Activities in Nigeria’s maritime industry, the second highest revenue earner after the petroleum, show that the industry is currently on a sustainable path of growth in terms of all globally acceptable growth indices, especially in the last one year.
This might not be unconnected with concerted efforts by the various agencies in the industry, especially those charged with the responsibility of implementing Federal Government policies, which have helped to re-direct it towards the path of growth. For instance, the last one year has witnessed massive capacity in terms of building a pool of indigenous seafarers both for export and the local market.
The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, under its National Seafarers Development Programme, NSDP, has embarked on massive training of indigenous cadets in foreign institutions scattered across Sweden, Malaysia, United Kingdom and South Africa, among others. In addition to building a pool of indigenous seafarers, the programme is also designed to make Nigeria compete with the Republic of Philippines, which currently accounts for over 30 percent of global seafarers from which she makes over $50 billion annually.
Nigeria also returned to global reckoning in terms of security at the port facilities when she successfully complied with a 90-deadline issued to her by the United States Government to comply with the requirements of the International Ships and Ports Security (ISPS) Code or face total global trade sanction. This followed a damning report by US Coast Guard, which visited Nigeria’s seaports early in the year.
However, Nigeria’ march towards compliance with the requirements followed Federal Government’s decision to formally wind up the activities of the defunct Presidential Implementation Committee on Ports Safety and Security (PICOMSS), created sometime in 2004 to enable Nigeria comply with the code formulated by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) with major inputs from the US to forestall a repeat of the terrorists’ attack on the World Trade Centre in ship facility or marine infrastructure.
The winding down of PICOMSS paved way for the appointment of NIMASA as the new Designated Agency for the enforcement of the ISPS his Code. Senior Special Adviser to the President on maritime services, Mr. Leke Oyewole, while speaking at a recent stakeholders’ forum on the new action plan by the designated agency, had hinted that the choice of NIMASA was informed by her vast knowledge in Port and flag state control. This period has also witnessed a tremendous progress in building indigenous tonnage.
With the demise of the Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL), it has been a sore point in Nigeria’s maritime history that she does not have an ocean going vessel on her fleet.
This seeming jinx was broken recently when an indigenous company, Ocean Marine Tankers Limited acquired to oceangoing tankers MT Abiola and MT Igbinosa of 45, 000 metric tonnes each, which are set to commence the lifting of crude oil.
Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) Mr. Patrick Akpobolokemi in reaction to this breakthrough had assured all indigenous operators that the agency is fully committed to protecting their rights and interests especially in terms of enforcement of the Coastal and Inland Shipping (Cabotage) Act 2003, which gives indigenous shipping firms and ltl shipping exclusive right to lift petroleum within the coastal and inland region Federal Government has also taken steps to perfect the nation’s cargo clearing process. This follows the extension of the seven-year Destination Inspection contract for two consecutive times.
The Build, Own, Operate and Transfer (BOOT) contract was signed in January 2006 and ought to have ended December 31, 2012. The Federal Ministry of Finance, which signed the contract, had disclosed that it was designed to enable the Nigeria Customs Service to perfect its operations to forestall possible hitches after takeoff.
Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, Mallam Danladi Kifasi had said in a memo dated December 31, 2012: “In granting the extension, government also liaised with critical stakeholders to ensure that such extension would serve the best interest of the Nigerian nation and no other and so the decision was to save the country from any crisis arising from her trade policies”.
It was also gathered that the government was inundated with complaints and reports over seeming inability of the service to take over the scheme, which informed government’s decision to extend the contract.
The extension of the contract is currently paying off as customs has seized the opportunity to perfect its operations.
For instance, the service has developed a new Information Communication Technology called the Nigerian Trade Hub. Under the ICT trade hub also called ‘Ruling Centre’, which is designed create a single platform for all operators thereby facilitate trade, the service is also proposing the introduction of Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR) to replace the Risk Assessment Report (RAR) issued by the service providers under the DI contract, an advisory document to Customs on the risk level associated with any imported consignment into the country. RAR, which is an advisory report generated by the service providers under the DI contract advises the service on the level of risk associated with a given consignment since it is the duty of the service providers under the contract to carryout Computerised Risk Management System.
It is expected that when fully operational, the hub will provide information such as goods under prohibited list, regulated goods and duty payable on all category of imports, among several others. Additionally, the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) has commenced the enforcement of statutory regulations at the ports aimed at sanitising the industry.
The council had earlier inducted over 4,000 freight forwarders comprising both corporate and individual members, most of who have been trained with a view to imbibing international best practice.
It is expected that at the end of the enforcement of these regulations, the wheat would have been separated from the chaff, which makes the industry better. Another major milestone was also achieved in the quest to promote efficient delivery of cargo at the ports when the Nigerian Railway Corporation resumed haulage of containers to the Northern parts of the country suspended more than 10 years ago due to the poor state of the rails.
This was sequel to the investment of a total of N3billion in the acquisition of four brand new locomotives and two state-of-the –art telescopic cranes with 1800 caterpillar engine capacity.
This has therefore enhanced the resumption of haulage of containers from Apapa Port, Lagos to Kano and Kaduna, which is expected to extend to other cities in the north. The corporation has a projection of stocking additional 23 locomotives on its fleet for the movement of cargo out of the nation’s seaports to mitigate the impact of increased cargo throughput into the country.
It was also gathered that plans are underway for the commencement of haulage of bulk sugar and Cement and other bulk products to the northern parts of the country, while plans are underway for the haulage of refined petroleum products to many other parts of the country. In terms of computerisation of the port system, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), working towards a new port information system, which will control access, reduce cost and also enhance revenue generation.
Managing director of the authority, Mallam Habib Abdullahi, said recently that the new information system has already been approved by the Federal Ministry of Transport and has also been awarded to GDS Inc, a United States –based firm under a Public, Private Partnership arrangement
The project is said to be designed to achieve maritime system domain awareness. “Apart from checking access control to the ports, the new system would enhance operational efficiency at the nations various seaports both in terms of turnaround time of vessels and cargo dwell time, the new system when fully operational would totally transform the way the port business is carried out”, Abdullahi said.
The authority had earlier taken steps towards the development of common user facilities in line with the port concession agreement. One of such projects is the construction of the 1.6Kilometre Lagos Ports Complex major access road. However, despite these major achievements, the port systems are still bogged down by high level of corruption and cumbersome clearing system.
For instance, the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission (ICPC) in its recent port assessment report said that it takes over 79 signatures for a cargo to be released at the nation’s seaports. Dwell time of cargo at the ports has consistently remained above 21 days, which is not a good omen.