Idris Umar, Transport Minister
Various factors like policy inconsistency and poor implementation have combined to impede the actualisation of the huge potentials in the maritime sector of the economy in 2012, writes John Iwori
There is no doubt that security surveillance has increased in the nation’s seaports, airports and international borders. This is because unlike in 2011 when there were cases of arms and ammunitions discovery at Africa’s largest container terminal, Apapa Container Terminal (ACT), Lagos, security has improved tremendously.
It is on record that the outgoing year did not witness any importation of lethal weapons into the country. Many stakeholders who spoke to THISDAY were unanimous in their verdict that the absence of any arms and ammunition into Nigeria through the ports so far in 2012 was due to the increased security and surveillance in the nation’s seaports.
They were unanimous in their view that the security of the seaports, airports and international borders, particularly at the unofficial routes should be stepped up in the New Year. This is against the backdrop of the increased insecurity in the country occasioned by bomb blasts resulting in the destruction of several lives and properties worth billions of naira.
Veteran licensed customs agent, Prince Olusegun Ologbese, told THISDAY in Lagos that the maritime sector in the outgoing year witnessed what he described as “ many interesting developments” despite the turbulence within some of the agencies running it. Ologbese, who is also the Managing Director of Ogbese International Limited, maintained that there have been improvements in the maritime sector generally.
Reduction of Govt Agencies
One of the things that sign-posted the outgoing year was the reduction in the number of government agencies involved in the cargo clearance process in the nation’s seaports, airports and international borders.
The Federal Government order, which was announced by the Minister of Finance Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, on October 10, 2011 reduced the number of agencies operating in the nation’s seaports from 14 to 6.
The moves, which have been hailed by industry players, was according to Okonjo-Iweala, meant to streamline and enhance efficiency, as well as reduce the cost of doing business in the nation’s seaports as obtained in the developed world.
As a result of the new measure, the only agencies allowed to operate at the seaports are NPA, Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), Port Health, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Port Police Command, State Security Services (SSS) and Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS).
With the order, the National Drug Law and Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), National Agency for Foods and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and six others, were stopped from operating in the nation’s seaports, airports and international borders.
This order has been in force since then. Nevertheless, NDLEA has since recalled back to the port as part of the cargo clearance process.
Peace and Unity
According to Ologbese, who is also the life patron of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Ondo and Ekiti Councils, the present poor state of the economy has not hindered importation from coming in, revenue generation is high, and government is happy with the management of NCS.
This year seems to have many challenges, but the overall result is better compared to last year. On the freight forwarding profession, the Lagos-based licensed customs said one of the significant attributions to it is the spirit of unity and oneness now pervading the profession since the beginning of this year.
He specifically lauded the leadership of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), and the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarder (NAGAFF) for embracing peace and unity of purpose.
He lauded President Jonathan for announcing the removal of some items from the import prohibition list (IPL) last month. He however stated that while the lift in the ban of used vehicles popularly called “tokunbo” is good, the removal of textiles and other clothing from IPL was not a good policy.
“I think we have these things in the country. In other advanced countries, government no longer depends on duties from imports anymore. Rather, it protects its factories that are producing such goods and empower them to do more for the benefit of the people and the economy”, he said.
He specifically lauded the management of NCS, which presently has Alhaji Inde Dikko Abdullahi as its Comptroller General for its strides in meetings its statutory roles and responsibilities.
Collaboration on Piracy
During the outgoing year, the NIMASA stepped up efforts in combating piracy in Nigerian territorial waters. The collaboration with other stakeholders has reduced the incidence of piracy in Nigerian waters.
Though many industry players agreed that a lot still needs to be done to improve security of lives and property in the nation’s waters, many have opined that NIMASA, which presently has Mr. Ziakede Akpobolokemi as the Director General, is on the right track in addressing the challenges of sea robbery in Nigeria territorial waters.
NIMASA also joined forces with sister agencies in the Republic of Benin to address the challenge posed by sea piracy in the West and Central Africa sub-regions. Players in the maritime sector of the economy have maintained that there was need to sustained the momentum in the New Year, otherwise the gains already recorded by the NIMASA helmsman since the beginning of the this year would be eroded.
Criticism on Concession
The criticism that has trailed the port reforms which led to the handover of the day-to-day running of the nation’s seaports to concessionaires in 2006 is yet to abate. Many have opined that the problem is that the huge revenue that ought to accrue into the Federal Government’s coffers for the benefit of the citizenry is going into individual pockets in the name of concessionaires and private owners of the terminals.
Already, some industry players have expressed dismay that while the terminal operators are making almost 500 per cent gains on all their charges, the development and facilities upgrading in the ports are yet to be seen. “They promised heaven and earth before the concession, but we have not seen anything tangible so far. They are making much money. The much-promised job creation by the time they were coming in is not there”, a unionist who preferred anonymity, said.
The union leader however expressed delight that one of the good scores for the maritime sector in the outgoing year was the quick turn-around time of vessels calling at the nation’s seaports.
According to him, the development will encourage other port users to start looking at Nigerian ports as friendly. He also welcomed the adjustment in the age of used vehicles imported into the country.
His words: “This is a welcome idea because a greater number of these kinds of vehicles are coming in illegally while some people are feeding fat on it to the detriment of the citizenry and the Federal Government”.
National President, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Prince Olayiwola Shittu, said the aim of the concession was to bring efficiency and teach Nigerians how ports are managed in the developed world.
He however expressed regret that the manner in which the concession was done by the federal government, has made only 6 terminals become efficiently run.
According to him, some of the terminal operators lack the skill to manage and operate due to the politics and the absence of the political will to do the right thing. He also blamed the dilapidated structures some of them inherited as a setback.
He contended that the concession programme was not well planned because the issue of private residential areas as well as Oshodi/Apapa Expressway which has made business transaction difficult due to regular traffic jam was not put into consideration.
The ANLCA chieftain noted that none of the concessionaires was ready to crash the price of port charges because they have all agreed to charge it on import duties.
In spite of the criticism, some stakeholders have opined that the concessionaires have done well. They argued that even though the terminal operators have not yet reached the Promise Land as far as the port concession is concerned, they all agreed that port operation in Nigeria has left Egypt.
The nation’s seaports were in the hands of NPA until they were taken over by the concessionaires following the economic reforms, which led to the concession of the ports.
The exercise, which was midwifed by the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) during the administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo divested the management of NPA from the day-to-day running of the nation’s seaports situated at Onne, Lagos, Koko, Sapele, Port Harcourt, Calabar, and Warri.
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Marine Transport, Senator Zainab Kure, said the terminal operators have made significant improvement on their various facilities from what members of the committee saw during their tour of the terminals in Lagos Ports Complex (LPC), Apapa.
She said the investments by the various terminal operators have shown that the decision by government to concession the ports five years ago was a right step in the right direction.
Her words: “The idea by government to have concession the seaports in the country was the right step in the right direction. The concession of the ports has translated into improvement of our economy. It was necessary that we come here and take a look at what the concessionaires have done in the last six years.
“So, it is not out place to continue to interact so that they can improve upon what they have done which will ultimately translate to boosting the economy of this country. I want to seize this opportunity to say big congratulations to the port operators and to say that it only takes bravery to have been able to plunge into a business as such.”
While applauding the relationship between NPA and the terminal operators, Kure noted that the synergy between the authority and the terminal operators has led to the efficient operations of the nation’s seaports.
Continuing, Kure said: “I thank NPA because wherever we went, the comments of the port operators are such that they have been having the needed co-operation from NPA. And because we have gone round and see a portion of the port, a lot needs to be done and for us to be able to surmount these teething problems, we must interact because we at the parliament are just interested in seeing how legislations will further boost the business you are in, as well as the development of this country.”
Some stakeholders in the maritime sector of the economy said that the dredging of the channel especially in the Lagos area has given room for the visit of bigger vessels to Nigerian ports.
Describing the maritime sector of the economy as a catalyst to national development, they called on members of the committee to ensure the speedy passage of the various maritime bills before the National Assembly.
Chairperson of the Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN), Mrs. Victoria Haastrup, in a presentation to members of the committee, said the concessionaires have changed the face of port operations since they took over cargo handling operations.
The STOAN Chairperson, who is also the Executive Vice Chairman, ENL Consortium Limited, noted that apart from the dilapidated equipment inherited from NPA, the various terminal operators have acquired modern cargo handling equipment for efficient operations.
“The port industry has a very interesting story. I am happy that you have gone around the various ports particularly the Lagos ports and you have been able to see by yourself the value that terminal operators have added in the last six and a half years.
“The terminal operators took over operations in the year 2006 and I can tell you, yes, indeed we have been able to add a lot of value. I think before you came, you have heard a lot of negative reports about the operations of the terminal operators in the Nigerian seaports and we are not surprised because Nigerians do not naturally like change,” she said.
The outgoing year also witnessed the development of green field in the maritime sector of the economy. Though plans for the development of these Greenfield have been on the drawing boards for long, 2012 marked the year when concrete specific steps were taken to drive the policy to a logical conclusion.
A case in point was the deep seaport situated at Ibaka, Akwa Ibom State. Already, the Akwa Ibom State Governor, Chief Godswill Akpabio, has handed a certificate of occupancy on a parcel of land earmarked for the take-off of the project to NPA. The state government has also awarded a contract to make the road leading to the deep seaport, a dual carriage way.
The deep seaport which is expected to employ thousand of jobless youths during and after the construction will become Nigeria’s first deep seaport when fully completed. This is because unlike the ones elsewhere in the country that requires constant dredging to open up the channels for ocean-going vessels, Ibaka deep seaport has a draught of 13 metres.
The quest for the development of a deep seaport is not restricted to Akwa Ibom State Government alone. There are also private initiatives. One of them is the Lagos Free Zone (LFZ) which is spear heading the building of a new a deep seaport in Lekki, Lagos.
Another private initiative in Greenfield development is Port Notel Limited, which has gone far in its desire to build a deep seaport in Akwa Ibom State. Not a few stakeholders have an eye on the Port Notel port as there are fears in some quarters that the one midwifed by the Akwa Ibom State Government may suffer some hiccup once Governor Akpabio leaves office at the end of his tenure in 2015.
In the same vein, a Philippines-based firm, International Container Terminal Services, Incorporated (ICTS) has also indicated interest in the development of Greenfield in Nigeria.
Following the development, the management said it would partner the federal government, particularly its parastatals in the maritime sector of the economy, to ensure that new ports are developed across the country.
The intention of the firm is in line with the vision of the federal government in the construction of new modern ports to replace the existing old ones.
Already, the management of ICTS has opened up discussion with the management of NPA to ensure that all encumbrances to the actualisation of the project are removed.
Disclosing this at an Intermodal Exhibition and Conference, which took place in Casablanca, Morocco, Senior Vice President Africa of ICTS, Mr. Jens Floe, said his company is interested in the Nigerian market because it is not just an emerging one but the biggest in the African continent.
A statement issued by the management of the firm quoted Floe saying that though it was involved in the Lekki port project in Lagos, it also opened talks with the management of NPA to development a brand new port that would help in further opening up the nation's economy.
He noted that ICTS, which has 22 terminals around the world, is also interested in training of the professionals in the sector through technological transfer as well as entering into partnership with relevant government agencies in achieving growth in ports operations where ever ICTS operates.
He noted that Nigeria with its stable polity and a growing Gross Domestic Product (GDP), means its container market would be on the increase.
He explained that though the country seems to be getting it right in terms of the needed port infrastructure present, there was need for what he called “futuristic planning” of at least 10 years ahead because the market would continue to grow if the present conditions continue.
According to him, there was need to take deliberate steps to move the ports from Apapa to the outskirts of the city, to make room for further development.
He revealed that he has been in the port business for about 20 years, pointing out that the purpose of the concession agreement between the Nigerian government and concessionaires has been defeated. He explained that the purpose was to create a free market economy but the closeness of some of the terminals to their shipping arms has reduced competition.
He however stressed the need for the improvement of power supply, the rail transport system and the road network so that Nigeria’s quest to be hub for the West and Central Africa sub-regions can be a reality.
Policies Inconsistency and Implementation
Ace master mariner and maritime expert, Captain Solomon Omotesho, said as far as he is concerned, there has been no consistency and stability in the implementation of maritime policies and programmes in the country.
According to Omotesho, who was one of those who made waves in the defunct national carrier, Nigerian National Shipping Line Limited (NNSL), “when we set up a pattern to follow, someone else comes and terminates it.”
He posited that if there is no consistency and stability in the policy formulation and implementation in the maritime sector of the economy, there would be no progress. He lamented that “all that we believe in is to set up committees and task forces on virtually everything in the sector.”
He expressed disgust that by the time members of the committees or taskforces submit their reports, events would have overtaken it. He pointed out that every committee wants to last long so that they can get the benefits of being a committee member.
“We can say that there has been a decline in sea robbery and this can be traced to Federal Government’s efforts in the ex-militant programme. We can only say we are gaining in this regard, but this is not peculiar to Nigeria”, he concluded.
The leadership of ANLCA said the maritime sector is not doing badly at all, but the area that still needs attention is the attitude of NCS. Mr. Omotayo Segunmaru argued that the management of NCS today was becoming something else.
His words: “It wants to push the licensed agents out of business. It is now in the habit of indicting the agents against the importers and reporting to government that agents are the bad people. It is doing all these in order to get the jobs statutorily meant for freight forwarders. Custom officers and men are the ones doing the job of clearing goods in the seaports, airports, and international borders.
“This is against the law. Apart from the lifting of the ban on some items by President Jonathan, there has been no major success in the sector. The terminal operators do not have equipment and they are now block stacking containers. We have now gone back to the situation in the pre-concession era when the management of NPA was in charge of the day-to-day running of the terminals”.
A Lagos-based stevedore, Alhaji Auwalu Ilu, was of the opinion that acquisition of modern equipment has improved the cargo delivery system. He added that most of the quay aprons have been renovated and upgraded.
Compared to previous years, he maintained that there have been a lot of investments in the maritime sector of the economy in 2010.
In the same vein, it was the contention of the Registrar of Institute of Freight Forwarders of Nigeria (IFFN), Mr. Demola Irinyemi, that the Nigerian maritime sector has improved in the outgoing year.
His words: “I think we have really improved by my own assessments. This is also based on some of the reforms carried out and some of the policies implemented, as well as the good heart of the present leadership. Most importantly, what I will like to add is that the politicians should allow the industry people, those at the helm of affairs of our different agencies particularly the maritime sector as well as other organizations to perform their statutory roles and responsibilities without interference.
Increased Container and Vehicle Traffic
The nation’s seaports have continued to witness an increase in container and vehicle traffic since July this year, statistics released by NPA has indicated.
The authority, in its monthly report for the outgoing year, said the ports have witnessed increased container and vehicle traffic as against what was obtainable in the past.
From the foregoing, it will be difficult to have a consensus about the major issues that dominate maritime sector of the Nigerian economy. This is not unconnected with the fact that every year is an admixture of all things and an appraisal depends on the perception of the appraiser.
Nevertheless, stakeholders in the maritime sector believe that if the sector is to experience any meaningful sustainable development in the years ahead, a professional must be appointed as the Minister of Transport as well as the various parastatals under it.
They also maintained that the helmsmen of key parastatals in the ministry, especially NPA, NIMASA, Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), and National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) must also be thorough professionals.
There was unanimity among stakeholders that the best way to move the sector forward is for the Federal Government to avoid appointing people who learn on the job as they are often swayed left and right by the bureaucrats who already have vested interests in the system.
“In most cases, it takes at least two years for these neophytes to understudy the system and get their bearing. Unfortunately, these persons are removed from office before they can make any meaningful impact. At the end of the day, it is the maritime sector of the economy that suffers. This is because those who come after them may not see any reason to continue from where their predecessors stopped. The greatest loser is the sector and the citizenry who ought to benefit tremendously from it”, an operator who preferred anonymity said.
Apart from being professionals, those at the helm of affairs in the sector must be patriotic, selfless and ready to step on toes if they actually want to deliver on their mandate. This is against the backdrop of the argument in some quarters that anyone who is not patriotic, selfless and ready to do the right thing at all times will fall by the wayside and become a clog in the wheel of progress if they lacked the key attributes of a good leader despite being professionals in their chosen fields.
They hinged their arguments on the fact that not a few professionals have ended up being part of the problem rather than the solution because they are bereft of the basic characteristics of a leader who wants to work for the common good and create a legacy for posterity.
Similarly, not a few have stated the need to allow those at the helms of affairs in the maritime sector of the economy chance to perform their statutory roles and responsibilities. Many have wondered why someone is given an appointment yet what will make the person to deliver on the assignment is not given.
Instances abound where those in the Federal Ministry of Transport are working at cross purposes with the helmsmen of parastatals
under them in the attainment of set goals and objectives. This practice should stop if Nigeria really wants to become a serious maritime nation at the global arena in 2013.
As the year gradually rolls to an end, only time will tell whether the Federal Government will yield to the wise counsel of stakeholders on the way forward for the maritime sector of the economy, which remains to be fully tapped in spite of its enormous potentials.