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By Jerry Aguigbo
The introduction and implementation of the newly launched Nigeria Port Process Manual (NPPM) is generating so much interests from some notable maritime critical stakeholders. Accordingly to them, the idea in itself is a noble one but the enabling environment and structure of implementation must be provided for a smooth sail, it must not go the way of other equally laudable projects hitherto initiated to reposition the Nigerian maritime industry which died just after birth or midstream.
Speaking on the introduction of the NPPM by the Transport ministry, the national president, Association Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents, Hon. Iju Tony Nwabunike stated that,” whereas the NPPM was conceptualised to promote transparency, accountability, predictability and eradicate corruption in the port system, this is not the first time we are having laudable concepts on paper on how best to harvest benefits from our ports.”
Going further, he says his experience in maritime operations spanning about three decades and full time presence in our maritime environment confirms that we have ideas, know the good things to do to become great but allow narrow minded interests and in some cases, corruption to reign over our good intentions.
“From access control to cargo examination and submission of manifests by ship masters, we have remained complacent with a system on slow mode by default.
It is only recently that the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) stepped up efforts for electronic call up system of trucks into the ports and Nigeria Customs Service commenced move for procurement of modern scanners.
Accessing the ports and physical examination instead of using scanners have been lucrative areas of corruption and inefficiencies in our port system. One finds it difficult to understand why we allowed such unproductive methods to thrive for many years.
We can only imagine our losses as a country from this high degree of complacence considering that concealments could escape detection by physical modes during examination and time spent to physically examine 5 containers could be used to examine 100 containers when you apply the right machines and human capital expertise,” he posited.
Continuing, he said, ” the disjointed approach to common technology based interface like single window platforms and Nigeria Integrated Customs Information System (NICIS II) makes government agencies work at cross purposes.
There was the controversy of NPA and Nigeria Customs Service flexing powers on whose side the single window system should be domiciled.
Still peaking, Nwabunike says “there is also the reality of many government agencies laying ambush to seize released containers from the ports after it was assumed to have participated in joint examination before such containers exited.
Bottom line outcomes of these disjointed approach to port processes was that money found their way into private pockets and prohibited goods may have entered the country while government lost revenue leaving the country with additional economic, social and security challenges .”
On the plans by Lagos State Government to restrict movement of trucks to certain periods of the day, the ANLCA boss sees this as counter productive to the dream of achieving 24 hour port operation and a more robust economy.
He said, emphasis should rather be on upgrading the support infrastructure like roads, power supply, bridges and ancillary services to support existing logistics like the laudable Bola Tinubu Truck Park.
“Like the representative of the Independent Corrupt Practices and related offences Commission (ICPC) representative noted and I agree that almost all the government agencies operating in the port are complicit in corrupt acts one way or the other. This is a shameful and backward trend.”
If the Nigerian Port Process Manual (NPPM) must be seen as a document of high value beyond the paper on which it was printed, Nwabunike is of the view that, it’s initiators and drivers must continually practice an all inclusive implementation mode devoid of personal ego or one government organisation trying to assert superiority over the other.
“Since the manual itself and the ports economic regulator ( Nigerian Shippers Council) that is to implement it are not backed by any law, except by executive fiat, it is important that it’s provisions are not in conflict with any extant law governing our maritime activities.
The process of making Nigerian Shippers Council a stronger economic regulator by an Act of the National Assembly should be activated and expedited,” he opined.
In tackling insecurity, he said, government should deliberately engage youths of coastal communities close to the Gulf of Guinea in fighting maritime crimes in a manner similar to the Civilian Joint Task Force (JTF) it is presently deploying in fighting insurgency and terrorism in the North East part of the country.
Interventionist organisations such as Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Presidential Amnesty Office and other similar bodies could be contracted as first line of communication with the youths to make piracy, sea robberies, kidnapping of crew members and attack on ships less attractive and difficult to carry out as indigent youths will be enlisted into the fight against these maritime crimes.
While lauding the recently announced intervention by the European Union to help secure the GoG, he advised that ” Nigeria should take the lead among Gulf of Guinea Commission countries in getting them to replicate our Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences (SPOMO) Act and enlist non government actors in the quest for orderliness in the area.”
According to him, individual and corporate attitudinal changes are also very crucial in this regard. More than ever before, there is the need for a more robust inter ministerial interface in making the NPPM work better , faster and more seamlessly.
Most of the agencies of government operating in our ports are under different ministries with various chains of command. In this regard the transport ministry should seek and sustain support of other ministries such as health, trade, internal affairs, agriculture, police affairs,justice and others to enjoy counterpart support of other ministers .
“The NPPM is in itself not an end but a means to an end which should be flexible and adjustable with time in line with current realities.
At the level of Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) where I lead as National President, we have a resolve to support government in achieving it’s laudable objectives for setting up the NPPM.
Advising that ” we should critically pursue solutions to the problems of security on our waters, strengthen our use of technology and “more secured system as well as resolving to pursue national interest beyond personal gains.”
Nwabunike posited that when people do not get punished for corruption, tendencies are that they will come back to commit the same ‘profitable’ crime over and over again. Meeting illegality with stiff sanction is the way to go
While thanking the Federal Government for putting the implementation meeting together and it’s other efforts towards realisation of the NPPM dream through agencies like Nigerian Shippers Council and Nigerian Ports Authority, he urged that it be seen as a step towards the right direction but not as final destination.