As the clock ticks into the year 2019, stakeholders in the shipping indusexpressed and hope for a better operating environment. They seek workable policies such as the review of the Auto policy, guaranteed security architecture and infrastructure facelift to aid the maritime sector for the next 12 months and beyond.
Indeed, some stakeholders believe that the review of the auto policy would increase importation of vehicles to Nigeria by almost 400,000 units, with multiplier effects, such as increased income to government and employment opportunities among others.
The new policy intervention by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) is also expected to go a long way in reviving the lost glory of the seaports, if properly implemented.
An importer, Ben Anazodo, said the Federal Government must ensure that the New Year comes with infrastructure facelift at the ports, describing this as a sure way of lifting the national economy, especially in relation with the government’s diversification agenda.He said: “The main factor that is pulling Nigerian ports behind is the poor road infrastructure. Government should declare a state of emergency on the ports access roads, and ensure rapid reconstruction of the roads because it is very important to the national economy.
“You cannot leave your ports in a terrible state and feel that the economy will grow by magic. It is not done anywhere, if you go to neighbouring ports in other African countries, you will discover that thing are done in line with the international standards, but it is unfortunate that it works the other way round here.
“Bad roads are making people to lose goods, sometimes lives are lost on the roads. We are yet to do 24 hours cargo clearance, cargo scanners are not available, and multiple government agencies are there to extort importers. The Customs clearance procedure (tariff charge) is shrouded in secrecy. Our waterways are not secure. We have loads of work and 2019 is the year. We must start immediately to tackle these issues holistically to make Nigerian seaports business-friendly and enhance the ease of doing business,” he said.
Spokesperson, Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN), Bolaji Akinola, said: “It is painful that Nigeria is losing enormous cargoes to the port of neighbouring countries. It is interesting to note that 90 per cent of the goods that go to neighbouring countries (Cotonou, Abidjan, Yaunde) will eventually end up in Nigerian market, so, why do they go to those ports?
“They go there to evade government policy. For example the national automotive policy is good on paper, but very bad in practice, especially the area that jacked up duty on vehicles from 20 per cent to 70 per cent. What happened is that Nigerians want to circumvent that policy, so they take their vehicles to Cotonou or any other ports around where they pay 10 per cent and then smugly it into Nigeria at night. So, we really have to modify that policy.”
“There are many other policies like that which send importers to neighbouring countries and inadvertently encourage smuggling. We want to see government reversing those policies. The advantages are numerous. It will reduce smuggling automatically, it will reduce pressure on the Customs, and it will automatically boost government’s revenue because these cargoes will now legitimately come through our ports. They will pay government duty and other charges. It will also create work for our dockworkers rather than those of other countries. You can imagine the multiplier effect of that. The review of the auto policy alone will increase importation of vehicle to Nigeria be, almost 400,000 units, and you can imagine the multiplier effect of that on the economy,” he stated.
He decried the state of the ports access roads, stating that: “We are happy that government is paying attention to the road, which is key. I believe that traffic on the roads should be improved in 2019. The bridge at Leventis, opposite Area B Police Station on Wharf Road should be reopened. If that bridge is not reopened, the Wharf Road will remain a major problem. The bridge will bring some relief.
“Although, work is about to commence on the Apapa-Oshodi Road, the inner road as and around Apapa and TinCan should be repaired. These roads can be done within three weeks. They will serve as alternative routes, but if we don’t do that and begin work on the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, honestly, the gridlock will continue unabated. I hope government will do the needful,” he said. Akinola described the repair of the road is just a short-term measure, adding that the long-term solution is to get befitting truck parks. “Without truck parks, the trucks will continue to park on the road even after fixing it,” he stated.
As part of the long-term measures, he said: “The Federal Government should ensure that 60 per cent of cargoes leaving the port area must leave by rail or barges. This could be done in the next five years. These are the things we hope to see happing in 2019.”
Meanwhile, NPA had rolled out some incentives towards the tail end of 2018, with expectations that these would lure importers to Nigerian ports.
Managing Director, NPA, Hadiza Bala Usman, said that the incentives would reduce the attendant financial burden that the congestion at the Apapa and Tin Can Island Port has brought on importers.
These includes: Increase in rent- free period for cargoes housed in the terminals from the current period of three free days before commencement of rent charges to 21 free days before commencement of rent charges for a period of four months; Increase in the demurrage free period on return of empty containers from the current five days period to 15 days for a period of four months.NPA also directed the shipping companies to immediately deploy sweeper vessels to evacuate empty containers from the port to clear the backlog of empty containers littering the country within four months. It however encourages the use of Onne Ports for such sweeper vessels.
It also urged the Nigerian Customs Service to immediate commence the process of auctioning of overtime cargoes.Terminal operators are also encouraged to negotiate and grant waivers to consignees to facilitate the evacuation of these cargoes to militate against auctioning, which will result in a total loss of revenue by the terminal operator and the loss of cargo by the consignee.
Bala Usman said the measures are emergency steps taken to immediately reduce the financial burden of congestion on citizens as the Federal Government proceeds to permanently resolve the congestion through the following; as will the reconstruction of the Port access road, the provision of trailer parks and holding bays with e-call up system, the enhancement of cargo evacuation using rail transportation and inland waterways with barges among others.