By Godfrey Bivbere
Few weeks to the beginning of 2011, the maritime industry woke up to the news of the sacking of the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Mallam Abdulsalam Mohammed and the replacement of Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Temisan Omatseye; who had been on suspension.
In their place, government appointed Engr. Omar Suleiman and Patrick Akpobololemi respectively. That government’s decision actually brought some level of positive actions to two of its leading agencies in the sector.
Before the first quarter of the year, Engr. Suleiman’s management has made known its policy direction, explaining that they would focus on greenfield development to free the Lagos ports that have become congested with the city gradually expanding into the port environment.
His team steadily pursued this agenda with the corporation of the Akwa Ibom State Government for the development of a deep seaport in the state and a 2015 completion date has been set. Suleiman said this is a long term programme and question would then be what he and his management team are doing to improve port operations in the short term.
The NPA assured that the channels leading to the ports have been dredged from 11 metres to 13.5 metres and by the middle of the year, the depth of 13.5 was achieved. The result was that bigger vessels now call at the nation’s ports.
The problem of delay in the clearance of goods from the ports as a result of multiple agencies was addressed by government after sacking 10 of such agencies from the ports. These were National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), Directorate of Naval Intelligence (DNI), Nigerian Plant Quarantine Services (NPQS), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency and the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA), among others. The action was believed to have had positive effect on clearance time at the port.
Improvement at some of the terminal and acquisition of better cargo handling equipment has helped berth occupancy and waiting time for vessels but there is need for proper monitoring of the functions of the private terminal operators to ensure that they comply to the terms of agreement they entered into with government.
The present dwelling time (the actual time it takes to process documents for clearance of goods) which still takes about 20 days, according to Suleiman, as against five days that is obtainable in other countries would soon reduce to about 10 days, a situation that will see the nation’s cargo throughout double.
The NPA boss tried restructuring the Authority in the course of the year but the idea was jettisoned as a result of the directive from the board of the Authority. He assured that the exercise would be revisited.
The appointment of Akpobolokemi as the helmsman of NIMASA came under heavy criticism as he was said not to be a maritime person who do not know his left hand from the right and therefore can not meet the expectation of the industry.
Early in 2011, he had assured that he was going to wrestle out shipping from the hands of foreigners and many did not take him serious because of past promises and shattered expectations.
But by Febuary, there was a in house struggle between the new NIMASA boss who is relatively new to the industry and the three Executive Directors that have been on ground and have been eyeing the position.
It got to a climax when Akpobolokemi was remoured to have tendered his resignation allegedly claiming that he could not work with his ED’s. Not long after that, the industry was agog with the news of the purported sacking of the three ED’s but they are still in office still date, with some level of sanity at the apex maritime regulatory agency.
The Coastal and Inland
Shipping Act 2003, otherwise called the Cabotage Law, was designed to empower Nigerians to not only own vessels but develop capacity in various spheres of shipping, which have for years, been dominated by foreign interests.
He spent a lot of time to study the new environment before he commenced action on the illegal activities in the nation’s waters towards the middle of the year. Over ten vessels have been arrested since then.
NIMASA is supposed to confront illegal bunkering within the nation’s jurisdiction and take responsibility for whatever cargoes that are brought to the ports. There has been some level of improvement in this regards which has improved its revenue collection.
Despite the efforts of the agency, some time in November, a vessel arrested by the agency for illegally bringing in 17,000 metric tons of petroleum products disappeared with its crew. Some people including staff of the agency are presently in detention for their alleged involvement in the disappearance of the vessel and its crew.
The Nigeria Customs Service has never had it so good in terms of welfare and training for officers as it has been in 2011. The Service built more barracks for its personnel as well as provided them with modern working tools.
By the middle of the year, the Service acquired new patrol vehicles for most of the commands, with some of them getting bullet-proof petrol vehicles.
This resulted in the Service surpassing its target of N596bn given to it by the federal government. By October, the Service had already collected a total sum of N602 billion into the federation account, the amount which represent an increase of N6 billion over and above the target set for it even with two months left to go in the year.
As at the end of October 2011, the Service has collected a total of N602 billion into the Federation Account. At the end of last month, it is expected to collect a bonus revenue of over N100 billion into government coffers.
Before 2011, average monthly collection by the Service was N30 billion. This has progressively increased to a monthly average of N50 billion in the first quarter of 2011. Towards the end of the 2nd quarter, however, the Service recorded an all-time high of N61.5 billion in July 2011, surpassed by the collection of August 2011, which stood at N76.2 billion.
The feat is attributed to the stringent measures put in place to closely-monitor revenue performance and block leakages. These measures include the creation of a System-Audit Unit at the Headquarters to monitor duty payment in all Ports, the automation of the entire Customs Clearance Procedure which allows for faster and smoother clearance and the improved quality of Customs Workforce that is better-trained and motivated.
The Automation of Excise payment Procedures has also greatly helped to block leakages associated with the Sector. Though only four locally produced items pay excise duties in Nigeria, they represent about 10% of total collections.
The years 2012 and beyond will hold better prospect for the Service and the nation because of two major factors. First, the new Customs Staff College will start producing trained Officers in Modern Customs Management, while the existing Service Providers contract will expire, leaving Nigerians to manage our affairs.
In November, the staff college built for the training of Nigerian Customs officers and those of the sub-region was completed and it was officially commissioned by President Goodluck Jonathan.
Dispite the efforts of NIMASA, local ship operators are insisting that all the efforts had not brought them any benefit as the sector is still being dominated by foreigners.
According to Chairman of Indigenous Shipowners Association of Nigeria (ISAN), Captain Isaac Jolapamo, there is no difference between this year and last year as they have been starved of any business over the years.
In the words of Jolapamo, this period “2011 has no effect on us at all. Government has still not done what we want them to do.”
Government is still not serious about the sector and therefore the can not be any development. They kept saying that they have plans for the sector, until they get the plan to work, there will be no development in the sector.
He said that the maritime business in the country is still being dominating by foreigners both locally and internationally.
The Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) was set up by government to sanitise the operations of freight forwarding in the country. The Council first tenure under the leadership of its perionee Chairmen, Tony Iju Nwabunike who was there for two years was mostly uneventful.
Operators high expectation when the new Council was inaugurated in October 2010 was datched when the crisis of membership and accreditation almost torn the Council apart. A situation that led to the country losing the hosting of 2012 meeting of the Region Africa Middle East (RAME) to South Africa.
FIATA which is the world body at its World Congress for last year, following a letter written by International Freight Forwarders Association (IFFA), Nigeria therefore lost to South Africa. National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) had first written to FIATA which started the problem. A NO-TRAVEL-BAN of FIATA officials to Nigeria was slammed on them and has not been lifted.
The ban was imposed as a result of the letter written to FIATA against CRFFN by an unaccredited association, International Freight Forwarders Association. The letter contained threats to peace should FIATA officials come to Nigeria for the Training-Of-the-Trainers (TOT) programme that was to be held in Nigeria for the first time from 9th to 14th September, 2011.
FIATA believes that all is not well with the freight forwarding industry in Nigeria if immediately after the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) had resolved its differences with CRFFN, then another association was taking over the crisis.
FIATA wants to see what disciplinary actions the Government is taking against IFFA as well as get the assurance of safety and security of its officials from the Government. Even when we made a case that CRFFN as a body, members of the Council and the Registrar have jointly sued IFFA for defamation as attached but the world body noted that the action was a civil litigation.
As a resulted the country also lost the Regional Training Centre for West Africa to Ghana that was appointed at the meeting. It however commended Nigeria for the abolition of Cargo Tracking Note (CTN).
There is however some kind of peace returning to the freight forwarding profession and operators that this will lead to improvement of the sub-sector. Agents are still complaining about the conditions of cargo clearance at the ports.
Maritime operators are hoping that there would be a charge on the part of government and its agents that would be beneficial to the industry in general .