The International Ships and Ports Security (ISPS) Code, a convention of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) came into force in 2004 as an amendment to the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention (1974/1988) on minimum security arrangements for ships, ports and government agencies.
The ISPS Code prescribes responsibilities to governments, shipping companies, shipboard personnel, and port/facility personnel to “detect security threats and take preventative measures against security incidents affecting ships or port facilities used in international trade.
Nigeria is also a signatory to the ISPS Code security convention, but unfortunately, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) as landlords of the port have done a poor job of ensuring that Nigerian ports comply with minimum security requirements and access control.
In the Global Terrorism Index 2020, Nigeria has been rated third, next to Afghanistan and Iraq.
It is naturally expected that sensitive facilities like the ports should be properly manned and controlled.
The Tin Can Island Port is the second busiest port in Nigeria after Apapa port. Sadly, it is also the dirtiest and most porous port, due to the unfettered access into the port by hoodlums and unwanted elements.
Tin Can Island Port founded in 1976 was wrongly positioned. Its proximity to densely populated ghettos like Ajegunle, Ijora Olopa, Ijora Badia, Mile 2, and Orile has added to the challenge of the port.
These ghettos over the years have maintained a high record of antisocial behaviours.
Young men from these ghettos wake up every morning with intentions to go into the port and “hustle”.
Though the hustle is not properly defined, yet they return home daily with cash.
Failure of NPA to control access into the port environment has caused these strange elements to end up at access gates into the various terminals.
It has now gotten to a stage whereby cargo documents are being snatched from importers by force.
There are various terminals operating within the Tin Can Island Port; Ports and Terminal Multiservices Limited (PTML) Five Star Logistics Terminal, Ports and Cargo, MRS Petroleum Tank Farms, TICT Terminal among others.
NPA in collaboration with Nigerian Police has responsibility of access control into these environments.
There are three major access points into the Tin Can Island Port, namely; Abuja gate, First Gate and Second Gate.
It is our believe that if these gates are properly monitored day and night by NPA security and the port police, the crowd that constitute nuisance around the port would not even have access to the environment at all.
But the port areas have been left widely opened, and terminal operators now grapple with all manners of questionable elements trooping into their terminal.
It is worrisome to note that, inside the Tin Can Port and Apapa ports, there are homeless people living inside the port environment, many of them are mostly domiciled inside Mosques at Tin Can Port, and at a cargo examination platform at Apapa Port.
It has been discovered that when decent port users are working in the day time, these questionable elements are sleeping, they only become busy at night.
The ISPS Code has specified how the port should function, the port is supposed to be automated, without any human contact.
Truck drivers are only expected to come to the port to take delivery of cargoes.
However, port automation in Nigeria has been a mirage because government agencies would not allow it to work, especially Nigeria Customs Service who thrives on 100% physical examination of all cargoes imported.
The Tin Can Port is the dirtiest port in Nigeria. There is open defecation around the port by truck drivers.
Truck drivers are weighty elements in the port system, but whenever they are pressed, they defecate all over the port access road.
A visit to the Tin Can Island Port gives an impression of an un-coordinated market place with presence of food vendors, diesel sellers and okada riders taking over the entire area.
If 100 people are raided around the port today, certainly 70 of them would turn out to be touts without proper identification.
Food vendors, diesel sellers are not supposed to be inside the port. These are time bombs waiting to explode.
In January 2013, there was an explosion at MRS Petroleum Tank Farm beside PTML Terminal which caused a lot of damages, created pandemonium and fears in the heart of stakeholders.
Subsequently, NPA made a feeble attempt at controlling crowd arround the port area. Several illegal structures were pulled down in a coordinated exercise that was carried out by the former port manager of Tin Can Port, Jonathan Akpohehe.
But the measures were not sustained, the food vendors and illegal shanties have since returned with a vengeance.
The implication of the proliferation of Okada riders inside the port is that, whenever crimes are committed, it would be very easy to escape from the port area.
Permitting okada riders inside the port environment is dangerous, already, they have formed a power block, they could carry out protest at anytime and resist even the security agents.
Ironically there is a signage by NPA at the port proscribing food vendors, okada riders among others, and there is an NPA security post at same signage. However, behind the NPA security post, we have food vendors, diesel sellers and okada riders.
Apparently tired of waiting on NPA in addressing the lapses in access control and enforcement of ISPS Code, terminal operators took destinies in their hands and erected turnstile access gates.
In 2013, PTML terminal had a running battle with leadership of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) over access cards which the company said it issued to control crowd into the terminal.
NAGAFF kicked against the policy, describing the N10,000 charged for the access control card as illegal and an act of extortion.
The terminal operator at the time argued that it has a responsibility towards protecting all government agents working inside the terminal.
Before the machines were installed, Nigerian Customs officers were being attacked at the port terminals by freight forwarders. In some instances, sachet waters were pured on some senior officers by licensed customs agents because they failed to compromise.
It is gratifying to note that, the NPA recently commenced wire-fencing around the port.
The authority have also erected Pre-Access Gates at Abuja gate and Tin Can Island 1st gate. Tin Can 2nd gate is still however left out. Though the gates are not propey manned.
NPA must shut down these three gates leading into the Tin Can Port area and carry out proper profiling of everyone trying to gain access into port, if this is done, most unwanted persons would no longer have access to the port.
The gates should also be automated with all stakeholders having their access card.
If we must achieve sanity at Nigerian ports, especially Tin Can Island Port, then the NPA must start tackling the challenge from access control into the port.
If the port environment is sanitized, the sanity that is obtainable inside the concessioned areas presently would also be obtainable outside the port environment.
But If the gates are not well mounted and monitored, NPA might not be able to hold anybody for trespassing into the port or for committing any crime.
The stakeholders with genuine business and the unauthorised persons must be properly segmented.
Also, in order to address the open defecation by truckers, lavatories should also be provided by NPA for the port environment. Apart from the freight forwarders who visit the port daily, there are so many stakeholders using the port and there should be facilities for convenience.