The Federal Government had in May 2017 directed the Nigerian Ports Authority to immediately embark on a 24-hour ports operations across the nation.
While signing the Executive Order, the then Acting President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, had stated that “the Apapa Port shall resume 24-hour operations within 30 days of the issuance of this order and there shall be no touting whatsoever by official or unofficial persons at any port in Nigeria.”
Osinbajo had even listed some of the government agencies that must operate inside the port.
According to him, some of the agencies authorised to deploy their officials to the port are; the Nigeria Customs, Immigration, Police, Port Health, Department of State Services (DSS), the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA)
Other government organisations such as the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) were sent packing from the port.The idea of the executive order is to ensure that Nigerian ports become competitive and a hub in West and Central Africa where cargoes are released in a timely manner.
The idea is also to see a reduction in the cost of doing business at our ports.It is disturbing to note however that after two years of issuing the directive for ports to work 24hours, it has remained a difficult task to achieve.
First, lack of good port access roads; this was one of the major fears expressed by many port users as at the time the Vice President came up with the Executive Order. The second fear raised by operators was the lack of adequate security at the ports, coupled with poor lighting of the port environment at night.
It would be observed that two years down the line, none of the challenges and concerns identified by maritime experts have been addressed.
The only aspect of the port that seems to work 24 hours is the berthing of vessels at the port and other shoreline activities. Taking delivery of consignment on the other hand has failed completely.
Recently, there were allegations that terminal operators and shipping companies were not usually on ground for operations for 24 hours, especially on weekends and public holiday.
The Nigeria Customs are not also working 24hours, whereas at the wake of the executive order, the service out of “eye service” had came up with a roaster for it’s officers, especially at Apapa and Tin Can Island Port on how they would be operating shifts. All that have now gone down the drain.
Clearing Agents have also been accused by the Nigerian Ports Authority of not coming forward at night or on weekends to take delivery of their consignments, despite all the “provisions” that have been put in place by the authority.
It has been a blame game rather than a workable concept among the stakeholders.
All the concerned parties have tendered excuses on why they cannot be at the port round the clock.
Freight forwarders were recently contesting the rational behind the shipping companies and terminal operators collecting demurrage charges for weekend operations even when they are not available. They also raised alarm that on public holidays, the Ports are on shut down, yet agents are made to pay demurrages.
They had queried, “Were the terminal operators and shipping companies available on the public holidays on Monday and Tuesday? So why should they charge? They were not around. The licensed customs agent would like to take his consignment even on Sunday if the terminal operators open on Sundays”
“The port is supposed to work 24 hours but it is not working, I cannot go to the port by12 midnight to take my cargo today because of the security lapses.
The federal government should look into how to address these security lapses too”
“The roads are not also good enough to move our consignments, so these are the impediments where we are having the challenges”
Terminal operators must stop public holidays and weekend charges because they are not rendering the services”
The Customs on its part have argued that its officers are always on ground on Friday, Saturday and Sundays, except public holidays.
According to the service, once the freight forwarders have completed their cargo documentation, the port gates are always open on weekends.
Due to lack of adequate security inside the port, the Customs have however said that its Customs Processing Centre (CPC) cannot open for 24hours operations, especially at night for fear of being attacked.
“Don’t expect such a delicate facility to be opened even until midnight, because the CPC is the engine room of the Customs. But once you are done with documentation and it remains to take delivery, Customs will never be your problem” a source said
The failure of the Executive Order have made stakeholders to wonder the seriousness and level of commitment of the Muhammadu Buhari led administration towards the nation’s maritime industry.
While Nigeria, giant of Africa is still struggling with implementation of 24hours port operations, all over the world today, 24 hours port operations is already being practiced including at neighbouring ports Cotonou, Ghana and Togo.
Though we noticed that the present administration has actually taken some steps at addressing some challenges confronting ease of doing business at the ports, one of them is the meeting up of a Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) chaired by the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo.
The committee on getting inaugurated had hurriedly released a report card on a 60-Day National Action Plan on Ease of Doing Business which was implemented from February 21, 2017 to April 21, 2017. The report had highlighted 31 completed reforms across the Council’s eight priority indicators.
However, all that is now ‘story for the gods’The second noticeable effort made by the government was the setting up of a presidential task force to control and ease off the traffic gridlock in and around Apapa port.
President Muhammadu Buhari inaugurated the committee and made Osinbajo the Chairman, again.The activities of the committee today still leaves a lot to be desired because maritime truckers have fragrantly disobeyed the order and continued to queue up on port access roads, without any consequences or punishment placed on them by the presidency.
Our advise is that now that the Transportation Minister Rotimi Amaechi has shown some level of commitment in his second coming by asking for suggestions from operators and for them to set agenda for him, the government should take the suggestions of the stakeholders seriously and act on them, these are the people who knows where the shoe pinches.
It is our believe that PEBEC, as well as the Presidential committee on traffic gridlock did not really engage stakeholders in the industry on the best ways to achieve speedy clearance of goods from the ports and best way out of the traffic congestion, this is why they have not achieved any results.