The Hub

November 3, 2011

How not to reform the ports

By Josef Omortionmwan
WANTED URGENTLY: Fake and adulterated products; Killer and expired drugs; Inferior cables and wires; Fake electronics of all descriptions; Antiquated over-used vehicles, not less than 30 years old; Toxic wastes properly packaged and labeled as food; and any other items that are not required in the country of origin, to be dumped on Nigeria.

CONDITIONS OF IMPORT: No pre-shipment inspection required; must be imported in large quantities, in big containers; Goods must be brought into the country through any of the seaports in Nigeria as the seaports are now safe havens. Female drug traffickers should conceal illicit drugs in any part of their bodies without fear of being searched. TIMING: Imports should begin to arrive in Nigerian seaports as from the second week in November.

WARNING: You are warned in your own interest to avoid using the airports – repeat – avoid using the airports as the authorities there are on high alert.

Imagine that you have just woken up and our newspapers have been inundated with this type of advert. Your friends abroad are also phoning to say that the same advert has appeared in some of their newspapers and magazines. What would your reaction be? Remember that we live in a free world; and a democratic setting at that.

You really do not need to think too far. The Federal Government of Nigeria is already approaching this high level of development. Government has just announced its decision to withdraw the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC, the Standard Organization of Nigeria, SON, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, and five other maritime agencies from the seaports. The Federal Government says this decision is driven by the need to streamline operations in the ports, encourage efficient ports system and reduce the cost of doing business therein.

We are, however, aware that the removal of SON from our seaports would naturally pave way for the influx of fake and substandard goods into the country. Similarly, the removal of NAFDAC is the simplest way of opening our doors to the massive importation of fake and adulterated drugs into our dear native land. The function of NDLEA in tackling drug-related issues in our ports is well known. The Federal Government is clever by half. As an instance, while it has remained stoically silent on the achievements of the NDLEA at the seaports, it has perhaps unwittingly revealed that the NDLEA is achieving great feats at the airports. In Lagos airport alone, the NDLEA seized drugs worth N6.1 billion during the period, January 2010 – September 2011 (Vide THE NATION ON SUNDAY, October 23, 2011, pages 1 and 4). There is no escaping the inevitable conclusion that NAFDAC, NDLEA and the SON have statutorily assigned responsibilities at the sea and airports throughout the land and they are doing well. The goose that lays the golden eggs should not be sacrificed at Christmas. When one way closes, another one opens. Going by Government’s report on the NDLEA, the only moral message to the drug dealers is that since the airports are closed to them, they should go and pass through the seaports where all the hindrances have been removed. This is an open invitation to disaster.

By geography, the earth is round. And so dubiously is Nigeria also round, round like a football that could be played in whichever direction we choose. From time, our leaders have been very good in this game of football. At a point in this country, some of our leaders wanted to go into large scale farming but land ownership was in private hands; in the hands of traditional rulers who could release them only in trickles. They then brought about the Land Use Act, which transferred land ownership to the states from where the leaders then decreed as much land as they wanted into their own hands. At another time, the leaders had stolen so much money and the plundered wealth had been tucked away in foreign banks. The illicit wealth must be given stupendous value so that when repatriated, the owners would become automatic multi-billionaires. Then the Naira must be devalued beyond measure. That was how the Naira hit the ground running and there is no stopping it. The US dollar that was worth less than 60 kobo a few years back has since climbed to near N200. We just hope the Naira will not descend to the level where it may not be worth the paper on which it is printed. Nigerians have become so skeptical and suspicious of the people who run their affairs. Who says that some desperate importers may not have infiltrated the ranks of our government officials and they now want a window to enable them flood our markets with substandard goods after the tough time they had in the era of our ‘Iron Lady’? How else does anyone explain the shoddy approach to the Ports Reform? Hear the Finance Minister, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala: “The economic management team and the task force set up by the President are going to deliberate with relevant stakeholders on measures to be put in place to streamline operations in the ports to reduce time”.

Which should come first, the work of the streamlining committees or the sacking of the maritime agencies? Again, this may be in our usual clumsy character of putting the cart before the horse. In any event, our only concern at this point is that the high and mighty should live simply so that the rest of us might simply live. They should not live and let die.