Automation and Efficiency In Nigerian Ports-By Kelvin Kagbare
Who is Afraid of the National Single Window Project?
Is NPA, NIMASA, NSC, SON, NCS and NIWA Computerizing their operations independently?
Cheering as the announcement by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, on the commencement of total digital manifest management regime for vessels calling at all Nigerian Ports is, the well-intended move could be an effort in futility towards addressing the many issues and challenges hindering efficient port operations in Nigeria if other federal government agencies fail to embrace and digitalize their operations.
NIMASA is one among several Agencies of the federal government saddled with one responsibility or another in Nigerian ports.
That Nigerian ports lag behind even among ports in West and Central Africa is demeaning enough to warrant sanction if not sack of port officials but the seeming acquiescence and lack of response to multiplicity of tales of malfeasance with which port operators are regaled so often has given way to the “if you cannot beat them join them” syndrome that sinks the ports in Nigeria deeper into inefficiency.
Cargo diversion is an age long unresolved problem necessitating the construction of a rail line from Nigeria by Nigerian government to Niger Republic to attract cargo in Niger to Nigerian ports for export while the ports in Benin Republic, Ghana, Lome in Togo and others receive Nigerian bound cargoes for onward freighting by road to Nigeria.
Cost of doing business, clogged clearing process, number of government agencies to “settle” before getting your cargo out of the ports and many others waiting outside to “check and reexamine” your cargo have combined to make Nigerian ports notoriously unattractive, unfriendly and too costly to do business through.
Nigeria’s Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Mr. Adeniyi Adebayo in advocating for a Single Window over two years ago said “A single Window will significantly improve cargo turnaround time at our ports, promote efficiency and transparency, thereby removing the corruption opportunities that fuel the entry of substandard goods into the country, and enhance Nigerian ports’ competitiveness in the West African region.”
Notable maritime stakeholders like Otunba Kunle Folarin Chairman, Nigerian’s Ports Consultative Council (PCC), Mr. Eyis Lucky Amiwero, President of the National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA) and many others have insisted that operationalizing a Single Window is in line with global best practices in order to achieve ports efficiency.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) defines a Single Window as “A facility that allows all parties involved in trade and transport to lodge standardized information and documents with a single-entry point to fulfill all import, export, and transit-related regulatory requirements”
Automation of operational process by government agencies could significantly address the challenges but not in isolation as it is being done by the agencies. Harmonization of all functions/responsibilities under a single Window is a surer option to enthroning efficiency in the ports and make them more competitive and attractive to importers within the West Africa sub region.
The Director General of NIMASA Dr. Bashir Jamoh is of the view that the Agency’s automation process will further reduce human interface, improve efficiency and block revenue leakages.
In his words “In line with the Federal Government’s Executive Order on Ease of Doing Business, we are committed to improving turnaround time of vessels, reduction of human interface in majority of our transactions with our stakeholders and this is in our bid to ensure transparency and professionalism that the sector requires to grow.”
“We have improved our operational relationship with our sister Agencies, as we speak, we have made tremendous progress in our determination to convey sailing clearance for Vessels to the NPA electronically. We also receive and process manifests electronically, this has improved efficiency leading to improvement in the turn-around-time of vessels calling at the nation’s Ports. Jamoh said.
Jamoh explains further that “Right now we have ensured that the process of submitting and processing manifests is reduced from 72Hours to 5hours for VLCCs (Very Large Crude Carriers) and larger container vessels whereas it would only take two hours or less for smaller vessels), you would agree with me that these are marked improvement while work continues”.
As far back as 2015, the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, launched its Electronic Ship Entry Notice (eSEN) as well as the Revenue Invoicing Management System (RIMS). What is the overall impact assessment of these initiatives on port operations in Nigeria?
Is NPA and NIMAS in sync in the management of sea port operations in Nigeria? Is the Nigerian Shippers Council, NSC, the Nigeria Customs Service, the Nigerian Inland Waterways Authority, NIWAS, connected in their regulatory functions or working at variance within the ports environment?
Why has the Ease of doing Business failed?
Suspended former Managing Director of NPA, Ms. Hadiza Bala Usman lamented her frustrations at the lack of compliance to the Presidential Order on the Ease of Doing Business when she bemoaned that NPA has the limitation of compelling other agencies to do what they are supposed to do under the presidential directives.
Hadiza stressed that NPA is implementing its own part of the order. “We cannot compel the other agencies to do what they are supposed to do” she said, adding that aggrieved stakeholders should also inform the appropriate authorities of defaulting government agencies”.
Could there be federal government agencies flouting Orders within the ports?
The Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) which issued the presidential order streamlined the activities of all agencies in Nigeria’s seaports to achieve the 24 hour cargo clearance ambition which, like many other dreams have long died, buried and trodden upon.
Nonetheless, the NIMASA DG is optimistic that benefits expected from total digitalization of all the Agency’s processes expected to be completed by year 2022 would be enormous not just for maritime Stakeholders, but for the country at large including helping to improve balance of trade and commercial shipping activities in Nigeria.
Six months ago, NIMASA announced the electronic verification of its new Ship Registry Certificates which now have QR Codes embedded in them to enable Ship-owners, Stakeholders and Regulatory Agency’s Enforcement officers verify the validity of such certificates as issued by NIMASA.
Speaking on the automated certificates, Dr. Jamoh said, “The Agency has adopted technology to guarantee more security for our documents and give stakeholders and the international shipping community greater confidence in our services.”
With the automation of its Ship certificates and manifests, NIMASA is clearly showing signs of commitment to digitalization of its operational processes.
If NIMASA goes digital and other agencies cling to the old analogue way of carrying out transactions could there be any difference/improvement in rating/patronage of Nigerian ports?
This is the question which concerned maritime stakeholders are asking.