Industry heavyweights and union leaders say port reforms will eliminate corruption, ease the suffering of Nigerians, bring down prices, encourage exports and bolster revenue of the country. They say the country is currently losing billions of dollars needlessly due to inaction on measures that would cost the country little or nothing.
This comes in wake of stockpile of containers causing serious congestion due to the closure of access roads for repairs, even as lack of cargo scanners has forced the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to resort to physical examination. These, combined, have led some importers to seek solace in neighbouring ports.
Chairman, Nigerian Shippers Association (Lagos chapter), Jonathan Nichol, recently revealed that importers have lost over N15 trillion to the coronavirus pandemic, which has limited importation and forced a lot of factories to shut down.
Further revelations were made to NATIONAL ECONOMY yesterday by the Chapter Chair, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Dr. Segun Musa, and the Chairman of Apapa Branch of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, Engineer Frank Onyebu.
Dr. Musa disclosed that the extant port facilities were built in 1917 with the necessary facilities when the pressure on the port was far less than it is at the moment; he said most of the facilities are already moribund, and infrastructure are absent.
He said it behooves government to open up the sector, remove it from the exclusive list to all interested parties to participate by formulating policies that will encourage investors that want to invest in ports development, in lighter terminal investment that can open the economy elsewhere.
“Investors are interested in investing in ports but the federal government is not licensing them after series of applications,” he said.
He added that in order to alleviate the current situation at the port, government can tackle it in phases of short term, medium term and long term.
He said in the short term, the federal government should remove unnecessary security agencies within the port corridor that are only creating nuisance and exacerbating the situation. He added that government should embrace technology to drive the reception of vehicles.
According to him, “if one is bringing in exports, the agents can liaise with the ports, the ports will issue entry permits, once you get your entry permits, you can forward it to your phone, which can be forwarded to your transporter, the vehicle can start coming with the exports.” He said the same methodology can be applied when you are bringing out imports from the ports, where your terminal delivery order (TDO) can be issued as software into your phone as the agent; you then forward the code to your transporter to pick up your container.
He said government does not have to create parking space for trailers; that can be private sector driven.
Musa said the medium term approach is for the federal government to start licensing private investors to invest in lighter terminals and seaport development. He added that it will enable them to get in touch with local and foreign partners, as well as banks to start investing.
In the long term, according to him, the corridor must be railed. He said the private sector must be involved; the government does not need to borrow money from abroad to get these things done.
On his part, Engineer Frank Onyebu said the major problem bedeviling the ports is corruption in the system. He said the commissions and individuals saddled with the authority to manage the ports are working in their own interests.
He said in the medium term, the government needs to put the rail lines into use, and to build more to divert trailers attraction from the Apapa Port.
He said the inefficiency of our ports system discourages Nigeria’s landlocked neighbours from using Nigeria’s ports, which could generate revenue for the country.
He stressed that Nigeria needs to diversify its ports locations to other parts of the country such as Warri and Calabar, adding that the private sector must be brought in to achieve its many targets.