Nigeria’s maritime sector in troubled waters

Dakuku Peterside, NIMASA Boss

Notwithstanding the high hope garnered at the beginning of the year 2017 due to a million promises by this administration, the operators in the maritime sector are bidding the year goodbye with disappointment and agony.

For the operators, who spoke with bitterness in a chart with The Guardian, the like of year 2017 should not repeat itself and the crop of administrators in position of authority should not be allowed to continue, if the Federal Government’s agenda for the critical sector is to be realized.

The Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA); Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), who are directing the affairs of the industry are said to have failed in their responsibilities of making Nigerian ports hub of the West African region.

Indeed, Nigerian ports was tagged the costliest seaport in the world, due to lack of coordination, poor policy, infrastructure decay and multiple charges and others.

As if this is not enough blemish for a growing economy, the United States Maritime Administration, International Maritime Bureau, had recently declared Nigerian waters as “deadly and unsafe”.

Effort to create an enabling business environment through the Ease of doing Business policy of the Federal Government is apparently not forthcoming.

These may not be far fetched from a seaport with no access roads; no cargo scanner; no dredging in some cases such as Calabar ports among others. The cabotage fund is not disbursed and falling of local shipping companies have become a recurrent affair on yearly basis; while national shipping line policy remains a rhetoric song with no headway.

Stakeholders in their comments on the outgoing year described 2017 as the worst year of operations.

President, Ship Owners Association of Nigeria (SOAN), Greg Ogbeifun said: “Shipping business in Nigeria and in the international market have not done well this this year. You don’t need to go far to discover this, just go to Marina and look across the water you will see that the berths are empty.

“As we are sitting here, about 12 vessels loaded with rice are waiting offshore Cotonou. Those ports are very busy while ours are empty. We have to fix certain things in this country to attract the relevant activities.

“The Cabotage issue is getting worse by the day. Operators are finding it difficult to stay afloat because of draconian charges. SOAN has computed the charges and levies we are meant to pay for one ship. That alone is enough to kill your business, particularly if you have no job and the regulatory agencies will insist that you must pay those monies, they will just say to hell with you. So, the maritime industry has not done well at all. Ship owners have not seen any measurable interest from government and we are saying it openly”. He said.

For the clearing agents, the story is not different, as the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) said that nothing has changed in the ports system since January 2017, when the Managing Director, NPA, Hadiza Bala Usman paid courtesy visit to the association.

The National President of ANLCA, Olayiwola Shittu, said the interactive meeting with the NPA management centred on the subsisting infrastructural and systemic challenges being experienced by customs brokers and agents, in the course of carrying out their businesses in the seaports across Nigeria.

“These operational challenges were, and still are: the completely broken down Ports Access Roads, Extortion by NPA’s security officials and Maritime Police, shipping companies and terminal operators insensitivity to the plight of Agents and importers, touting and crowding in and around the ports, need for a strategic, structural solution in addressing controlled access into the ports, provision of CCTV cameras to monitor operators/operations in the ports, among others.

“Unfortunately, she is yet to fulfil her promise to holistically address the myriads of problems, persistently troubling agents,” he said.

President of National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Lucky Amiwero, said “If the nation has reportedly lost about five million jobs in one year, you know what it means. I think we need another government. Nothing has improved in Nigerian ports this year. The industry has been bastardized. It’s a worst we have ever experienced in the history of this industry. If you look at the cost of doing businesses in this country, the ports operations and cargo clearing are too costly and indeed the costliest in the world.

“Look at the roads, by the virtue of NPA law, they are suppose to be in charge, maintain, control and manage those roads. Those roads are completely dilapidated and they approved it to Dangote which is not a construction company. NPA is only blaming the Ministry of Works and Housing because they have been dodging that the ports access road pretending that it is not their own, meanwhile it’s is their responsibility, they are the owner of those area. There is nothing we have done well.

“Our ports access roads have gone from bad to worse and up till now government has not come out with a solution, so going into the port is a problem and coming out is a problem and they cannot come out to say this is what we have done.

“NIMASA, NPA and the Shippers Council are just moving from one seminar to another, so we have a serious problem whereby our capacity to build structures is collapsing on daily basis. That is why you see people moving out of the country because there is no work, there is no job,” he said.

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