Concessioning of Nigeria’s seaports with the hope of ensuring efficiency has yielded minimal results fifteen years after the federal government concessioned them to private operators. This is because the private operators are yet to fully automate their operations, NATIONAL ECONOMY has learnt.
Recall that the administration of former president Olusegun Obasanjo had embarked on port reform in 2006, ceding the terminal and port operations to private operators for Nigerian ports to achieve efficiency and compete favourably among peers in West and Central Africa.
But, since the port reform of 2006, lack of automation has, however, led to billions of naira losses by importers, clearing agents, government and the nation’s economy to delay in cargo evacuation which has led to payment of huge demurrage and storage charges.
NATIONAL ECONOMY’s investigation had shown that of over 20 private terminal operators and shipping companies operating in the nation’s maritime sector, only 20 percent of them have automated while others still operate manually.
It was gathered that cargo stacking, bill of lading and other invoicing (demurrage charges refund), as well as the Terminal Delivery Order (TDO), among others, are not generated online but still manually, and this, according to stakeholders, breed corruption and inefficiencies through human contact.
Presently, in the nation’s port system, terminals operators such as ENL consortium, Tin-Can Island Container Terminal, Apapa Bulk Terminal Limited, (ABTL), Josepdam Ports Services (JPS), Green View Development Nigeria Limited (GDNL), Five Star Logistics Terminal, Eko Support services, among others, still run a manual process in their TDO, cargo stacking, among others.
The exceptions are Grimaldi Shipping Line, which has achieved 88 per cent digitalisation; Ocean Network Express has 75 per cent and; CMA-CGM has 63 per cent.
For the seaport terminals, PTML has 92 per cent digitalisation. BUA has 75 per cent, Ports and Cargo has 50 per cent digitalisation while Intels and the West African Container Terminal (WACT) follow with 71 and 70 per cent respectively.
Speaking, the erstwhile executive secretary, Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), Hassan Bello lamented that most Nigerian port terminals operate like marketplaces, with crowds of people clustering around containers because they transact businesses manually.
According to him, automation of Nigeria’s port system will solve delay, revenue leakages as well as corruption and improve efficiency. He said, “Digitalization will solve the problem of delay, revenue leakages and corruption. Once we digitalize, our ports will become competitive. We should never forget that we have competitors in West and Central Africa.”
“The ports are having problems on reforms and claims processes which are mostly manual. Also, the integration of the systems because anybody can have it online but there is a need to integrate with the banks, for example, and even the Nigeria Customs Services,” he said.
He said that digitalisation would promote cleanliness in the port environment and as well tackle illegal trading activities that degrade the environment.
On his part, the managing director, Inland Containers Nigeria Limited (ICNL), Ismail Yusuf, lamented the time and revenue lost to manual stacking of containers at the nation’s seaports, saying time is always lost to searching for containers which are manually stacked inside the port terminals during cargo evacuation.
According to the ICNL boss, “Nigerian port operators are still stacking containers manually. Anytime our trucks are in the ports to pick cargoes, we spend one hour or more looking for where our containers have been positioned. You know the port terminals are a large expanse of yard filled with different containers scattered everywhere.
“Locating your own container in the midst of the multitude of containers sometimes costs our personnel about an hour or more. In South Africa, they no longer stack containers manually. When we visited the port of Durban, containers were stacked electronically. As a truck is coming in, the truck driver already knows where the container he is to evacuate is located.
“The truck driver just drives straight to the location which he has already been communicated to by the terminal operator, and he picks up his container and leaves. Unfortunately, we are not there yet in Nigeria. Containers litter the port terminals and locating your consignment sometimes can be Herculean,” he lamented.
Speaking to NATIONAL ECONOMY, a clearing agent operating at the Apapa port complex, Chukwudi Okwudili said bill of lading submission at both the Tin-Can Island and Apapa ports to shipping companies are done manually.
Okwudili, who said the process is time consuming, tedious and breeds corruption, further disclosed that only Maersk Line collects bills electronically. “Aside Maersk Line, every other operator collects bills manually. So how do you expect people to stop coming to the ports?
“The government keeps talking about an automated port environment where you can sit in your house and conduct your cargo clearance operations online, but when some shipping firms and terminal operators won’t provide avenue for you to submit your bill of lading or other documents electronically, won’t you come to the port environment?” he asked.
Another agent, Johnson Onyemekhara explained that lack of automation at Nigerian ports has led to continued human presence and this has contributed to why Nigerian ports have refused to be competitive and efficient.
Speaking to NATIONAL ECONOMY, he said, “Leading ports around the world are automated, and we cannot allow Apapa and Tin-Can ports to lag behind in this regard. We cannot continue to have multitudes besieging our ports every day. Human contact is dangerous.”
He added, “Human contacts are anti-efficiency. Once you have human contact, corruption sets in. Once there are human contacts, we will have delays at the ports. Some people don’t even have any business being at the ports. In advanced climes, people move millions of tons of cargo via their computers. They don’t come to the ports but, rather conduct their transactions online,” he said.