There have been several stakeholders’ meetings at different fora to analyze the causative factors leading to delay in cargo clearance, cumbersome processes in payment system, ambiguity in declaration as well as other social issues like harassment of port users by the security operatives.
In fact, some people have even accused the security operatives of double standards in their hostilities to port operators.
These meetings held at different occasions, levels and venues but with little or no significance on the operations in the ports as the anomalies seem to defy solutions.
At the customs, importers and agents levels, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) mandated all the commands to hold monthly retreats to address the irregularities that can mar the facilitation of trade in the port.
These monthly brainstorming sessions have not seemed to be able to remove the perennial clog in the wheel of trade facilitation but they have also not been without impact as some palliatives have been uncovered.
Again, in April, the stakeholders in Apapa, the premier port were hosted by the Customs command under the supervision of the Customs Area Controller (CAC), Charles Edike in furtherance of arriving at seamless operations.
As usual, the meeting was fraught with complaints, most of which formed the chunk of the previous meeting agenda but that still remained latent. Present at the recent meeting were the Customs officers, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) officials, representatives of terminal operators, importers and myriad of clearing agents.
The issues tabled for discussion were the unnecessary and artificial bureaucracy created by security agents at the entry points of the port, despite the fact that the agents have their port pass which gives them access to the port.
The agents also complained about the incessant server breakdown in the port and the demurrage accruable from the number of days the problem persists. Often times, importers and agents are made to pay for the problems they do not cause.
This is one of the major problems plaguing the port system that is responsible for the high cost of doing business in the port and the eventual transference to the market where the masses bear the brunt.
At the meeting, opinions were shared; possible solutions proffered for the optimum efficiently at the port.
One of the stakeholders, the Chairman of the National Association of Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Apapa Chapter, Mr. Olumide Fakanlu represented by his Vice Chairman Mr. Zum Onyeka, decried the inefficiency of terminal operations as their members could not access the E-portal due to network failure.
The Stakeholders’ Manager of AP Moller Terminal (APMT), Mr. Odibe Daniel who apologized for the down side experience of closing down the terminal in line with the no movement directive during the election, said that “On Sunday when we resumed operations we tried to bring up the system but it was not forth coming, I am not an IT Personnel so, I cannot really explain the technicality behind the failure but it was very serious.
He assured that although it has been rectified, there had been challenges due to the days lost by agents, importers and truck drivers.
Odibe went on the say that everything is being put in place to address all contacts, but the issue remains that days have been lost and someone has to pay for it and it’s neither the port operators nor the customs.
The idea of moving the customer care of APMT into the ports means that importers and their agents will constantly have to obtain port pass from the NPA and have the police to contend with if they do not have it, even though they have valid identification cards and cargo clearing documents.
They find themselves thrown behind bars for days and while they are trying to secure their release cargo accrue demurrage at the ports.
The managing Director of the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) Mallam Habib Abdullahi reacted by saying that persons who approach the ports to access any of the terminals with genuine business will not be denied but if such had been happening, he will find out how true the complaint is and will act accordingly.
CAC Edike also assured that the complaint once put into writing as a petition, he will use his good office to reach the police on the matter.
He urged importers and their agents not to keep quiet “When you have some of these challenges, make effort to see heads of these offices and do something about it because when you keep quite the problem remains there.”
According to him “If cleaning is delayed for a second that second can snowball into days, we frown seriously at officers that get involved in delay of jobs, because they are holding down people’s businesses and holding down progress, so we frown seriously at any officer that delays anybody’s job. The point is that you should report to me, call us, we know what to do, don’t keep quiet, except you also connive, but if your hands are clean, do us a world of good and come and report to us,” he emphasized.
In as much as the customs frowns at officers who delay jobs the customs as a major player in the supply chain has a key role to play in the timely release of goods from the ports especially when observations have revealed that vehicles under the year 2008 are released immediately after valuation but if the vehicle in question is from 2008 and above it is subjected to 24hours delay before being released. This is because the releasing officer believes that at some point an alert might come, so it will be a risk to release the job and since the car value is estimated at N1m or above the suspicion of under declaration by the agent is always high. On this premise the releasing officer allows a container to accrue 24hours demurrage, an act which is against ports best practices.
Similarly the CG of Customs Abdullahi Dikko Inde during his visits to the Lagos Commands, said the reason for the decline in Customs’ revenue was because of the six weeks postponement of the election in the country.
He charged officers and men of the Customs to put in more effort to improve revenue generation since the elections are over and to make sure that the revenue accruing to the Federal Government in the new dispensation is jerked up from what presently obtains.
He also appealed to them to see the need to work towards achieving increased trade facilitation because the Maritime is the next largest contributor to the Nigerian revenue after crude oil.
In all of these all the stakeholders really have their roles cut out for them; the importers and their agents have the duty to make honest declaration of whatever goods they are importing, the NPA and the police in their desire to maintain security at the port also need to understand that they should not take undue advantage of port users because to do so will only hinder trade facilitation and make the port less competitive for trade, on the part of the terminal operators and the customs, payments should be made and validated within the shortest time possible and cargo should be released as at when due without unnecessary delay.
Only then can the maritime industry in Nigeria begin to compete with world best practices of less than 48 hours for clearing cargo, and only then can vessels meet up with schedules and turnaround time and customs can meet their targets on revenue generation for the Nigerian economy.