…Maritime Workers Fear Digitalization would send them out of jobs
By DAPO OLAWUNI
More than two months after the Nigeria Customs Service took delivery of Nuctech mobile scanners across six Nigerian Ports, terminal operators and other stakeholders in the nations shipping sector have urged the service to put the scanners to use before December 2021, so as to simplify port processes.
The stakeholders stated this position at a One-day Townhall Meeting organised by the League of Maritime Editors and Publishers (LOMEP) with the theme; “Achieving Effective Digitalization of Nigeria’s Maritime Industry” held in Apapa on Thursday.
Chairperson of the Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN) Princess (Dr) Vicky Haastrup said that despite the tremendous improvements recorded in cargo handling operations by the terminal operators and the provision of marine services by Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) importers and their agents still face numerous man-made hurdles at the port because of archaic Customs procedures.
She said that all terminal operators in the six seaports across Nigeria today have effectively deployed technology to drive their operations, and that consignees and their agents do not need to be at the port physically with regards to their transactions with terminal operators.
She however lamented that manual examination of cargoes has assumed the proportion of an endemic sore point in Nigeria’s Customs administration.
“The solution is for the Federal Government to engage the private sector, as was done under the previous Destination Inspection scheme, to acquire high-end scanners for use of the Nigeria Customs Service.
“It is not enough to merely acquire a couple of scanners as government is doing at present. A sufficient number of high-end scanners should be acquired to put a definitive end to manual cargo examination.
“The effective usage and maintenance of the scanners are also critical. Left in the hands of government officials, the scanners may be grounded in no time – as it happened before – and the system will be reset to the manual era.
“The services of risk assessment/management companies should therefore be engaged and retained for the purposes of providing, effectively utilizing and maintaining the scanners. If we are truly desirous of creating efficiency at our ports, manual examination will have to be reduced to less than 10 per cent of the cargoes handled at the port, in line with international best practices.
“Full automation of the clearing process and the deployment of sufficient number of scanners at the port will invariably cut down the multiple checks of cargoes by Customs and other security agencies” she said
Also speaking, Chairman of Nigerian Ports Consultative Council (NPCC) Otunba Kunle Folarin who chaired the event, called on the Nigeria Customs Service to deploy the newly acquired scanners for use at the port before end of December 2021.
“We expect that by December this year, the new scanners would have been put to use, we dont want you to tell us that you are still training people”
President General of Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) Comrade Adewale Adeyanju in his paper presentation titled; “Impact of Digitalization on Nigerian Maritime Workers” expressed fears that digitalization of Nigerian Ports would post threats to the employment of his members.
Even though he agreed that digitalisation would have profound effect on port efficiency, work turn around time and overall service delivery, the union cannot afford to be left behind.
Represented by the MWUN Deputy Secretary General, Comrade Oniha Erazua, Adeyanju said “One of the greatest impact digitalisation has on maritime operations is it very present threat to employment of our members because as its usefulness expands, it removes the need for physical employment and thus might effectively wipe out our traditionally known way of livelihood”
“Our response has been to nudge ourselves in the new direction of artificial intelligence and programming, to provide an advantageous foothold when the inevitable occures”
On his part, Founder of National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) Dr Boniface Aniebonam said there is a system collapse in the Nigerian port system, as well as the abuse of processes.
He urged importers to process their cargo documentation on time, even before the arrival of vessels, so as to save themselves from payment of unnecessary demurrage and storage charges.
“Section 31 of the customs law tells you what to do when a cargo dwell time is over, 31 days, that cargo must pass through uncleared cargo list and be transferred out of the port.
What we have in our system now is a system collapse, nothing is working, you cannot get a good society without respecting the rules of engagement”
“The port is a transit area, so you cannot come and abandon your cargoes with the terminal operators, it is left for the government to come by way of respecting the law of the land
“If you keep cargoes at the terminal, you must bear the consequences. Meanwhile, the proceses of Import regulation is that documentation of clearance must be prepared in advance so that as soon as the ship comes in, cargoes exit the port” he said
Meanwhile, Assistant Comptroller of Nigeria Customs Service who represented the service at the event, DC Richards .A, stated that Customs has started automation as far back as 2006 with ASYCUDA.
He said the service has since moved from ASYCUDA to a more sophisticated NCIS 2 which centralises manifests. He said that as it is, importers can seat in the comfort of their homes and clear their cargoes.
“Any importer or agent can transfer their containers from any part of the world, you don’t need to see any Customs officer before doing that, all you have to do is log into the system”
While speaking on the apparent delay in deployment of the newly acquired scanners at the port, he said “You don’t just buy a phone today and know how it works today, people are undergoing trainings on how to operate the scanners, by the time the scanners are fully operational, there won’t be anymore stories”
Earlier in his address, President of the League of Maritime Editors and Publishers, Mr Kingsley Anaroke said digitalization and new developments in the field of artificial intelligence, blockchain, internet of things (ioT) and automation are becoming increasingly relevant for maritime transportation.
“They help to streamline existing processes, create opportunities, and transform supply chains and trade geography.
“Digitalization is the idea that all relevant data is provided to all stakeholders in reaI-time on one open platform to improve efficiency and accurate decision making. Digitalization leverages on digitization, which is transformation of physical to digital, by adding values to the company. For instance, digitization in a port or terminal system replaces cranes with automation, but digitization brings value to the crane operators by placing them in remote towers which makes their job safer and more efficient”