The idea of the 24 hours port operations has been on the front burner for long with different initiatives and programmes put forward by the authorities to no avail. However, with the inauguration of Onitsha seaport recently stakeholders have expressed optimism that 24 hours operations is possible, reports Charles Okonji

Port of Antwerp, in Belgium, Port of Jebel Ali, also known as Mina Jebel Ali, located in Jebel Ali, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Durban Port in South Africa, the second largest container port in Africa after Port Said in Egypt; all have one thing in common: they run 24 hours operations efficiently.

In Nigeria, 24 hours port operations has remained a pipedream largely because of lack of political will and a constellation of factors which border on the superficial to the complex.

Long walk to 24 hours port operations

In the nation’s quest to achieve 24 hours port operation, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had three years ago signed the Executive Order to resume 24-hour operations at the Apapa port and banned touting by officials or unofficial persons at any port; be it air, land and sea ports in Nigeria.

Prof. Osinbajo signed three Executive Orders dealing with the business environment, local content in public procurement and timely budget submission. The Orders take effect immediately.

According to the directive on port operations, “on duty staff shall be properly identified by uniform and official cards while off duty staff shall stay away from the ports except with the express approval of the agency head. The FAAN Aviation Security (AVSEC) and Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) Security shall enforce this order.’’

To vigorously address the menace of touting at the ports, the Order expressly stipulates that “all non-official staff shall be removed from the secured areas of airports. No official of FAAN, Immigration, security agency or Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) or any other agency is to meet any non-designated dignitary at any secure areas of the airport.’’

According to the Order, “any official caught soliciting or receiving bribes from passengers or other port users shall be subject to immediate removal from post and disciplinary as well as criminal proceedings in line with extant laws and regulations.’’

Despite the executive fiat that was never achieved.

Although there were deliberate efforts to automate the systems of clearance at the ports, just as some private sector partnership deal with Dangote Group to boost infrastructure within the Apapa corridor was also in the works, not much has been achieved thus far.

Why 24-hour port operations remains a mirage

In the view of Martins Uba Nwamadi 24hour port operations in Nigeria has been a mirage because of a combination of factors.

Citing a lead paper presented by the Executive Secretary of Nigerian Shippers’ Council, Hassan Bello rolled out fundamentals that must be looked into while aspiring for a 24hour port operations.

According to him, “The ports are not fully automated to reduce human contact. There is also absence of enough or sufficient scanners at the ports as examination of cargoes are still done manually. The road network has to be drastically improved upon to serve as complementary to rail.”

Rail is a key component to infrastructure, you have modern economy and the economy will bolster and diversify. This is what advanced economies have done to create jobs, increase revenue, improve ease of doing business, reduce tariffs, reduce carnage on roads while producing an environment friendly atmosphere that will aid production, Bello added.

The Council, Nwamadi stressed, “Must work assiduously to the completion of the US$94 million Ibadan Dry Port because of its strategic position when the operation takes off. The Jos Dry Port, Funtua, Kano, Isiala Ngwa Dry Ports must be completed to await the upsurge or boom in trade. These dry ports occupy prime positions along the value chain.”

Call for 24 hour port operations

The Director-General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Bashir Jamoh, during an interactive session recently told reporters that the agencies had decided to harmonise their operations into one interface station to achieve an efficient 24-hour port operation.

He said the heads of agencies agreed to facilitate 24-hour daily operation. He said this would help to decongest the ports and impact positively on the Ease of Doing Business policy of the federal government.

Jamoh said they had formed a committee to produce a work plan, and agreed to carry communities around the ports along to ensure safe operations.

He said: “We are looking at the workability of 24-hour port services to ease the pressure on our ports in terms of congestion. We also agreed to work with the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) on how movement of cargoes from the ports can be done by rail to reduce the pressure on our roads.

“Our focus is also to ensure containers are moved by barges to dry ports outside the port environment. All these would help in the efficiency and effectiveness of our ports.”

 

Factors impeding 24-hour port operations sub-Sahara Africa

In a survey, titled “Maritime Transport In Africa: Challenges, Opportunities, and an Agenda for Future Research” by Gaël Raballand, Salim Refas, Monica Beuran, and Gözde Isik for The World Bank, they said

cargo dwell time in ports in Sub-Saharan Africa is abnormally long because it takes more than two weeks on average compared to less than a week in the large ports in Asia, Europe, and Latin America. “For benchmarking purposes, if we exclude Durban and, to a lesser extent, Mombasa, average dwell time in most ports in sub-Saharan Africa is close to 20 days compared to three to four days in most large international ports.”

Besides, another peculiarity in African ports is the frequent occurrence of very long dwell times, which adversely affect the efficiency of port operations and increase congestion in container terminals at a high cost to the economy. Cargo dwell times in sub-Saharan Africa also show an abnormal dispersion, with evidence that discretionary behaviors increase system inefficiencies and raise total logistics costs.

In most ports in sub-Saharan Africa, a vicious circle, in which long cargo dwell time two to three weeks benefits incumbent traders and importers as well as customs agents, terminal operators, or owners of warehouses, constitutes a strong barrier to entry for international traders and manufacturers.

This also explains why cargo dwell time has not decreased substantially for years: the market incentives are not strong enough in most cases, and importers can secure revenues by avoiding competition. This circle has been broken in Durban by the presence of a strong domestic private sector interested in global trade and public authorities willing to support them.

In the view of Akpan Ekpo, Professor of Economics and Public Policy University of Calabar, “24 hours cargo clearance may not be realistic for a good number of reasons because Nigeria does not have the infrastructure yet. For it to be possible the government must have to fix the massive infrastructural deficit we have in Nigeria.”

This, he said, is a challenge of technology. “We also lack the manpower required for the job. We also need the right type attitude to be inculcated on the agencies that work at the port. Security is another issue that should be of utmost importance which has to be addressed because container trucks are often attacked apart from mishaps that occur due to bad roads. Moreover, all the agencies at the port deliberately cause delays to clearance to enable them extort money from importers, which would not be accounted for. This is terribly bad.”

Echoing similar sentiments, Mr Afarm Mallinson, Chairman Non-Metallic Mining Group, MAN, said, “The infrastructure in place cannot serve the 24 hours cargo clearance in the port and all the agencies in the country are at the port duplicating the same process, which ordinarily, was the duty of customs. So this delay in clearance is because one or two process is repeated and duplicated by numerous agencies with the intention of causing delay. Can you imagine a situation where 24 agencies in the port would be going through the same of examining containers manually, this cannot be achieved in less than two weeks?

“We should not be talking of 24 hours clearing in Nigeria, but two weeks clearing. Clearing is not just about paying of customs duties or paying shipping companies, it also entails the logistics of going inside and outside the port, which take in most cases up to three weeks as the case may be for a container truck to go from Mile 2 to the port. The government knows what to do if they really want to change the narrative, because delay clearing cargo is a deliberate act by the authorities involved. It is a pity that after five years, we are still unable to fix the bad road leading to the country’s busiest ports which is less than 10 kilometer. It is a big shame. So, there must be a change of attitude and a change of way of doing things for us to get to where we are going.”

To Engr. Frank Onyebu, Chairman, “Port operators’ equipment are obsolete and not enough compared to the number of cargo that is coming on the daily bases on the Nigerian ports. The port operators appear to be deliberately slowing down the system with the support of the people in authority.”

On delay in cargo clearance, Onyebu said, “it is a deliberate attempt, because the operators feel protected, that is why they are not making efforts to make it work, and they know that the people that will bear the cost are the importers. They are getting demurrage paid to them, no matter who causes the demurrage. They are the people causing the problem and they are getting away with it. The same thing that is happening, when you move around the streets, especially around the industrial areas, you see a lot of empty containers all over the place and they are not bordered because somebody is paying the demurrage.”

Besides, he also blamed the Customs for contributing to the problem. “They have always frustrated the moves made by the government in the past because of the corruption that we are talking about. If they want to put up a system that works, they should have made procurement of sophisticated scanners that can do the scanning without necessarily opening the containers, or bringing down containers for physical inspection which shouldn’t be. These agencies continued in this act because most importers would always play ball and would not want to pay demurrage. Until the government decides to do the needful, 24 hours cargo clearance cannot be achieved. It is not just making a pronouncement; they should put plans in place and enforce it. You don’t just make a pronouncement and everyone forgets about it.”

Enter Onitsha port

With the inauguration of the Onitsha seaport recently by the federal government, there are blessed assurances that the delay in cargo throughput in Lagos and Western ports may be a thing of the past.

While commenting on the development, the Chairman/Managing Director of DAS Energy Services, Effurun, Delta State, Chief Sunny Onuesoke described the act as inspiring and heartwarming.

The Onitsha seaport became functional last week and has started moving containers from Lagos and Onne Ports to Onitsha by barges.

Onuesoke, in a statement issued in Warri said, “This is totally inspiring and heart-warming. With this singular act of kindness to Eastern Nigeria, posterity will surely remember this present government for good. This will obviously put an end to the exploitation and frustration experienced to move goods from Lagos to the East. It will equally decongest Lagos ports’ traffic which has always been the bane of smooth business transaction.”

The Nation