REFORMING THE PORT PROCESS

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The NPPM initiative should be backed by an enabling law for effectiveness

Apparently in response to the Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) which scored Nigeria very low, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo recently launched the Nigerian Port Process Manual (NPPM) to boost efficiency and accountability in Nigeria’s port industry. That the manual was launched at the celebration of the 2020 International Anti-Corruption Day in Abuja, speaks to the message the administration intends to send. “The process manual is expected to ensure predictability, promote efficiency and accountability, reduce corruption in the port processes, eliminate bureaucratic bottlenecks faced by port users and reduce the opportunity for illegal demands in the ports,” said Osinbajo at the launch.

The NPPM is expected to be one of the key indicators for the effective implementation of Executive Order on the Ease of Doing Business. It outlines the actors and timelines for each process while guiding the user by highlighting all required documentation, payments, timelines and the responsible agencies. The NPPM equally guides the port operators by detailing the implementation chain and provides clarity on the time required for each process.

We note that the NPPM is coming at the right time because of the very opaque system at Nigerian ports. In an era where automation drives processes and system across all sectors in the civilised world, Nigerian ports process operate manually, a situation that fuels corruption and inefficiency. Aside the undue delays deliberately perpetuated by government officials at the ports, most of the facilities are obsolete and in some cases none existent. Meanwhile, these ports are still being perceived as a cesspool of corruption and sharp practices.

However, as laudable as the initiative may seem, as long as the NPPM is not backed by an enabling law, implementation will be difficult. We also note that like the oil and gas sector, the ports are a cash cow for many and some are in government. There is therefore no incentive to put a proper structure (legal framework) in place. This is the same reason why the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) has been with the National Assembly for the past 20 years. That no one is even pushing for the NPPM is already a challenge.

We commend agencies in the sector such as the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) and the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) that had pledged support for the implementation of NPPM. But assurances of collaboration should go beyond rhetoric, especially when the Key Performance Indicators (KPI) of the various agencies in the maritime sector are closely tied. That therefore calls for seamless cooperation and integration of relevant agencies.

That the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) was chosen to drive this pivotal project is a vote of confidence on the Hassan Bello-leadership. But it is also a test of responsibility for it to come up with practical ideas as to how NPPM can best be implemented in the face of many challenges. If Nigeria must improve in CPI, we must do the right thing and put the needed infrastructure in place, the crowning of which is the automation of port processes.

We have always argued that the tortuous process at our ports was a deliberate design by the officials not only to complicate an otherwise simple procedure, but also to seek personal gains. Stretched over days and weeks, frustrated importers could become desperate by taking untoward means to ‘fast track’ the clearance process of their goods, for some under-the-counter payments. That is why we hope that the NPPM will help to clear most of the impediments that have encouraged corruption at the ports and sullied the image of the country.