Determined to make Nigerian ports more efficient, cost effective, generate more revenue and end diversion of goods to neighbouring countries, the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), which is the economic regulator in the system, has embarked on strategic measures as part of the new port order, writes Francis Ugwoke
With growing uncertainty about oil revenue, the nation’s maritime industry appears to be the next target or hope to sustain the national economy. This is if all the loopholes through which government loses substantial revenue are blocked. The other task lies in maximising the potentials of all the segments of the industry. The move for this may have begun with the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) unveiling measures which according to the Executive Secretary, Mr Hassan Bello, are targeted at making Nigerian ports achieve more efficiency, cost effectiveness and contribute more to the national economy. To Bello, when all the wastages currently in the system are cut off, Nigerian ports will in turn be cost effective and generate more revenue.
Bello’s view is given more credence by the influential human rights activist and maritime lawyer, Olisa Agbakoba (SAN) who argues that revenue from the maritime industry is capable of sustaining the nation’s economy with the right policy by the government and its agencies. Agbakoba’s view is coincidentally coming at a time when the management of Shippers’ Council unveiled strategic measures that will lead to efficiency and more revenue in the ports industry. The Ports Regulator last week announced the measures as part of the new port order for a total turnaround of the old ways in the ports. It is targeted at achieving the desired efficiency and cost effectiveness in the system. This includes a template and standard tariff system that will reduce cost of doing business in the ports by 30 – 40 percent. With a unified tariff system for all service providers, it is envisaged that Nigerian ports would be attractive. The new order includes a platform for which every stakeholder would integrate.
This would assist the council for easy monitoring of activities of those it is supposed to regulate. Already, the Council is working with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to ensure that every payment is reflected in the platform. As part of the new order, every container arriving the nation’s ports will have to be scanned at the point of discharge from the ship before being moved away for stacking. This will achieve some level of security of what is being brought into the country.
It will also assist the importers in early clearance of their goods as the delay in scanning often suffered by the importers is eliminated at the early stage. Bello described the new port order as a package designed by the Council to bring a total change that will facilitate trade in the port system.
The platform, Bello explained would be a command and control centre that will create a “nexus between all existing systems in the industry”. He described this as a means of integration, adding that the idea was to make it easier for all stakeholders to benefit from what the Council was offering. He identified all stakeholders, including customs brokers, agencies involved in inspection,
shipping companies, real infrastructure operators within the ports, Nigerian
Ports Authority (NPA), maritime administrators, customs service, terminal operators, road haulers, exporters and transporters as part of the platform.
To him, harmonizing the system, would lead to transparency, pointing out that with this arrangement, the importer will be able to “trade with certainty as to how much to pay and how long to take delivery of the goods. The new port order, according to Bello was designed to “eliminate all the wastages in the system so that the cost of doing business is reduced.” “The owner of the cargo should know when his cargo is due to arrive so that he can prepare well in advance to make arrangements to clear his goods in good time”, he said.
“ As the ship is discharging, the cargo is also being scanned, and the image is used by the Customs Service to commence clearing process in terms of segregating the cargo for whatever line of inspection in line with customs’ procedures introduced for security measures”, he said. Bello explained further that the policy of scanning containers as they are being discharged was line with the policy of the International Maritime Authority (IMO) in which Nigeria is party. This method, he said, was the current practice in other maritime nations who belong to IMO.
Objectives of the New Order
On the objectives of the new order, Bello said it is to establish a framework where the competitiveness of the industry would be enhanced above those of its competitors. He identified Nigeria’s competitors as Cotonou, Ghana, Cameroun, among others. In one way or the other, Nigeria is suffering cargo loss to these countries due to diversion by some importers. But Bello argues that with improved efficiency and cost effectiveness, it is expected that Nigerian importers who use neighbouring ports from where they smuggle their goods into the country would think twice. This will be for the good of the country. He however charges all stakeholders, including all service providers, customs brokers, government agencies to give their best in terms of services to attract more patronage and check diversion of goods. Apart from this, he identified safety, security, integration of an intelligent processing of data from all stakeholders and other information as among the objectives of the new order.
Besides, he said that the new order remains the best way to track dangerous goods in what will save the country a lot of risk. The new measure will equally lead to harmonization and simplification of administrative and clearance procedures with established business networks and supports, he explained. He added that the overall concern of the council as the Ports Economic Regulator is to improve the efficiency of shipping services in Nigeria in such a way that those who have been using the neighbouring ports will have no reason whatsoever to do so considering improved efficiency and cost effectiveness in our own port system. He further disclosed that the maritime electronic super-highway that will evolve from the platform will be accessible for only users who collaborate with the NSC.
Agbakoba on More Revenue from Shipping
To Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, the nation’s maritime sector is equal to the task in terms of filling the gap created by any uncertainty in oil revenue. Agbakoba recommends that government should have strong policies and also implement the recommendations of the Presidential Committee, which he headed, on how to move the sector forward. While commending government for implementing one of the recommendations that the Nigerian Shippers’ Council should be made a regulator, he however, added that more needs to be done by passing the Ports and Harbour Bill.
“We are still waiting for the law to be passed. Not only that, many other laws that are unpassed. Nobody is going to invest in the ports if the Ports and Harbour Bill is hanging. Nobody. So, there are lots of laws that are hanging that we recommended should go through.”
He expressed the concern about the type of tariffs being imposed in the system which according to him makes the ports unattractive. But he said that it was a good thing that the Ports Regulator is barking over this. “The duty of government is to say no….. So, this is the first time as far as I know that in the past 40 years history of maritime, agency of government has barked! So we must applaud Nigerian Shippers’ Council. I want to see NIMASA, Customs and all other government agencies barking.”