do you achieve a 48-hour cargo clearing when there are still Customs bottlenecks? Moreso, that the target requires re-organization and regeneration of many existing laws and procedures. Says an official of the Nigerian Ports Authority.
It is pertinent to note that inadequate administrative and technical-known how and high Customs rates have also been identified as constraints to delayed cargo clearance. Therefore, freight forwarders are advising that Nigeria should learn from Ghana, where cargo rates are flexible and encouraging so that port vendors will ultimately benefit from government gesture and do business profitably in the country.
To achieve this target, since the Nigerian ports competes with other ports in Europe and Central Africa, there is the need to urgently streamline cargo clearance procedures so as to attract more cargoes to the ports.