The maiden edition of the dialogue series organised by the publishers of Business & Maritime West Africa tagged:Town Hall Meeting on Cargo Handling and Port Chargesh, which the organisers have promised would be an annual event, held at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Victoria Island, Lagos State, Nigeria, Wednesday, 8th March, 2017.
This particular town meeting is the first in the series of such fora the organisers hope to synthesise ideas that will enable Nigeria realise its true maritime potentials.
The forum drew key stakeholders from both public and private sectors of the maritime industry, including various government agencies, private investors and operators, and the organised private sector groups, among others.
These participants included the Chairman of the Shipowners’ Forum, Mrs. Margaret Onyema-Orakwusi; the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Shppers’ Council (NSC), Mr. Hassan Bello, represented by Assistant Direcor, NSC Compliance Monitoring Division, Mrs. Celine Ifeora; the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Ms. Hadiza Bala Usman, represented by the NPA General Manager, Marine and Operations, Mr. Joshua Asanga; the National President, Association of Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Prince Olayiwola Shittu; the Founder of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Dr, Boniface Aniebonam; the Director-General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Dakuku Peterside, represented by the NIMASA Director of Shipping Development, Mr. Anthony Ogadi; the Chairman, Corporate Affairs and Strategic Planning, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Mr. John Aluya; representative of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Deputy Comptroller, A.Y. Idris; member of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) Clearing and Forwarding Trade Group, Dr. Ikenna Nwosu; Director of Special Duties in the office of NIMASA Director-General, Hajiya Lami Tumaka; the Assistant Secretary-General of the Nigerian Mariners Association (NMA), Rear Admiral Godswill Ombo (rtd); and the Governor, ANLCA Women, Hajiya Bola Muse, among others.
From the presentations, including the opening remarks by the Chairman, Mrs. Margaret Onyema-Orakwusi; welcome address by the Publisher of Business & Maritime West Africa, Mr. Okey Ibeke, paper presentations, questions and answers and other contributions by the participants, these observations emerged that:
1. The town hall meeting is an effort of the publishers of Business & Maritime West Africa to facilitate a boost in shipping activities in Nigeria;
2. The meeting of operators and regulators is expected to be a forum that facilitates sincere and open delibrations to achieve the desired goals of serving as an avenue for ventilating and resolving issues;
3. Nigerian ports have contended with ship diversion, whereby ships carrying goods destined for Nigeria use ports facilities in neighbouring countries to discharge their consignments, which ultimately, through legal and illegal channels, find their way into Nigeria;
4. Policy makers and shipping services providers have not been able to reach a consensus on the actors responsible for shippers’ preference for the ports of neighbouring countries;
5. There have largely been conjectures on this state of affairs from policy makers and port users, ranging from high terminal charges through inadequate cargo handling equipment to innate inclination of Nigerian importers to avoid payment of stratutory taxes and a desire for outright smuggling;
6. In the abscense of a well-articulated evacuation of the challenges facing the industry, every initiative and measure to reverse the trend have been knee jerk reactions at best;
7. The ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme(ETLS) protocol of the Economic Community of West African States(ECOWAS), which was adopted to boost intra-regional trade, has been grossly abused by Nigeria’s neighbours at the expense of the nation;
8. The ETLS stipulates a token 0.5 per cent tax on goods manufactured in any ECOWAS country , and this protocol in addition to the Common External Tariff(CET), which recommends the adoption of a common tariff structure with only a limited bar for differential has become Nigeria’s undoing;
9. Nigeria’s neighbours have adopted a strategy of waging aggressive economic warfare against the nation, using a tariff regime that actually eliminates the payment of tariffs for goods that pass through their countries, and which all parties discretely acknowledge are for the Nigerian market;
10. The Nigerian economy is suffering incalculable damage by these ECOWAS protocols and instruments ostensibly framed for brotherhood and economic integration within the sub-region;
11. The Federal Government should stop giving the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) revenue targets, but should push for more efficient services, including having the NCS prioritise trade facilitation;
12. At some point before the concession of the ports, the spaces within the ports became obviously inadequate for increased activities. No space was created strategically to manage the surge in ship traffic and cargo throughput;
13. The increase in human and vehicular traffic in Apapa, Lagos State, home to the Lagos Port Complex (LPC) and the Tin-Can Island Port Complex (TCIPC), made the area almost uninhabitable;
14. The decay in infrastructure made efficient cargo handling difficult, and the increased charges by the concessionaires when the operations took off, resulted in diversion of business activities to ports of neighbouring countries;
15. Nigeria lacks a transport policy to support the industry operations for growth;
16. Road haulage operators are ill-prepared for improvements in the system, constituting their operations into a menace to other users of the ports access roads;
17. The maritime industry in Nigeria lacks the needed legal structure to monitor or handle disputes between the traders and the service providers;
18. The system lacks clear-cut knowledge of business ethics guiding the traders and service providers;
19. there is no strong impetus given to the appointed economic regulator in the ports;
20. Services at Nigerian ports are not competitive, as concessionaires form cartels to have uniform charges and work to resist regulation by any government agencies;
21. It was regretable that Nigerian lawmakers were not present at the event, in order to be enriched by the erudite insights therein and be properly informed to make the required laws that would put the Nigerian economy on the right track;
22. Corruption is the major problem at the Nigerian ports;
23. The economies of scale is rich when bigger vessels call at Nigerian ports, leading to reduction in costs of afreightment and further induce more businesses that will increase revenue for government and other stakeholders;
24. Invoicing consignees for Terminal Handling Charges (THC) is illegal as a double charge, which is already covered in the freight, thereby resulting in higher transaction costs and illegal earnings;
25. Unapproved increase in tariffs for imports into Nigeria lead to higher transaction costs and unapproved earnings;
26. The system contends with substantial delays in refund of container deposits to consignees, as well as excess demurrage charges;
27. The system is beset by the practice of denial of container deposits and excess demurrage charges submitted after six months to one year of cargo delivery/empty container refund, resulting in illegal earnings;
28. Access roads to the various Nigerian ports are dilapidated, making these facilities very inaccessible by vehicles especially the haulage vehicles that are most essential to cargo delivery;
29. The infrastructure in the seaports have not met the minimum agreements negotiated by the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) with the seaports terminal concessionaires;
30. Most off-dock terminals/bonded warehouses are significantly lacking in cargo handling equipment and adequate office facilities;
31. A significant number of operators are slovenly in their work attitude, neglecting that transactions in the maritime trade are global and strictly time-bound for efficiency; and
32. The adoption and deployment of vital information and communications technology (ICT) in the Nigeria maritime industry is regrettably low, or non-existent as in the globally-accepted Single Window System (SWS) or the one-stop-shop for efficient transactions.
Arising from the foregoing observations, these recommendations emerged, that:
1. Pending the establishment of the proposed National Transport Commission or an appropriate regulatory authority, the Federal Government should set up an ad-hoc committee to verify and fine tune the current cargo handling practices and charges adopted by terminal operators;
2. The Federal Government must urgently evaluate the benefits or otherwise of the ETLS, as well as the level of implementation of the CET by ECOWAS member-states;
3. The Federal Government must have a rethink on the underlying philosophy of Nigeria’s trade relations with her neighbours;
4. In line with the trending mentality in the United States of America (USA) under President Donald Trump, it is time to put Nigeria first;
5. There is need for regular stakeholders meetings where issues affecting the industry will be discussed;
6. Legal hostilities between the port operators and the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) should cease;
7. Extortion by the field staff of certain operators, in spite of all official payments for relevant services having been effected, must be checkmated;
8. As done in Ghana in August 2016, Nigeria must immediately stop the practice of operators invoicing consignees for THC;
9. Nigeria must revert to pre-existing tariffs for imports;
10. Nigeria must enthrone a system of effecting refund of container deposits within five days of application submission, even as any limitation period for refunds submission must be eliminated;
11. The Federal Ministry of Works, Housing and Power must urgently fix all dilapidated ports access roads;
12. All seaports terminal operators should provide the required infrastructure as negotiated under the concession agreements;
13. Operators of off-dock terminals/bonded warehouses must upgrade their facilities as a matter of urgency;
14. Operations of the various operators in the Nigeria maritime industry must be round-the-clock to facilitate efficient cargo handling and delivery to the consignees;
15. Nigeria must enthrone real-time ICT interconnectivity in the maritime industry to facilitate efficient operations; and
16. There is need for Nigeria to adopt global best practices in the provision of maritime safety and security for safe and secure shipping in a cleaner marine environment.
This communiqué was adopted this day, Wednesday, 8th March, 2017 at the Main Hall, NIIA, Victoria Island, Lagos State, Nigeria.