NIGERIA @ 57: Seaports struggling with infrastructure deficit
Of the many ills plaguing smooth operations at Nigeria’s sea ports, infrastructure deficit ranks highest and this has impeded not just the growth, but also the development of this very important sector of the nation’s economy.
Despite several attempts made so far to reposition the ports and improve their operations, this money-spinning sector is, 57 years after independence, still struggling with huge infrastructure deficit evident in the deplorable state of access roads, faulty cargo inspection scanners, lack of efficient rail system for ease of moving cargo in and out of the ports, absence of functional truck holding-bay, truck transit park, etc. All these have conspired to impact negatively on efficient service delivery at the ports.
When in May this year, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in acting president capacity, signed an Executive Order on the Promotion of Transparency and Efficiency in the Nigeria’s Business Environment, the aim was not only to ensure Ease of Doing Business at airports, seaports and general business environment, but to also improve Nigeria’s ranking in the global Ease of Doing Business Index.
At that time, Nigeria was among the countries that were poorly ranked in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index because the nation’s general business environment was and still far from being friendly, hence the need for Federal Government’s intervention, especially at the time that it came.
In summary, the document pointed to the fact that the agencies at the port must harmonise their operations into a single interface station. It also directed that the port must operate 24-hours as in other countries of the world. The document also demanded for the fast-tracking of export goods in Nigerian ports and address the issues around touting as well as bribe-taking by officials and non-officials at the port. The Executive Order was drafted to address the problems port users including importers and exporters face in doing business at the seaport. This was evident in the high cost of doing business at port occasioned by factors such as long cargo dwell time; low turnaround of ships, high demurrage and storage charges payable to shipping companies and terminal operators by importers.
These costs were then transferred to the final consumers in the form of high cost of goods in the market.
Few weeks after this tall order was issued, the Hadiza Bala-Usman led Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) together with the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and other operators and agencies, moved into action to implement the presidential directive by bringing stakeholders together to marshal out the best strategies that would enable the concerned authorities to deliver on their mandates.
But four months after this directive was handed over to agencies at the port to implement, industry stakeholders and port users, are yet to see significant changes in the processes and procedure of doing business at ports as the directive is yet to impact positively on doing business there. This, according to industry close watchers, find explanation in the huge infrastructure deficit
“Lack of functional scanning equipment at the seaports, has formed a major setback to effective implementation of 24-hour port operations as contained in the Executive Order on Ease of Doing Business, signed four months ago by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo,” said Taiwo Afolabi, Group Executive Vice Chairman of SIFAX Group in a forum Lagos recently.
Most scanners at the seaports are either completely broken down or functioning below the installed capacity. This has left the officers of the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) with no other option than to carry out 100 percent physical examination of cargoes at the ports. This impedes efficient and timely service delivery to port users, which the Executive Order on the Ease of Doing Business was instituted to address.
The scanners at the ports and border stations were in a state that makes it difficult, if not impossible, for Customs to discharge its duty of effective and timely container inspection and fast track cargo delivery to importers’ warehouse at minimal cost.
“The current economic reality in the country has made it impracticable for the government alone to shoulder the responsibility of infrastructure provision in critical sectors of the economy. Therefore, the scanners at the nation’s ports can be concession to be kept it functional for 24-hour port operation to be effective,” Afolabi said.
Lack of constant power supply has been one of the major infrastructural challenges facing doing business at the port, which makes it difficult for terminal operators and others to carry out round-the-clock port operation. This helps to add to the high cost of doing business at the port.
The situation has become so alarming as on night-duty Customs officers on several occasion, work at night with rechargeable lanterns due to lack of power supply. This was due to the failure of the Federal Government through the NPA to fully illuminate the ports and ensure constant supply of power at the ports for businesses to go on even at nights without hitches.
“The Federal Government needs to put structures on ground to ensure round-the-clock power supply at the ports. So that there would be 24-hour illumination at the port and its environment because Customs cannot board vessels at night nor conduct examination of cargo with lanterns at night,” said Tony Anakebe, managing director of Gold-Link Investment Limited.
The Ease of Doing Business policy, Anakebe stated, is no doubt good but the implementation would not be feasible under the current conditions of port infrastructure.
The poor road infrastructure in and out of the seaports in Apapa, Tin-Can Island, Onne and others, has been a major problem facing the port system years after independence. The access roads leading to the ports in Lagos are currently in sorry state even as the NPA has continued to assure port users of their unreserved commitment to remedy the road problem.
Recall that in 2006, the President Olusegun Obasanjo-led administration ceded the cargo handling operations of the seaport, which was formerly in the hands of the NPA to private sector operators.
Eleven years down the line, the number of vessels calling Nigerian seaports annually has increased tremendously, and this shows that Nigerian ports are developing.
The throughput of cargo, volume of vehicles and revenue generated by both Federal and State Governments through the seaport presently cannot be compared to what they were before the port was concessioned.
For instance, two major roads leading to ports in Lagos, Apapa-Oshodi Expressway and Ijora-Apapa road through Western Avenue have been in decay due to abandonment though there seems to be a palliative following the ongoing rehabilitation on some parts of the road.
As a result of long years of negligence, the level of man-hour loss on the roads to both seaports due to persistent traffic gridlocks experienced by port operators, users and motorists, is now a major challenge to port business.
The decay of road infrastructure started after the throughput and volume of goods in and out of the port started growing at the port. As a result, the available road infrastructure became insufficient to deal with volume of goods at the port as government failed to invest in road maintenance, expansion and building of new roads within the port environment.
The government needs to consider the option of concessioning the scanners to private sector operators to manage, judging by the fact that years back when scanners were in the hands of private sector Destination Inspection (DI) Service Providers, the scanner were in perfect condition and fully operational compared to today.
The Federal Government needs to ensure constant power supply to the ports so as to effectively illuminate the port and its environment. This would reduce the rate at which the terminal operators make use of self-generated electricity that also adds to the high cost of clearing goods at the port.
The government needs to show commitment to developing and maintaining road infrastructure around the ports to ease movement of cargo in and out of the ports.
Nigerian maritime industry, according to industry stakeholders, is about 88 percent untapped. Also, statistics has it that maritime and shipping business hold potential to become alternate revenue earner to government in addition to oil and to create thousands of jobs, if properly harnessed.
Therefore, government needs to invest more in the development of the sector for business to take place and to attract more foreign direct investment in the sector.
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