It was unexpected and shocking for many key stakeholders in the maritime sector to hear from the Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi that the Nigerian ports cannot assume the rating of world-class soon, even as the shipping business continued to face series of fiscal and infrastructural challenges.
The fact is that the issues around the maritime sector operations are too numerous to combat within a twinkle of an eye, but stakeholders insist on the need for a quick fix in order to save the multi-billion dollars investment by terminal operators and clearing agents among others from going moribund.
Nigerian ports may remain very uncompetitive for some more time, if they further experience sluggish infrastructure growth and slow ratification of fiscal policies.
Amaechi, who spoke recently on fast-tracking ports reforms with the theme: “Making Nigerian seaports world class,” said: “We promised change. Change is not talked about it is felt, that is why we say please give us time; we did not cause recession but you must give us time to fix it.
“Turning our ports to world class standard will not happen now, it will take time but we must start from somewhere.”
He explained that since inception of the current administration, the goal of government in the reformation of the maritime sector is to provide an enabling environment for the modernisation and expansion of the existing infrastructure.
The Executive Secretary, of Nigerian Shippers Council, Hassan Bello, at a stakeholders’ forum in Lagos, said the ports access roads are all in a very poor condition, hence the need for government to declare emergency on the roads.
Bello said: “If you rate our ports based on some key performance indicators, you will discover that they are also not doing well. Let us not look at the
cargo clearing time, the number of days it takes you to clear your cargo at port; as at 2016, we are still in the range of 19 to 20 days. As I am talking to you now, Lome port will take you three days to clear your consignment; our neighbouring port of Cotonou will take you seven days; the Port of Durban in South Africa will take you four days; the Port of Munbasa in Kenya will take six days.
“ If you look at the demurrage free period (free number of days given to an importer to take his goods away from the port before they start calculating demurrage),i In Nigeria it is five days, after five days you will start paying demurrage on your consignment. But the Port of Benin gives 10 days; Port of Cameroon is 10 days; Chinghai Port in China is 10 days.
“Also looking at the free period (number of days that your cargo will stay at the port before you start paying rent) at Nigerian ports, its around three days; Benin Port is seven days; Port of Ghana is 11 days; Cameroon is 11 days.
“In 2014 when the Shippers Council was appointed port economic regulator, terminal handling charges in Nigeria was around N50,000. In Cotonou Port, it used to be N24,000; in Ghana, it’s N9,773, and as I am talking to you terminal handling charges has been suspended in Ghana.
“Again, our ports are charaterised by disunity where every other person is on its own, terminal operators do whatever they like, shipping companies do the same; even the government agencies that are making revenue for the nation, everybody is on its own”.
They all believe that they have their own mandate. They don’t know that as far as government is concerned they only have one regulator in the port.
“What an importer wants from the port is service availability, billing accuracy, response time in terms of bill processing, right price, customer friendly environment, safety of cargo and availability of port user information among others.
“Shippers Council’s recommendation for the way forward is that there must be a compelling need by government to strengthen the regulatory framework, operation must be eased and government agencies must work together to ensure that we improve efficiency at our port. Also, the access roads must be declared an emergency area. The road is an eye saw, government must fix it urgently. Port must be fully automated through the single window. This has the capability to reduce the dwell time from 40 days to 10 days.”
The Managing Director, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Hadiza Bala Usman, who also stressed the importance of ports revolution in Nigeria, said efficient ports operation would aid the diversification agenda of the Federal Government.
Usman said: “Developing the ports is very crucial for realising the lofty but achievable development objectives of the Federal Government. Our port infrastructure like the quays walls and aprons would need to be reconstructed and reinforced to make them fit to handle anticipated heavy solid mineral cargo.
“For agricultural produce, we would need specialised and refrigerated warehouses and a host of others. The channels must be constantly dredged and maintained and deep seaports must be developed to address the dynamics in trade and transport demand,” she said.