Before 24-Hour Port Takes Off  

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Reactions have continued to trail the 24 hours executive order recently made public by the Acting President, Professor Oluyemi Osinbajo. It is on record that the number two citizen who is standing in for President Mohammadu Buhari who is presently on medical vacation in the United Kingdom handed down the executive order directing that cargo delivery should be down at the nation’s seaports within 24 hours. That the 24 hours port executive order is a tall order is an understatement. The reasons for this are not far fetch.

The nation’s seaport, airports and international borders is presently on a 48 cargo clearance regime. Though the 48 hours cargo clearance regime is an initiative of the Federal Government, it is not the brainchild of the present administration. It was initiated by the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s administrations to ensure that cargo dwell time (CDT) in Nigeria which according to World Bank reports remains one of the highest in the world is drastically reduced. Successive administration since after Obasanjo had tried to implement the policy without tangible results. From Obasanjo to Yar’adua and from Yar’adua to Jonathan, not much have been attained in the realisation of the goals and objectives of the 48 hours cargo clearance regime.

Against the backdrop of the poor results of the 48 hours cargo clearance regime in the country, not a few have wondered why the Buhari administration will come up with another one. Many stakeholders in the maritime industry have not ceased to ask questions. How far can the Buhari administration go with this new policy initiative? If the Federal Government cannot succeed with the implementation of the 48 hours cargo clearance regime how can it do with 24 hours? Did the Federal Government did a thorough study of what was hindering the successful implementation of the 48 hours cargo clearance regime before coming up with the 24 hours port executive order? The questions are unending. Yet no answer is forthcoming. Not a few stakeholders have called for the removal of the impediments to the implementation of the 48 hours cargo clearance regime as a springboard for the success of the 24 hours port executive order. They opined that the removal of these impediments is the only way to make a success of the executive order as it affects the nation’s seaports, airports and international borders.

Already, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) have listed conditions under which the 24 hours cargo clearance operations at the nation’s ports could be achieved. Speaking at the just concluded two-days National Conference on Bill of Lading with the theme: “Bill of Lading as a Contract of Carriage: Problems and Challenges in the 21st century”, the Customs Area Controller Apapa Command, Comptroller Musa Jubril said: “It is important to improve synergy among all agencies and relevant stakeholders to eliminate unnecessary checks, fees and reduce operational cost, thereby effectively reducing cost of clearing and cargo delivery time. The deplorable state of access roads to and from the ports also causes congestion as the ports often become inaccessible for the trucks, cars and other vehicles. Government should endeavour to improve ports infrastructure and road networks as this has huge impacts on the economy.”

The CAC charged concessionaires in the nation’s seaports to provide what he called “efficient and appropriate equipment and manpower” for effective service delivery even as he enumerated no fewer than 17 major causes of delay in cargo clearance chain.

These include failure to produce bill of lading as part of final documents to process pre-arrival assessment report (PAAR); failure to receive soft copy of original bill of lading before arrival of cargo at country of destination; loss of original bill of lading; and suspicious amendment requests by shipping companies.

It is expected that stakeholders in the maritime industry, especially port users look forward to the take-off date for the implementation of the 24 hours port executive order, these issues should be critically examined with a view to tackling them headlong. There are fears in some quarters that if these challenges are not address, the 24 hours port executive order will be dead on arrival.