By Ray Ugochukwu
Maritime stakeholders on Monday, May 28, 2018, blamed non-adherence to regulations governing shipping trade in the country and corruption as the major reason behind the poor state of affairs in the sector.
Industry stakeholders took the stand at the Maritime Journalists Association of Nigeria (MAJAN) Media Parley marking the nation’s Democracy Day held at the NAGAFF Village, Apapa G.R.A., Lagos. The forum had as its theme: “Nineteen Years of Nigeria’s Unbroken Democracy: The Journey So Far In Maritime Industry”.
The forum acknowledged however, that with a relatively peaceful atmosphere that allowed people to carry out their legitimate businesses in the ports the maritime industry could be said to have enjoyed the dividends of democracy.
Other than this however, they regretted that nineteen years of unbroken democratic process had nothing positive to show in the maritime industry due to the refusal of both port operatives and port service consumers to play by the rules mainly due to corruption.
The Founder, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Dr. Boniface Aniebonam, who chaired the event, had wondered why government officials entrusted with port operations would fail to do the right thing only to resort to complaints against same on their retirement.
Aniebonam chided government agencies for failing to utilize the executive powers of Mr. President conferred on them through the principles of delegation of powers, to enforce the laws but rather resorting to blame games. For instance, he said the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) could cash in of such delegated powers to bring criminal prosecution on shipping firms that had been flouting the country’s trade laws for too long.
In his contribution, former Port Manager, Port Harcourt Port, who retired from the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) as General Manager, Mr. Dele Alabi, lamented how the port and industrial city of Apapa had been rendered impassable due to traffic congestion that had made access into the ports difficult.
He compared the situation of the area in1980s with the present state of affairs and passed a verdict of total dilapidation of the roads due to poor planning and non-adherence to rules. This, he said, had given rise to all manner vehicles that would ordinarily should not be in Apapa hosted in the city creating nuisance.
The Customs Area Controller, PTML command of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Comptroller Tade Adetoye, observed also that non-compliance by shippers had caused some hitches in the system.
The Customs chieftain lashed at those who attack the service for insisting on maximum revenue collection, saying, “As long as we remain an import-dependent country, people must pay for what they are bringing in. You want to ride an expensive flashy car, we can’t stop you but you must pay for it. That’s what the law says and that’s what we implement”.
Comptroller Adetoye said it was only when people began to direct their energies towards export that Customs would give less emphasis on collection of maximum revenue.
A renowned maritime lawyer, Mrs. Jean Chiazor-Anishere, in her remark noted that not much had been achieved under the current democratic dispensation, pointing out that corruption was the greatest undoing of the sector. She said this was more evident when the country was placed side by side with its contemporaries like Ghana.
Anishere, who was represented by Barr. Elozino Eteghrara, observed that the well-intended Cabotage Act had failed to work due to waiver clauses that had marred its operation, even as the country’s Ship Registry had become a subject of discussion as to which way forward.
She said having identified the lapses, how to chart the way forward should be the concern of the forum.
Earlier in his welcome address, the president of MAJAN, Mr. Ray Ugochukwu, had taken the participants on a memory lane of the country’s maritime history, where he noted the early better performance of Nigeria than what was on ground presently.
“McGregor Liard, a Briton, is credited with laying the foundation of modern shipping in Nigeria. After he had captained the first iron steamer to the Niger Delta coast of Nigeria in 1832, he went a step further to establish the African Shipping Company in 1849. ….. The first mail-steamer, the SS Akoko, with a draught of 5.64 metres, entered the Lagos Harbour on February 1, 1914. Following this auspicious berthing, vessels began to use facilities at the Customs Wharf on Lagos Island two months later.
“….In this regard, a Portuguese, John d’Aeiro, had appeared in the Bight of Benin in 1485, while Britain’s Captain Wyndham in 1553 landed on the coast of what centuries later became Nigeria”.
He recalled how “then President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2006 initiated a Ports Reforms Programme. By this, port terminals were concessioned to private firms, a development that resulted in over 22 companies taking over the running of terminals in all ports”.
Ugochukwu regretted that with all the reforms, it had been a tale of woes in the industry as Nigeria had the unenviable sobriquette as the costliest for doing business in the world.
He also lamented that the Cabotage regime introduced to retrieve coastal shipping from the grip of foreign domination was not working with the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) not blinking an eyelid as this happens.
“A time was when Nigerian ports served as transit point for cargoes of our landlocked neighbours. This is no more! At present, Niger Republic is doing about 2.5 million metric tons of business in Benin Republic, 1.5 million metric tons in Togo and close to 1.0 million metric tons in Ghana. Even without our unbroken democratic process, our neighbours continue to boycott our ports.
“At time was too when 90 per cent of goods exiting the ports was delivered by rail and a meagre 10 per cent by road. Today, it is 100 per cent road delivery and 0 per cent rail”, he lamented.
On the Customs he stated, “With all the reforms the service has undergone, cargo examination still remains at over 90 per cent physical examination with the scanners virtually packed up. Compliance to trade regulations by shippers has been more on the breach, leading to billion naira worth of goods confiscated almost on a daily basis by the enforcement arm of the Customs”.
“When shippers finish contending with the myriads of obstacles in the ports, exit from the port city of Apapa becomes another issue with poor access roads. Though the roads are receiving attention presently but the snail-speed at which they are being handled is most worrisome.
“With the demise of the Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL) in 1995, there has been no replacement with Nigerian shippers left at the mercy of foreign shipping lines who savour the unfavourable trade term of free on board (FOB). Talks of re-floating another indigenous line in whatever guise have been shrouded more in politics than concrete action plan.
“As result, cadets of the Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN), Oron, Akwa Ibom State, can hardly get the desired sea experience that leads to the award of Certificate of Competency because of lack of training berths on vessels.
“One can go on and on in this song of lamentation. The question now is: Is Nigeria’s maritime sector enjoying the dividend of democracy? The answer to this vital question will be given by this august forum today”, the MAJAN President concluded.
Boniface Aniebonam, Founder, NAGAFF
CAC, PTML Customs, Comptroller Tade Adetoye
Barr. Jean Chiazor-Anishere, Maritime laywer