Executive Orders on Port Operations: Issues and challenges

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It is no longer news that the Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo on the 18th of last month issued the Executive orders on port operations in Nigeria where he spelt out in clear terms, the dos and the don’ts in the nation’s maritime industry, all in an effort to further boost the ease of doing business policy of the Federal Government in relation to the Nigeria’s maritime industry.

The Executive Orders stipulated that; there shall be no touting whatsoever by official or unofficial persons at any port in Nigeria. On duty staff shall be properly identified by uniforms and official cards. Off duty staff shall stay away from the ports except with the express approval of the agency head. The Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Security shall enforce this order with immediate effect, any official caught soliciting or receiving bribes from the port users shall be subjected to immediate removal from the port and disciplinary as well as criminal proceedings in line with extant laws and regulations. This shall be applied with immediate effect, and that all agencies currently physically present in Nigerian ports shall within 60 (sixty) days harmonize their operations into one single interface station domiciled in one location in the ports and implemented by a single joint task force at all times, without prejudice to necessary backend procedures.

Others are; The new single interface station at each port shall capture, track and record information on all goods arriving and departing from Nigeria and remit captured information to the head of the MDA and the head of the National Bureau of Statistics on a Weekly basis, each port in Nigeria shall assign an existing export terminal to be dedicated to the exportation of agricultural produce within 30 days of the issuance of this order and that the Apapa port shall resume 24-hours operations within 30 days of the issuance of this order.

Since the issuance of this order, all agencies of the federal government at the nation’s seaport have been meeting including a three day retreat in organized in Lagos at the instance of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), all in an effort to ensure a smooth implementation of this order in the industry beginning from today.

However, as implementation begins today, many industry watchers have expressed concerns over the workability of this order in the maritime industry owning to the state of infrastructure which includes access roads to the ports, lightings, security of the goods and individuals among other concerns. Many were of the opinion that if the Federal Government was so keen about seeing this order work, there were basic things it needed to do before issuing the order arguing that issuing the order first before looking at the factors that could mar the success of the order was like putting the cart before the horse.

Reacting on the matter, the National President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Prince Olayiwola Shittu informed that the order came from the blues as it met them unprepared adding that they were expecting that a committee would have been set up to go round and fish out those bottlenecks both as explained by the association and others who must have made input to moving the ports forward, where the committee would have marshaled out a step by step approach to it and government relying on the approach so far earmarked by the committee would then issue an order on how it would be implemented.

“But in this case, the order came and the order is how you do it, we don’t want to know but carry cargo within 24 hours. That is a tall order for the order because the infrastructure profile that we have now cannot even sustain 72 hours not to talk of 24 hours, when it takes a truck an average of four days to go into the ports and load and maybe another four to five days to come out before getting to the destination. And then we need to ask ourselves, what is the 24 hours for? Is it 24 hours from the time the cargo arrives or from the time the cargo is put in the terminal till when customs exits or when it passes through the gate or when it is delivered to the owner? Because bottlenecks have been created by government officials that will be a tall order for these to be surmounted except the government is seriously interested in setting up a task force that will be a force to enforce it, if you are doing it wrong, they get you out of the place and out of the service to serve as deterrent because they will always find a way to put bottlenecks in order to make money for themselves.

“Therefore, it is something that should have happen long time ago. This was part of the cries that we had when the then President set up a Presidential Committee on Port Reform of which I was privileged to be a member. They made me the Chairman of a Technical Committee and we came out with five smart steps that will make cargo exit from the point of discharge to the point of clearance within 48 hours. This one (24 hours) is very ambitious, but we came up with 48 hours looking at the possible impediments and how to override them”, Shittu said.

He however disclosed that there was an ongoing three day retreat as at the time of the interview which he said included all the government regulatory agencies, being facilitated by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to look at how the order would work adding that it would be wrong to pre-empt the outcome of the retreat since the retreat was ongoing at the moment. While recalling that there were some agencies that were asked not to operate within the ports, he however called for an arrangement to be made for them to be accommodated since the jobs they were doing were relevant otherwise within the next three weeks to one month, there would be another crisis.

Shittu said,” So, it will not be nice to pre-empt them, I know they are still there, so, once a communiqué comes out and we know the direction, it should be our duty to critic it because if we know that many decisions taken there is going to create problems, we should quickly be able to say”.

The ANLCA boss added that before this order could be seen to have impacted positively on the maritime industry, federal government needed to carry out a massive injection of fund for infrastructural development like roads, lighting, security and escort if possible, that would be roving on the roads. He suggested that trucks taking consignments outside Lagos should be escorted to a loading bay outside Lagos by the Police where they would park overnight and then continue their journey from there the next morning.

According to him,” Even the AIG Maritime suggested that, then the same order from the AIG will go to all the Police formations that once you see a container on the road, close your eyes because we are supposed to have resolved everything about the container at the ports and not allow several check points on the highway. So, what we are going to do is that we are going to sit down with the AIG and still take it further from there. There must be toll free lines that people should be able to access that if my container is going out and they hold me in Benin because of extortion and all that, there must be a number I can call to say this is my location and then intervention is taken immediately. If I am caught around Benin, the Benin command should be able to intervene and whatsoever officer that is responsible should be penalized. If we do that over time, everybody will know where his or her job lies and where it does not and that will be extended to all over the country”.

On his part, the Executive Secretary, National Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO), Comrade Aloga Ogbogo described the Executive order as a fantastic arrangement if only it would work as according to him, those were the things they had been agitating for to see that cargoes exit the ports within 24 hours which he said would be a perfect arrangement. He however wondered how practicable the Executive Order would be taking into consideration the state of the access roads to the ports.

According to Ogbogo,” You have gone around; you have seen what the state of the roads is. That is just about evacuating the products and the supply chain is not concluded until the cargo gets to the final consumer. So, with the state of the port access roads, do you see it as being practicable? Secondly, if you are saying vessels should work for 24 hours, you need to provide sufficient security. I am aware that about four weeks ago or more than five weeks ago, there was a vessel that came discharging corn in Apapa, some hoodlums came in a speed boat across the water, came beating up the people, remove their phones and evacuated some of those cargoes, back into the speed boat and moved and that operation went uninterrupted. So, do we have sufficient security arrangement to guarantee 24 hours port operation? Then thirdly, as you move cargo out of the gate, there are hoodlums who will now start jumping on top of the trucks and start removing some goods forcefully. It is also a function of security arrangement.

“Then is the port well lighted? Is it well illuminated? That is on the part of the operations. Then if you also have to look at the security agencies in the port, you have customs, you have the Police, you have the Bomb Squad, you have the Standards Organization of Nigeria, you have NAFDAC, what have they done to collapse those agencies together so that you have a one stop shop? Not customs coming today, Police coming tomorrow, immigration coming next tomorrow. Then as you go outside the ports even as these trucks move to their various destinations, what about cargo hijackers? Then within the day time also, you have multiple agencies carrying out extortions on the highway. You see, the issue is not within the port environment alone, it goes beyond the port environment”.

He however posited that the government meant well hence the coming up with this policy but quickly added that more needed to be done as its multiplier effects would trickle down to other sectors if the Executive order succeeds. While describing the order as the beginning of the process, he suggested that critical stakeholders should be assembled together so as to take a holistic look at the order “because I looked at it from the transport angle. What is the clearing agents thinking, the security agencies, the Police, the Customs, the Standards Organization of Nigeria, what are their challenges? But I think this is the beginning of the process and since the process has started, we get to the root of it”.

Also speaking, the National Publicity Secretary of the Nigerian Shipowners Association (NISA), Engr. Emmanuel Ilori averred that the federal government should be congratulated for identifying the challenges adding that the issues they were talking about in the past were all hinged on the ease of doing business at the port which he said was an essential part of the Nigerian business community.

“So, if they are taking initiatives to reduce the burden of doing business including making the ports to be usable 24 hours, they must be congratulated. That doesn’t mean there won’t be challenges , that does not mean there won’t be teething problems but these are the things we need to address as problems are there for us to proffer solutions and because they are intending to provide solutions, there are problems that they will identify  in the process and this needed to be solved. But definitely, we must congratulate the administration for coming up with the initiative and then all we should do is to support that process and the challenges I feel we will overcome”, he said.

Lending his voice to the ongoing debate, the founder, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Dr. Boniface Aniebonam while wondering what was new about the order however said that Nigerian ports had been working 24 hours especially as it affects operations.

According to Aniebonam who is also the National Chairman of the New Nigerian People’s Party (NNPP), “Whether it is running or it is not running, it is left for them but what is on ground is that the port is running 24 hours especially within operations not delivery. And so, if we come back and say that our ports will now be 24 hours, nothing has changed. The reasons are obvious, that those things that made it made it not to wok have not been put in place. As we are talking, how many containers fell on the road around that Tincan road? So, I don’t know where you are going to carry that container and go through especially at nights. As we are talking now, the issue of security is more daring, where containers are being snatched. So, why are we talking about 24 hours port operation? It is quite nice; it is something that happens in other countries. The government has good intentions but let them come forward let us see what they want to do. They have our support but let it be practical”.

With the above scenario, it is obvious that a lot needed to be done if the federal government intends to achieve its aims and objectives at the ports especially as it affects the Executive orders more so as most stakeholders in the industry are still in doubt over how the order will work. They should carry out sensitization programmes to bring the stakeholders to be on the same page with them and commence immediate overhaul of the critical infrastructure that will aid the successful implementation of the order because if the order succeeds, the nation’s maritime sector will experience a huge leap from what it used to be now to where it ought to be and only then can Nigeria be truly regarded as a major player in the comity of maritime nations.

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