Martins Uba Nwamadi
In the year 2000, the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo commenced reforms in Nigerian ports which eventually culminated in ports concession to private sector operators in 2006. The objective of the reform and concession was to increase the efficiency of the port operations, decrease cost of port services to the port users, boost economic activity, accelerate development and equally make the Nigerian port the hub for international freight in sub sahara and central Africa.
The port reforms brought a new culture of business thinking in the maritime sector. Economists and maritime experts professed that if fully exploited, the maritime sector can contribute up to 4.5 percent to GDP. The experts anchor there forecast based on the new deep sea ports coming from Lagos, Akwa Ibom, Calabar and Ondo states. Also, the Federal Government policy framework to rehabilitate and expand the existing, ports in Apapa premier port, Tin Can Island port, Warri, Onne and Port Harcourt coupled with the establishment of Inland Dry Ports in the 6 geo – political zones of the country with the rail line linking Apapa Ports to the northern Flanks presupposes that a trade boom is in the offing. It is also assumed that if government agencies like Nigeria Custom Service, NPA, terminal operators, shipping companies, financial institutions, freight and logistics chains operating in the maritime domain are fully digitized, will aid in achieving Federal Government aspiration.
Last week, the Executive Secretary Nigerian Shippers Council (Port Economic Regulator) Barrister Hassan Bello opened a new Vista by advocating that it has become very compelling for critical organs of government to collaborate and synergise as we build bridges to a seamless port operations. He noted that the world is now IT driven and any country or institution that fails to align into the digital economy may not survive the shocks of international trade vagaries.
As the Port Economic Regulator, I believe Bello is speaking from a vantage position. Firstly, maritime is a sector that is fully integrated globally.
The executive secretary has discovered many areas of breaches, lack of creative hubs that should have stimulated our maritime growth. Secondly, lack of digitization in the port process has created substantial impact/vacuum on the economy, individual, corporate and social levels.
And finally, with full IT process in the port operation, it has multiplier effects on the economy as it will promote honesty, positive behaviour in business thinking and attitude change in the ports by operators while bringing speedy and fast cargo clearing process.
There is no gain saying that automation in the ports demand a total reappraisal of deficient areas that we could tap into to leverage upon for better performance of operations.
Speaking further on the benefits of automation in the port process, Bello revealed that the essence of digitizing the port process is to upgrade finance process, fight corruption to the minimum level, simplify procedures, reduce person to person contact, observe basic standard operating procedure introduce excellence as a basic requirement in the port process while ensuring competiveness and efficiency.
It also will strengthen the partnership between the public and private sectors which will lead to upgrading of port infrastructure while reducing cargo dwell time which is a critical component in determining efficiency of ports.
It is Significant to point out here that in the post 2 Years, Nigeria has failed to win a seat at the International Maritime Organization (IMO). You may ask why? The International community, shipping companies, global maritime agencies still believe that despite the huge potentials in Nigeria’s maritime domain which has not been explored the country is still a factor that cannot be ignored. The cargo dwell time in Nigeria is still high compared to Ghana, Benin Republic or South Africa. Furthermore, 14 Years after ports concession, we are still using ledger in our financial process in Cargo clearance. As at today, Nigeria has not deemed it necessary to exploit the huge advantages inherent in International Cargo Tracking Note (ICTN) which will at a glance show every minute content or Cargo in any container from port of origin to port of destination.
The ICTN will also help in determining the weight of the ship and its cargo for Nigeria’s monetary advantage. Also, many treaties that Nigeria signed at the international fora have not been domesticated while piracy level in the Gulf of Guinea which was drastically contained has resurfaced in the recent past.
It is necessary to advise the Federal Government to expedite action on the hoisting of the ICTN because of its numerous advantages to the economy and its security implication to the nation.
Again, for Nigeria to attain the expected status and fill the gap hole in the global maritime domain, fresh methodologies, a new business mind set and innovative approaches have to be designed and expeditiously introduced. The time to automate our ports is now. We can testify that during this Covid-19, the ports were not only functional but running effectively. This will show the importance of the sector to our economic sustainability.
As Bello would always canvass that digitizing our port process is a sure route to globalization of our economy. It enhances efficiency of service, reduces corruption, makes for a cheaper business module while bringing integration in the emerging world markets. What is more if our port process are filling integrated, there will be more productivity and expansion of markets thereby bringing economic gains and true development opportunities?
The shipping world is desirous to do business with Nigeria because of our large market, population, huge potential but it is important for government and the concessioners to make the ports attractive to investors so as to bring the desired win-win-formula.
Nwamadi writes from Lagos