By Godfrey Bivbere
Despite the difficult business environment experienced in 2018 and uncertainties of the 2019 general election outcome, operators in the maritime industry are optimistic that a more conducive environment will come on stream in 2019. Consequently, they expect the industry to record significant growth during the year.
Some of the operators and stakeholders, who spoke with Vanguard Maritime Report, expressed hopes that the major hindrance being the traffic gridlock that almost crippled port operations last year in Lagos will be dealt with.
President of the Ship Owners Association of Nigeria, SOAN, Greg Ogbeifun, told Vanguard Maritime Report that the shipping sub-sector witnessed some marginal growth last year but this year better growth is expected.
Ogbeifun also said that they expect the government to conclude the establishment of the National Fleet as well as the disbursement of the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund, CVFF, to real and genuine industry operators.
He stated: “My expectation for the industry this year is very high. In 2018 the industry saw some growth as a result of the increase in the price of crude oil worldwide that had a positive effect on our industry.
“Most vessels that were laid-off were called back to work, though prices have not changed but I think more people are busy working.
‘‘We had an unprecedented cooperation of the stakeholders in 2018 and I am hoping that 2019 will see to consolidation of all that.
“I am expecting the maritime industry to see some growth this year, the establishment of the National Fleet, the actualisation of the disbursement of the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund, CVFF to real industry beneficiaries. All of these, hopefully, will help the industry.
“I want to talk about the human capacity development. With the restructuring that has taken place and is ongoing at the Maritime Academy of Nigeria, MAN, in Oron and the establishment of other training institutions, this would help in promoting the training of our cadets,” he noted.
But the founder of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, NAGAFF, Boniface Aniebonam, said there was a system collapse at the ports in 2018 and there is need for the government to do whatever possible to bring normalcy to the ports in 2019.
“The port is like a war zone, so government just has to deploy whatever it takes to bring back normalcy.
“48 hours cargo clearance, is not working. The essence of the port reform is to increase capacity in terms of efficiency. Reduction of cost, have we been able to achieve that? It is so disheartening.”
On his part, National Publicity Secretary of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, Joe Sanni, said there is need for collaboration by all stakeholders if development and improvement must be achieved in 2019.
Sanni, in a chat with Vanguard Maritime Report, said the responsibilities should mostly be between the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, the Shipping Companies and Terminal Operators in terms of automating the processes.
He also expressed the hope that the various government agencies in the ports should wake up to their responsibilities.
He advised the agencies to stick to their functions at the ports to ensure that cargoes are not delayed and port users are not extorted.
Customs, NPA, corruption
As for Customs he stated: “I want to see them cut down on the number of stages that a cargo has to go through before being released from the ports; they should also remove the monetary aspect too.
“Where they hold most agents to ransom, whereby for you to get an officer’s endorsement, even when you have an honest declaration; you must part with something or your document will remain there.
“I think the Customs themselves must do an in-house re-organisation of their processes so that we can begin to get cargo out of the ports faster.
“For the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, we want to see them coming out stronger to ensure that only government agencies that are supposed to be at the ports are there.
“They should ensure that empty containers are taken to the holding bays to free the port access roads. They should ensure that the port access roads are fixed to eliminate the gridlock on the roads.”
He also charged NPA to collaborate with the Port Police Command to ensure that there is adequate security at the ports.
Babatunde Shittu, a Customs broker, stressed that the major focus in 2019 is for the government to fix the port access roads because of the importance to the economy of the nation.
Shittu explained that once the port access roads are fixed greater part of the difficulties being faced by port users would have been resolved.
He said the Customs must put measures in place to check the various bottlenecks created by officers and men of the Service because of revenue collection.
In his words, “48 hours cargo clearance will be difficult to achieve because there are too many bottlenecks here and there.
“We are still receiving alerts from the Valuation Unit, alert from APM, different types of alerts, different types of blockages in the name of wrong classification, wrong declaration which sometimes is not true.
“All these things have to be improved upon. Customs has to improve on its staff training so that at the end of the day, demurrage will not discourage people from coming to do genuine business at the port.”
He, however, agreed that there are importers and agents who do not do the right thing but stressed those genuine businessmen should not be made to suffer because of the ones that are not compliant.
Fraudulent call-up system
President of the Association of Maritime Truck Owners, AMATO, Remi Ogungbemi, said for there to be improvement in port operations in 2019, government must ensure that automated call up system is introduced for trucks wanting to access the port.
He said the present system which is done manually is loaded with so much favouritism, leading to truckers struggling to get closer to the port because that is the only way to get jobs.
According to him, “What they do is a call-up system which is manual, but what we want is electronic call up system without human interface. All these call-up they are doing presently is marred with so many frauds. It is not electronics, it bring so much favouritism and so on and so forth which makes the environment to be more chaotic, it cost more and is more difficult for truckers to get call up. “That is not how I think they should do it; it should be electronic so that before you leave your park, you must have received information. So that anywhere you are because about 80 per cent of trucks have they garages and parks but there is nothing to inform them to know the time, the day for them when it is their turn.
“So we are expecting government to move away from analogy and introduce digital because about 80 per cent of truck owners have their parks and garages but there is nothing to inform them when it is their turn to come and load, whether it is Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday and that is why it has become how closer to the port that you are that you can load,” he said.