By Kenneth Jukpor
As Nigeria tries to diversify its economy away from the overdependence on crude oil, the maritime sector has been tipped as one of the leading alternatives with estimated revenue potentials of over N77 trillion yearly.
Nevertheless, the sector continues to suffer numerous set-backs on issues ranging from conflicting legal frameworks and establishing acts, unhealthy rivalry among regulatory agencies, monopolies by certain operators, arbitrary charges and several un-receipted costs, among others.
To address this challenge, the University of Lagos (UNILAG) is to set-up a committee to look at the existing Nigerian laws in the maritime sector with a view to address overlapping laws in the establishing acts of some regulatory agencies.
Besides the conflict in the established acts, unhealthy rivalry and tussle for regulatory space has also foiled attempts to get some laudable initiatives implemented in the nation’s shipping sector. Some of these programmes include; the National Single Window and the Cargo Tracking Note (CTN), which saw several agencies jostle for control for years as the fracas escalated to varying quarters of the legislature and the presidency to scuttle the projects.
Numerous crucial maritime sector bills have also been jettisoned at the National Assembly or rejected by the presidency with reasons traceable to aggrieved leadership of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). Some of these bills include; the Ports and Harbours Bill, NIMASA Revised Act, National Transport Commission (NTC) bill, among others.
There are conflicting areas between the NIMASA and Shippers’ Council Acts; the NIMASA and NIWA Acts, NPA and Shippers’ Council Acts, among others.
Speaking on the numerous issues in the maritime sector last week, a former General Manager at Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Capt. Iheanacho Ebubeogu stated that the response to change in technology is showing up everywhere in the nation’s maritime sector but in small bits.
“When we talk of ICT applications in all the agencies, this is taking place in the respective organizations but there is no interface between the agencies. Two factors that tick the maritime industry is change in transport demand and development in technology. Nigeria’s port community can be divided into two groups; the border post agencies led by Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and the Maritime logistics component which comprises NPA, terminal operators, shipping companies and freight forwarders. Everybody is developing their ICT applications but there is no linkage,” he said.
The former NPA General Manager revealed that when there are meetings to discuss the key aspects of trade facilitation and all port sector agencies meet at a roundtable, it is usually Customs versus the maritime logistics components.
Ebubeogu who was speaking when the Nigerian Ports Consultative Council (PCC) paid a visit to the Executive Secretary of NSC, Hon. Emmanuel Jime in Lagos, last week, urged the Shippers’ Council boss to strive to address this challenge.
“If we must achieve Single Window, the platform must be open and accessible to all port sector agencies and stakeholders. Documentation should be very transparent and every stakeholder should be able to monitor the flow of documentation. Customs can’t claim to have a single window that isn’t interlinked with other agencies.”
“Most of the places where we have issues are areas where people have a monopoly of regulatory services such as NPA, Customs, and Shippers’ Council, among others. Today, the 21st century mode of facilitating trade is synergy and I’ll urge NSC to pick up the Single Window initiative and push to bring it to fruition,” he stressed.
He noted that the International Maritime Organization (IMO) had made attempts to address these challenges through the Convention of Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic, also called FAL Convention adopted in 1965.
With this convention members aimed at facilitating maritime transport by simplifying and minimizing the formalities, data requirements and procedures associated with arrival, stay and departure of ships engaged in international voyage.
“FAL Convention contains Standards and Recommended Practices on formalities, documentary requirements and procedures which should be applied on arrival, during their stay, and on departure to the ships, their crews, passengers, baggage and cargo. The FAL Committee approved in 2010 an explanatory manual to the Convention that contains guidance and interpretation of the provisions of the annex of the FAL Convention, assists in interpreting the legal text of the provisions and provides for a greater understanding of the Convention,” he added.
When quizzed on NSC’s role in managing the increasing costs in the port sector that are unreceipted, the NSC boss, Jime told our correspondent that the Council would commence an investigation on the matter which was raised by the PCC.
“This is coming to me as vital information from the Chairman of PCC. As a regulator, it is our place to investigate this, make findings and come up with a policy or strategy to address it,” Jime said.
Noting that there is an inter-agency rivalry with every agency striving to protect its territory, he opined that this tough war goes on a lot.
“This isn’t only among government agencies because it is a natural phenomenon. However, we should all recognize the fact that our mandate is to serve the nation and we need to collaborate. Until we collaborate with each other, there is no way any agency will be able to deliver to the best of its mandate and capacity. I’m fortunate that I came in at a time when there is an existing platform for the heads of government agencies to collaborate and as we do that, the country benefits,” he explained.
On his part, the Chairman of PCC, Otunba Kunle Folarin noted that the world is changing with emerging trends but Nigeria seems to be less concerned about climate change.
“With possibility of flooding around areas at the ports and the increasing population leading to congestion and gridlock at the ports; one wonders why restaurants and other non-essential business activities occur just two meters from the seaports,” he said.
Noting that the Philippines don’t have oil or gas, he revealed that they generate over $15billion from home remittances from their workers (seafarers) outside the country.
“They created 54 maritime training institutions and tried to train their citizens in maritime and export them to the world. Today, 60 percent of the ratings onboard vessels around the world are Philippines. That’s employment for the seafarers, but it’s also empowerment for those who create the schools. Shipyards are coming to the Philippines and that guarantees more empowerment,” Otunba Folarin said.
According to him, the economic potential of maritime transport exceeds N77 trillion as opportunities abound in ferry services, cargo services, barge operations, freight forwarding, and much more.
“We need studies and research to create knowledge for people. Why should people spend 6 hours for a journey that can take 30 minutes on the waterways? There must be a correlation between town and gown. Lack of opportunities for seatime is making our seafarers incompetent,” he posited.
Meanwhile, speaking on the place of research, data collation and training, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe noted that the university’s efforts to proffer such services for NPA were futile despite several engagements.
“One of the problems we have in Nigeria is that we quickly look outward for solutions that can be found in-country. These maritime trainings could be adapted to the learning curriculum in UNILAG. Where there is a need to go abroad for certain aspects of the training it should be allowed, but why not develop the capacity here when it is possible,” Prof. Ogundipe stressed
According to him, UNILAG would also be ready to do data analysis and forecasts for the nation’s port sector once the information is made available.
“There is a need for the port operators and regulators to work with learning institutions like UNILAG. We have the capacity to solve most of the industry issues. Currently, we are having a workshop on cyber security and data analysis but the stakeholders aren’t showing a lot of interest,” the Vice Chancellor added.