As government agencies set out to implement the executive order introduced at the nationâ€™s ports to ensure ease of doing business, they are confronted with the challenges of providing 24-hour services with the poor port access roads, security implication, among others, writes Francis Ugwoke
For the Nigerian ports and indeed users, the executive order recently issued by the federal government on ports operation came at the right time. For stakeholders, it is a good development. Many see the policy, which main objective is to achieve an efficient way of doing business at the ports as imperative and a continuation of the reform process at the ports. The port reform is about 11 years with some gains and also challenges. The executive order is therefore seen as coming to fill the gap, which the reform at the ports has not been able to address. This explains why every stakeholder in the ports industry has embraced the policy. Since the order was issued, government agencies at the ports, particularly the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, have made frantic moves to ensure that it is implemented without delay.
The executive order released by the federal government as it affects the ports sets out to achieve efficiency, encourage export trade, facilitate international trade and eliminate corruption at the ports. The order issues definite directive on how to address issues of corruption at the ports with penalties for offenders. Part of the executive order reads: â€œAny official caught soliciting or receiving bribes from port users shall be subjected to immediate removal from the port and disciplinary as well as criminal procedures in line with extant laws and regulations shall be applied with immediate effect; â€œAll agencies currently physically present in Nigerian ports shall within 60 days harmonise their operations into one single interface station domiciled in one location in the port and implemented by a single joint tasks force at all times, without prejudices to necessary backend procedures;
â€œThe new single interface at each port shall capture, track and record information on all goods arriving and departing from Nigeria and remit captured information to the head of the MDA and the head of the National Bureau of Statistics on Weekly basis;
â€œEach port in Nigeria shall assign an existing export terminal to be dedicated to the exportation of agricultural produce within 30 days of the issuance of this order; The Apapa port shall resume 24 hours operations within 30 days of the issuance of this order.â€
For the agencies of government at the ports, the implementation of the executive order has been very responsive. This is being championed by the NPA as landlord of the system. The Managing Director, Ms Hadiza Usman, on getting the order moved into action immediately. The first move was to restrict human and vehicular traffic at the ports, which the security unit of the authority enforced. With that, only those who have genuine business are allowed into the ports. The measure has been a big blow on touts, including hawkers, besieging the ports environment. The next move was a meeting of stakeholders organised by NPA. The meeting was attended by all stakeholders in the industry. They include all agencies operating at ports, terminal operators, shipping companies and freight forwarders. The closed-door meeting was to review operations of every stakeholder and harmonise all operations in line with the executive order. During the meeting, Usman announced the list of agencies to be at the ports. They include NPA; Nigerian Customs Service (NCS); Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA); Nigeria Police; Department of State Security (DSS); Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) and Port Health. Although the Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) was not on the list announced by Usman, the agency cried out that it has always been on the list since 2011, a development that led to their being included by the NPA days later. Other agencies, such as Standard Organisation of Nigeria, SON, and National Agency for Drug Administration and Safety Control, NAFDAC) are to be in the ports on invitation. Agencies not on the list were warned to keep off or face the wrath of government. Usman said the executive order, which implementation has begun by all agencies will promote the ease of doing business at the nationâ€™s ports and will be enforced by all. The stakeholdersâ€™ meeting was mainly to harmonise operational ideas and views by the relevant agencies. Comptroller-General of the Customs, Col. Hammed Ali (rtd.), who also spoke on the occasion described the order as key to port operations, adding that it has not been the case before. â€œWe shall implement it the way it is. It will be implemented to the letter. It will reduce cost of doing business at the ports,â€ he said.
Issues that posed challenges and pointed out during the meeting of the stakeholders were on the poor ports access roads, security and 24-hour ports service. Stakeholders, mainly freight forwarders made it clear that with the bad state of the roads, 24-hour services would not be possible. Nobody, according to the freight forwarders would be ready to risk loading his cargo and allowing it come out in the night. Although, efforts are being made to repair the roads, night clearing at the ports will remain a mirage because of the security implication, the customs agents insisted. This was even as the customs boss said officers will be ready to start shift to be able to provide 24-hour services. The Police had also assured that they will provide security for those ready to come to the ports in the night. But it was clear that this may not work now until the roads leading to the ports are repaired. The NPA has started some palliative measures on the roads, but this has even worsened the gridlock. Going to Apapa has been a nightmare for all who do business, work or live in the area. It is, however, envisaged that with time, the situation will improve, possibly with a truck park in place.