NEXT LEVEL IN THE MARITIME INDUSTRY; EXPECTATIONS OF THE STAKEHOLDERS
On behalf of all stakeholders in the maritime industry, I congratulate you on your re-election as the Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Your Excellency sir, lots of works need to be fixed in the maritime industry in this your next level and if the maritime industry is properly harnessed, the federal government can make more than five trillion naira annually, which may serve as a major source of income for your administration in the next four years. However, before I proceed, we need to look at the various government Ministries and Directorates and rate them in the area of performance in the last four years. This will assist you to actually make your decision particularly in the area of appointment of various heads of parastatals and government agencies.
CREATION OF OFFICE OF SENIOR SPECIAL ASSISTANT ON MARITIME
Mr. President Sir, for the administration to succeed and be able to harness the maritime industry positively, there is need for you to create the office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Maritime Affairs. This becomes inevitable, in order to bring governance at this level to the grassroots. The Ease of Doing Business fails in the maritime industry because there is no particular individual or government official to report back to the government on the effectiveness/workability of policies in the industry, the individual so appointed, will have unhindered access to all the stakeholders, have town hall meetings with the stakeholders, get feedback from them in areas of challenges and be able to report back to the government in order to fine-tune her policy or wield the big stick where necessary.
Sir, if so appointed, the gang-up by the various shipping companies to always slam illegitimate/arbitrary charges on Nigerian importers/customs brokers will be curtailed and monitored and the moment everyone knows that there is an official of government in that capacity, sanity will return to the industry and all intended government policies will be effective.
The maritime industry would have flourished and be better off than this, if not the gang-up by the elite class that flout government directives with impunity.
Your Excellency Sir, I recommend a young vibrant youth that is versatile in the maritime industry, if possible from the customs brokers or freight forwarders. These are the people that interface with virtually everyone in the industry in the course of cargo clearance, forwarding of cargoes abroad or chandelling of vessels.
EASE OF DOING BUSINESS
The Executive Order 18-24 of June, 2017 by the Presidency is intended to achieve ease of doing business in our port. However sir, I wish to inform you that the ease of doing business although successful at the airports but has failed woefully in the seaports due to sabotage of the system by some heads of government agencies that insisted in protecting their territories (i.e agencies protectionism) hence the order was jettisoned and ease of doing business which ought to translate to reduction in the cost of doing business failed in the maritime industry. Despite the efforts of the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority that drew the action plan, it was frustrated due to lack of attitudinal change by heads of agencies particularly the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS). Order 22 which states that all agencies currently and physically present in Nigerian Ports shall within 60 days harmonize their operations into one single interface station, domiciled in one location in the port and implemented by a single joint task force at all times, without prejudices to necessary backend procedure. This order was resisted by the Management of Nigeria Customs Service hence its death on arrival.
It is easier to achieve Ease of Doing Business in our ports provided that the government has the political will by ensuring that any head of government agency that flouts the order is sanctioned immediately to serve as deterrent to others.
Further sir, there is obvious need to resurface the entire road to the ports because they are in state of dilapidation (both West and East). Putting good roads to the ports will fasten achieving ease of doing business. The government also has inter-modal transport system, we have so much reliance on road transport for too long and it has continually makes us to have gridlock within the port access.
CREATION OF JOBS THROUGH INDIGENIZATION OF CUSTOMS BROKERAGES IN NIGERIA
Mr. President sir, I noticed that hundreds of thousands of jobs have been lost to foreigners in the industry under the guise of outsourcing. We now have a situation where Indians, Lebanese and lately, preponderance number of Chinese taking over customs brokerage in the maritime industry. They have access to funds, register clearing firms and are importers, the clearings and the owners of the warehouse where such goods are stored. I do not want to sound as an alarmist; I would have stated hundreds of thousands of jobs lost to this new trend in the industry. Very few privileged Nigerians have access to clearing project cargo/containers and we should not fold our arms pretending that all is well and in turn exposing our territory to foreigners. This is because the number of our unemployed youths is increasing at alarming rate yearly.
Your Excellency sir, I am hereby proposing that an executive bill be forwarded to the National Assembly on Indigenization of Customs brokerage in Nigeria. This proposal will limit the involvement of foreigners in cargo clearance in Nigeria (remember the Indigenization Decree sir). Ninety-nine percent of clearance of cargoes in the maritime industry has been taken over by foreigners and should your government succeeds in doing this, about two hundred and fifty thousand (250,000) jobs will be created. We should not wait until our youths resort to xenophobic attack in Nigeria because it looks like as if things may tilt towards that.
In Cotonou, our neighouring country, non-indigenes are not permitted to access the port not to talk of clearing cargo out of the ports. In the United States, customs brokerage licensing are issued and overseen by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Eligivility for this is only limited to United States citizens.
Also sir, in view of recent trend in the industry, where it has been discovered that some foreigners are involved in importation and clearing of arms and ammunition and lately Tramadol, a substance/psychotropic drugs that is being consumed mainly by Nigerian youths which government is making frantic effort to curtail, nip in the bud or stopped out rightly, hence the reason you created the Presidential Advisory Committee for the elimination of Drug Abuse (PACEDA). I urge you to look critically at this proposal before we lose all our jobs to non-Nigerians.
THE NIGERIA CUSTOMS SERVICE (NCS)
The Nigeria Customs Service has not done badly in the last four years. Your reason of appointing Rtd Colonel Hameed Ali to reposition the service in three core areas viz-a-viz reforming, restructuring and increasing revenue has greatly been achieved. Rtd Colonel Ali came to the service and succeeded in restructuring the service to the current state where officers are laid off, sacked and some prosecuted for aiding and abating crimes. He also initially put a stop to impunity in the area of corruption and corrupt tendencies before the administration was hijacked from him by hawks in the service. You will agree with me sir that revenue generation of the service has also increased tremendously. In the area of promotion, Rtd. Col. Ali started well by promoting officers on merit at the expense of sentiments. My assessment of him is that he has put in his best and has moved Nigeria Customs Service from where the former Comptroller General Dikko Indee reached because whether we like it or not, Dikko Indee Abdullahi also tried his best for the service.
Your Excellency sir, going by my assessment of the World Customs Organization (WCO), the Nigeria Customs Service is moving in an arithmetic progression instead of geo-metric progression and not in line with international best practices using the under listed key performance indicators as yardstick;
- Revenue generation
- Protecting the security of the nation
- Facilitation of trade in our economy
From all indications, the government was (is) only interested in the revenue that accrues into her coffers and this has made every successive customs administration to forget her core professional area of trade facilitation to the extent of arm twisting Nigerian importers, slamming arbitrary values on cargoes even when the general agreement on tariff and trade Article VII which has been domesticated to valuation law and state criteria and methodology for querying transactional value, we now have situation where there are over ten pick up vans of customs enforcement that intercepts cargoes that have been duly examined and released by the same service in the port. Our borders become porous because men and officers that would have been used to monitor the unapproved and illegitimate routes are now stationed few meters to the ports. The above and so many other factors militate against Rtd. Colonel Hameed Ali’s administration.
Your Excellency sir, in line with Customs and Excise Management Act Cap 45 LFN, 2004 and according to Sections 3, 11 (1) of the Federal Republic of Nigeria official Gazette No. 24 Volume 89 of 25th of March, 2002 on appointment of Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs Service and to make our customs more professional and be at par with their contemporaries abroad, I advise you to appoint a career officer as the next Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service (CGC). Such appointment may be from the rank of the present ACGs or a versatile Comptroller of Customs. The present DCGs may not add value. For obvious reasons, I may not be able to enumerate in this letter. With the appointment of a career officer as stipulated above, all the three key performance indicators will be properly looked into since such an appointee would have been grounded in the service.
It also saddens me that some people label our customs officers as most corrupt, that alone may be killing their morale and not in line with the ARUSHA Declaration that speaks about encouraging customs officers due to the sensitivity of their profession. With the appointment of a career officer, the policy of ease of doing business of the federal government will be expressly achieved as such officer will key in to the Executive Order No. 18-25 of the federal government of Nigeria unlike the existing situation where the CGC seems to be more powerful than the supervisory Federal Ministry of Finance.
THE NIGERIAN PORTS AUTHORITY (NPA)
When Hajia Bala Usman was appointed as the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority on the 11th of July, 2016, many of us laughed believing that she cannot cope nor fit into the position, this is because many men have been the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and they never did well, what can a green horn do, particularly considering the fact that she is a woman/lady? Hadiza Bala Usman, later she proved all of us wrong because, not quite six months after her appointment, she began to turn around the Nigerian Ports Authority for good.
Your Excellency sir, I can tell you categorically that your government has not only discovered a performer but she has shown the entire citizenry that where men have failed, women can perform wonders and that is the true position of things in the Nigerian Ports Authority. Hadiza Bala Usman introduced many innovations to the maritime industry; permit me to mention just a few;
- She commissioned the command and control communication and intelligence centre for Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA). This serves as surveillance for all activities and as an information network for security agencies in the ports. There was no information centre before now.
- Under her leadership, she acquired and commissioned four (4) new tug boats namely; MT Daura, MT Ubima, MT Uromi, MT Majiya in order to further improve operational efficiency.
- The concession agreement was hurriedly put together before her appointment and I has been creating lots of challenges for the terminal operators to the extent that investors complain about dollarization of payment/fees to the government, the Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority has reviewed the concession agreement to ensure seamless collaboration for a sustainable development of the maritime industry.
- She accomplished the signing of MOU with the FMWH for the reconstruction of the Port access roads; the project cost was put at N4.34 billion. The Nigerian Ports Authority has agreed to contribute the sum of N1.829 billion which is over 42.14% of the entire project cost. She constantly has been engaging the stakeholders to know the various challenges facing us. As a result of constant congestion of the Lagos Ports and to attract importers to the Eastern ports, the Managing Director has approved the maintenance and dredging contract for Calabar and Warri ports. So also, ship owners are enticed with cheaper port dues if their vessels call at the eastern ports.
Your Excellency sir, you will agree with me that the industry has never had a trailblazer like Hadiza Bala Usman. In view of this and for your government to be effective in delivering your electoral promises to stakeholders in the maritime industry, I hereby recommend her as your Minister of Transport to take the industry to the next level. If she is appointed, she will have the support of the entire stakeholders in the maritime industry.
THE NIGERIAN SHIPPERS’ COUNCIL
The Nigerian Shippers’ Council was created to protect the interest of Nigerian shippers/importers. Before the advent of Barr. Hassan Bello, the department was known for its lackluster, unable to solve shippers’ problems and many times looked the other way when Nigerian shippers suffer unnecessary hardship. Barr. Hassan Bello became the Executive Secretary and turned the culture of the department for good and despite various challenges and frustrations from the shipping agents and the amalgamation of terminal operators to fight the Council, the pronouncement by the federal government without enabling law actually put the agency in a very tough terrain but despite this, the Nigerian Shippers’ Council under his leadership has succeeded in bringing together everyone in the industry with constant touch with relevant departments and stakeholders. Barr. Hassan Bello’s believe in David Abney’s saying that “When it’s easier to trade, more trade happens”, hence he fights anything that impedes the smooth facilitation of trade with all his vigor. In one of our interactions he said, “Barriers to trade is barrier to development” – Mukhuisc Kituyi (UNCTAD Secretary General).
The Shippers’ Council insisted that all government agencies GMD should publish their Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) to serve as guide for everyone in the industry. The leadership of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council ensures that it informs, sensitizes the Nigerian Shippers’ Council and importers on their rights from time to time. The era of arbitrary charges with impunity is gradually coming to an end because the Council engages shipping companies and terminal operators to the extent it mandated the companies to payback the illegal charges slammed on Nigerian bound cargoes, however, the shipping agents/terminal operators to solace by resorting to court to stop the department to further their illegal collections from the Nigerian importers.
Under the leadership of Barr. Hassan Bello, the Council compelled the shipping agents/terminal operators to remove illegal collections such as SLAC charges. Also, he insisted that terminal operators erred by increasing their progressive storage charges by deviating from the Ministerial approval of 2009 to arbitrary increase storage charges. Both the shipping companies and amalgamation of terminal operators went to the Federal High Court and appellate court and they lost, the case is now at the Supreme Court challenging Nigerian Shippers’ Council as the economic regulator of the industry.
It is obvious that the shipping agents and terminal operators will lose the case and about thirty billion naira will be refunded back to the Nigerian Shippers. The Federal government can utilize this fund to develop the industry, stabilize and reconstruct the road leading to the ports without any stress.
Your Excellency sir, in view of Barr. Hassan Bello’s good leadership performance, I recommend the Executive Secretary be elevated as the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority to also conclude the good works of Hadiza Bala Usman if she is so appointed as the Minister of Transport. I also urge you to take a second look at the Nigerian Transport Commission Bill in order that it can be signed.
THE NIGERIAN MARITIME ADMINISTRATION AND SAFETY AGENCY (NIMASA)
The above agency saddled with regulations related to Nigerian shipping, maritime labour and coastal waters performed below expectation. The Director General should enumerate areas that he has touched presently in the last four years of this administration despite the free hand given to him to operate. The level of insecurity in our waterways is a thing of great concern to our economy to the extent that vessels are attacked few nautical miles of the Nigerian waters hence the various illegitimate charges slammed on Nigeria bound cargoes. Shipping agencies/companies now charge fees as a result of operation of bandits and sea pirates on our waterways. NIMASA has failed in securing our waterways, it is no more rumour, Your Excellency, that vessels are being hijacked off the coast of Bonny. The question that readily comes to mind is what is the statutory role/responsibility of NIMASA?
Sir, many vessels are abandoned on our waterways and ordinarily, NIMASA ought to live up to her responsibilities of clearing the waterways of wrecks. Sir, as a result of the corrosiveness of these abandoned vessels, aquatic splendor/lives are being threatened and this may indirectly have adverse effect on fish supply. Nigerian seafarers do not have practical experience for sea time to be able to compete with their counterparts hence we have succeeded in producing half trained seafarers.
Your Excellency, indigenous ship owners have gone into extinction because of lack of fund instead NIMASA engages in giving waiver to foreign owned vessels when we continue to lose millions of dollars to this sharp practice. The ship acquisition and ship building fund (SABF) which is being replaced with the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF) as enshrined in Part VIII, Section 44 of the Coastal and Inland Shipping Act 2003 stipulates that the fund shall be disbursed to indigenous ship owners for capacity building and in order that our local/indigenous ship owners may have access to fund. Billions of Naira is being kept in an escrow account without disbursement while our indigenous ship owners suffer near extinction.
Your Excellency sir, you need to appoint a technocrat as the next Director General of NIMASA with express instruction to ensure that our waterways are safe up to 200 nautical miles away from the inland waters.
- That Nigerian seafarers should be given adequate concentration/training with sea time period
iii. That the new Director General should ensure that our indigenous ship owners are empowered with necessary and available fund to encourage locally built ship to showcase.
- The waiver granted to foreign vessels should be investigated to know how much has been lost to this sharp practice. If possible sir, allow Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to do the needful.
MARITIME POLICE & PORTS AUTHORITY POLICE
Mr. President, there is an urgent need to collapse the Maritime Police with the Ports Authority Police (PAP). This becomes necessary in view of the duplication in their modus operandi. There is urgent need for all Police operations to be under one command and control for effectiveness and efficiency of service. Before now, we had serious issues on the incessant stoppage of deliveries of cargoes in the ports by the Maritime Police. However, let me commend the new Inspector General of Police for his recent directives that Maritime Police must route stoppage of cargoes if necessary through the Nigerian Shippers’ Council. This directive has been complied with by the new Assistant Inspector General of Police, Maritime command.
Your Excellency sir, it is obviously necessary to reform the units of Nigeria Police by fusing the two Police units into one in line with Ease of Doing Business. So also, the recent directive of the Inspector General of Police on maritime police activities should be given presidential backing to discourage the incessant stoppage of cargoes by the Police Department.
Finally, Mr. President, the maritime industry needs your presidential monitoring and reforms holistically. The policy of Ease of Doing Business is achievable if the government is serious about it. It will also correct the wrong impression the international community has about our business environment and also increase our rating positively thereby creating a conducive and business friendly environment in the maritime sector.
I wish you God’s guidance and good health as you steer the ship of this country to a good destination and better improve Nigeria with a vibrant economy.
Dr. Farinto Kayode Collins
National Vice President – ANLCA
Member of Governing Council CRFFN
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