Galvanising Stakeholders for Ports Efficiency

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Eromosele Abiodun posits that the stakeholders’ fora being held across the nation’s seaports by the Nigerian Ports Authority will ensure operators deliver port services at global standards

Following the calamitous port congestion that gripped the nation’s ports and arrested Nigeria’s development for much of the oil boom years of the 70s, the federal government made efforts to reform the system. The efforts never yielded the desired fruits as corruption and inefficiency reigned, denying government the needed revenue from the sector.

As a result of the painful experiences of congestion in the 70’s, the federal government, again, made efforts to reform the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) in the 1980s. After several years of inaction, the federal government settled on port concession as a final solution to the problems at the nation’s seaports.
Prior to the concession of the ports to private operators in 2006, doing business in the nation’s ports was a hellish experience with many problems.
One of the major problems was turnaround time for ships which took too long before their cargo could be loaded or discharged.

While several past managements at the NPA strived to enforce rules and get all stakeholders to conform and adhere to due process, nothing commensurate happened until the appointment Hadiza Bala-Usman as the head of the NPA.
She took over from Alhaji Habib Abdullahi, who was reinstated by Buhari in August 2015 as the MD of NPA, after he had been shown the exit by former President Goodluck Jonathan in April 2015.
Bala-Usman declared shortly after she took over from Abdullahi, that much was from the NPA.
“Our ports are a critical artery of the economy and it is our duty to ensure that the operators deliver port services at the standards that our businesses deserve in the 21st century in supporting President Buhari’s administration agenda of economic diversity. We will strive for enhanced operating efficiencies to facilitate improved revenue generation and inflows into the national treasury.

“We will listen to our customers, importers, exporters and other agencies working in the ports to improve on our service delivery to the nation, anything less than world-class services is simply not acceptable; attaining such heights is a mission to which I am certain we can all subscribe.”
She added: “As team leader, I have come to add my best efforts to yours so that we can collectively achieve results for our industry. We must work as a team, pursuing common goals with professionalism and diligence. We shall prioritise investment in primary equipment and infrastructure and services committed to by NPA in the concession agreements to hasten clearance of imports and exports from the ports. As we collaborate in the best traditions of public service, I believe that with commitment and diligence our hard work can position NPA as a model agency.”

A New Dawn
As part of the efforts to ensure that the promises made on her assumption of duty were fulfilled, Bala-Usman last year, introduced quarterly stakeholders’ meetings to know what is on ground at the ports and be better informed on the plight of operators.
Several stakeholders’ meetings have since been held in Port Harcourt and Onne port in River State, Calabar port, Warri port and Apapa ports.

Speaking at the second stakeholders meeting in Rivers State last week, the NPA boss assured stakeholders that she is committed to ensuring that promises made at stakeholders meetings are kept and every effort made to move the sector forward.
According to her, “We made promises in the last few times that we came here and I think I should update you on some of our promises. We understand your concern in relation to pilot quarters and other equipment. I will like to inform you that we have finally gotten approval for the construction of six pilot quarters, two of which are ongoing. We also got approval for repair of some of the tug boats, the idea is to get them renovated and put into use. As regards security, we have received approval for the construction of two 17 meters offshore boats and also approval has been granted for the construction and supply of six water boats.

“The approval for gun boats is still been waited. We understand that there are also issues with the delay along the Bonny channel especially when the LNG vessel are coming in. The only alternative here is to duallize the place. However, studies are being done for erosion control. It has been perfected and already we are setting up safety enablers to see what can be done.

The only thing eventually is that it has to be duallised and of course cost assessment has to be done and that is been done also environmental impact assessment is been carried out. Very soon we will liaise with the LNG to see how this can be done. We are also looking at the concerns of the operators as regards to GMT, the review of the concession will take care of that. But let’s remember that this involves multiple parties which include ICRC, BPE, Ministry of Transportation, NPA and the Ministry of Justice. But there is a working committee working on this and very soon the matter will be resolved.

“The thorny issues, which include GMT will be resolved. We know your worries as regards indiscriminate anchorage of vessel we are working on it very soon we will let you know what we are doing about it. We have also received complaint about double charges. We have identified the operators involved in this and we have informed them that at no time has the NPA increased charges. They are not allowed to take any charge only the NPA has the power to do so. There are issues that have to do with wrecks, we have plans in place to remove the wrecks. We have budgeted for it in the 2017 and especially the 2018 budget. There is a committee going round to identify these wrecks and proffer solutions as to how they are going to be removed.”
The NPA, she added, has identified the need to collaborate with OGZA, noting that the goal is to ensure that users of the ports including the free zones have seamless service.

Addressing Insecurity
While responding to a stakeholders’ complaints on insecurity, she said NIMASA and the Nigerian Navy are responsible for the security of the nation’s waters.
“But the equipment we are buying for the security of our ports are in millions of dollars we are doing this because when there is a security issue it is the NPA that loses revenue. There is a joint security meeting that takes place in the office of the National Security Adviser, what we do is when we get security reports from stakeholders we give the reports at the meeting. Most times the problem is some stakeholders do not know where to go when issues like this happen. But we are setting up a committee to take care of this. But feel free to let us know when there are security issues so that we can take it up and report to the appropriate people. We are not tired of your complaints us know and we will take action, “she said.

Agreement with Operators
Speaking at a stakeholders’ forum in Lagos she said all agreements the NPA signed with port operators would be reviewed. Bala-Usman threatened to sanction any operator who fails to clear its debt or provide holding bays for empty containers.
“All terminal operators that owe NPA must be ready to pay up their debt. They must pay in the next two weeks or face serious sanctions, ”she said, adding that her administration had plugged loopholes to ensure transparency and accountability.
NPA’s accounts section, she said, would recover all outstanding debts to boost the nation’s revenue profile.

Bala-Usman also warned the operators against violating the terms of the concession under which the terminals were handed over to them.
She cautioned shipping companies against engaging in shoddy business at the ports and ordered investigation into allegations that an operator and a shipping company were violating the concession agreement.

She said a competitive tariff and pricing regime had been introduced at the ports, adding that NPA would ensure that operators complied with their agreements with the government.

Ease of Doing Business
She had, at a stakeholders’ forum in Onne and Port Harcourt ports late 2017, charged operators to contribute meaningful ideas that could facilitate the Ease of Doing Business at the two ports, saying the management of NPA would work towards creating an enabling environment for them to operate optimally.

The NPA boss, who was represented by Executive Director, Marine and Operations, Dr. Sokonte Huttin Davies, said the meeting was an opportunity for NPA management to meet with operators with a view to identifying areas of needs in order for the NPA to engender greater operational efficiency at the nation’s seaports

According to her, “It is imperative for all agencies at the ports to contribute most meaningfully as part of measures to facilitate Ease of Doing Business at the ports.”

Stakeholders’ complaints
At a stakeholders’ forum held in Rivers port last month, one of the terminal operators complained about the Fenway boil, adding that several reports about the matter to the NPA management were not treated.

The operator, who represented PTOL Limited said the NPA has not put in place measures to secure the movement of vessels in the area.

“Recently, pirates attacked one of the vessel, MAC Maria coming with containers to our terminal, because there was no response to the plea of the captain and the crew of the vessel. The crew ran into the engine room and lock themselves in, the pirates had a free day ransack the whole vessel, took all their jewelries, laptops and money. In the process of doing that the vessel was drifting and there was a serious collision with a tanker vessel. Now the vessel cannot sail unless urgent repairs are undertaken on her.

“The issue of security is very serious, one or two of the vessels that were to come to our terminal when the situation became too serious, they went to West African ports. There is MV Mutshin carrying about 6000 tons of cargo to our terminal, when the attack occurred they diverted to Lome, Togo to trainload their cargo. The new captain of the vessel still refused to come to our port until and when security is assured. Our terminal is entirely empty now. In fact, the two terminals in revivers port, “he said.

He urged the NPA to take a serious look at the issues of security, stressing that if the situation is not well handled, it will be difficult for business.

An official of Brawal limited said the NPA must resolve the issue of available draft, adding that customers often disagree with them over which number to use.

“When we go out to market the port and we give them the available draft, by the time they go back to the NPA they get a different figure. So I want the NPA to join us in marketing the available draft of the terminals. For example, in my terminal we bring in vessels of 9 meters and they carry about 25, 000 tons of Gipson. This comes in almost every month and when we tell our customers they don’t believe. We went to market Notore because they are bringing in fertilizers and they went to NPA harbours and they said the maximum draft we can get is 8 meters and there is no way a vessel of 25, 000 tons can berth. They insisted they wanted to see the number of vessels that we have handled and the tonnages. The last time we had a meeting in Lagos we had documents showing that we had about 5 meters draft but we know that we have more than that, “he said.