The Nigerian maritime industry like other sectors of the Nation’s economy is set to face more daunting challenges this year, especially with the ravaging second wave of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, reports INNOCENT OROK.
With the take-off of the African Continental Free Trade Area ( AfCFTA) this January, the Nigerian maritime industry would have been a major beneficiary from the continental free trade deal, but the industry is ensnared by several challenges, many of them man-made, a development that might make it play second fiddle in the new continental trade regime.
With uncoordinated and failed government policies, stakeholders’ expectations is hanging in the balance. This even as the out-gone year 2020 goes down in history as a year the worrisome high cost of doing business in the Nigerian seaports that has been on for a long time without remedy, was made worse with the introduction of extortion of truck drivers by the presidential taskforce team set to bring respite to the intractable Apapa traffic gridlock.
In 2020, for a truck to access Tin Can or Apapa ports in Lagos State , unreceipted under-the-table cash of between N120,000 to N150,000 per truck must be paid to the task force team and other security agencies along the ports access roads before any truck can gain access to the ports.
The presence of the now disbanded taskforce team set up by the Federal Government to clear the gridlock on the ports access roads worsened the bad traffic situation as they were alleged to be more interested in the multi-millions naira extorted money they made daily than doing the work for which they were deployed to the ports access roads.
As a result of these illegalities by people legally authorised to remedy things in the ports, cost of moving a 40 feet container from the ports in Apapa and Tin Can to any part of Lagos rose to between N1million and N1.5 million.
This was even as the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) was alleged to have operated a cartel of over 25 Units and checkpoints both inside and outside the ports and one has to grease their palms with over N250, 000 before ones consignment could exit the ports.
Meanwhile, the Terminal Operators continued their above the law attitude in the out-gone year as consignments and trucks litters the port environment at the mercy of Terminal Operators and Shipping Companies which only allow access into their terminals at their convenience time. Despite the efforts by Nigerian Shoppers’ Council (NSC) to bring succour to importers and Freight Forwarders , the Terminal Operators and Shipping Companies were still having field day, while the lamentations by stakeholders persisted.
In 2020, Nigerian waterways recorded several mishaps and boat accidents which resulted in lost of lives, despite the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) efforts to regulate boat operators. While the high sea was neither better as piracy and sea robbers continued their harassment and highjack of ships and their crew members unchallenged. The Gulf of Guinea is now regarded as the world’s most dangerous for maritime activities.
THE CHALLENGES OF MARITIME AGENCIES IN 2021
Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA): Nigerian Ports remains Most Expensive
This year, the gateway to the Nigerian economy will be battling with the rebuilding and replacement of its equipment, facilities and structures at its corporate headquarters and the Tin Can Island port complex which was destroyed by hoodlums during the ENDSARs protest in November 2020.
The Authority said it needs over N1billion to do so. Much should not be expected from the agency this year .The NPA is likely to remain a toothless bulldog even though the Managing Director, Hadiza Bala Usman has been reappointed for another tenure of five years, even as she still have five months to end her first term. The NPA has lost its role of taming and regulating the Terminal Operators in giving port stakeholders the conducive operating environment for business . The Nigeria ports is likely to remained the most expensive and cumbersome to do business in the world this year as has been for a long time as there are no signs of a change in the nearest future. It is likely that this year, the agency may not fare better as there is no plan to fast -tract its operations including the construction of the much talked about deep seaports construction.
Also, if NPA continues its fruitless battles with major port operators like it deed with INTELS and BUA Group in the previous year, then this year may be another wasted and harder year for port operators. Sadly, President Buhari has just introduce another confusion by re – organizing the board of the agency. In the new board Transportation Minister’s appointee board Chairman Chief Akinwunmi Ricketts was reduced to ordinary member, while the sacked former chairman of the board. Chief Emmanuel Adesoye was brought back as the new chairman. Some former board members were dropped, while it now has six members representing the six geopolitical zones. The Board members , who are mainly politicians at the helm of affairs at the NPA House Marina, Lagos may be more interested in politicking to secure their future in 2023 than finding solutions to the numerous challenges facing port operations in Nigeria.
Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA): $195 million Deep Blue Project may flop –
There are high expectations from maritime stakeholders that the maritime regulatory agency, led by Dr Bashir Yusuf Jamoh will do better in 2021, especially in its core function of maritime safety and security. With its $195 million deep blue project , slated to commence in March this year, expectations are high that when the project kicks off, piracy and other criminalities in the Nigerian waters will be tackled. But there seems to be a challenge that may dash the hope of stakeholders.
First, NIMASA, despite acquiring sophisticated equipment for the deep blue project, if there is no proper understanding , synergy and cooperation with other security agencies, its aims to tackle insecurity in our waters may be a mirage. A maritime professional told this writer that, maritime crime is not war, “because you cannot bomb a ship when pirates hijack or attack it, you only negotiate for the safety of crew and the vessel. So why parading weapons with Defence Ministry or bringing Defence Minister to showcase it “?. The source also said as its stand today, NIMASA lacks the professionals like Captains and Master Mariners that could man the deep blue project platforms, rather they will be depending solely on the Nigeria Navy.
Another critical task the agency will face in 2021 is high personnel cost, the NIMASA may be battling to pay salaries and allowances due the over bloated senior staff cadre which the agency is habouring due to its regular promotion exercise. Already there are acrimonies among staff based on alleged bias in promotions which favours some more than others.
Sadly too, apart from the Director General, who is regarded as a maritime professional, having spent over a decade in the agency, the three Executive Directors and other Board Members are outsiders cum politicians who know nothing about maritime, their political ambitions towards 2023 may hinder their performance to reset the agency. The greatest challenge of the agency in 2021 will be how to implement the Deep Blue Project, maintain the sophisticated equipment, tackle maritime insecurity and keep its staff together without rancour and acrimony. Can Dr Bashir Jamoh who has been all over the place , visiting and seeking collaborations with who is who in the maritime industry and other security agencies muster his efforts to overcome these challenges this year ?.
Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC): Much efforts, Challenges remains
In 2020, the NSC was regarded as the star agency. Its Executive Secretary/ CEO Barr. Hassan Bello was everywhere collaborating and seeking solutions to the myriads of problems confronting maritime stakeholders, but did he succeed.?
While one may commend the efforts of the NSC, but the difficulties, extortions and fraudulent charges perpetrated by Terminal Operators,Shipping companies and Truckers never went away.
Neither were the high cost of doing business in Nigerian ports and the highhandedness by security agencies along the ports access roads were curbed.
This year, the stakes are high that the same perpetrators of these demarketing acts in our ports environment will continue. It is no longer news that Terminal Operators and Shipping Companies in Nigeria operates as outlaws without anybody or agency regulating them.
They are powerful, uncontrollable and brutal in maltreating their clients in Nigeria. The NSC, may even get weaker in the year as its CEO will be leaving after completing his second tenure in office during the year.
Like a frontal fighter for justice and conducive environment for business flourish, the NSC without legal backing needs a more enforcable powers, as such the various bills like the National Transportation Commission Bill and the status of Port Economic Regulator needs to be enforced.
The agency also needs adequate funding to carry out its numerous interventions, if not, the cartels in the port industry will continue to dare the NSC with impunity knowing full well that, it can only shout , but has no power to bite.
National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA): 2021, MD has Governorship ambition
This is another agency that may not be stable or active this year. Reason is that its Managing Director , Dr George Moghalu is eyeing the seat of governor of Anambra State of which the gubernatorial election comes up this year. Moghalu will be seriously politicking and looking for funds to execute his political ambition. This may put the NIWA in a lull or nothing is happening mood for the year.
Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron:
The academy, though fared pretty well in 2020 with its infrastructural improvements, the challenges of staff welfare and promotions continues to hunt the institution’s management.
Sadly, the academy just like in 2019 is still owing November 2020 staff salaries. The same scenario that played out in 2019 when the management of the academy was not able to pay December salary . Not until July 2020, after the media reported the grievances of staff over the non payment of their salaries after seven months into a new year. Sadly, the academy’s management is not able to resolved the inadequacies and so 2020 November salary of the academy workers is again hanging in the balance.
The 2021 could be another round of bickering and power play as the Nigeria’s foremost maritime institution current rector Comdr. Emmanuel Duja Effedua ( rtd) will be completing his first term of four years in office come September this year. Sources say he is lobbying to get a second term, but on the other hand he is also boosting that he doesn’t want a second term.
This year may be a very challenging year for the academy as bottled -up anger and frustration among staff and management is brewing seriously.
The staff are complaining of highhandedness and autocratic leadership as being exhibited by the Rector. Allowances are not paid, no staff promotions and no good condition of service for the academy’s staff.
The academy in the past three years under Effedua has been running on an ad hoc principal management staff all in acting capacity. For the past three years all principal officers , Registrar, Bursar, Liberian, Director of works are all in acting capacities and not appointed, despite vacancy advertorials and subsequent short listing of candidates three years ago.
Should things remains this way, the academy may face serious management criss this year.
Council for Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN): Fight to Finish in 2021
Controversial, half dead and non performing CRFFN, no doubt is carrying its bickering and moribund status from 2020 to this year. It is expected that the brawl between stakeholders and the already expired tenure of its board members who are lobbying to stay put will increase this year. In fact going by the positions of freight forwarders over planned tenure elongation of the present board members from two to four years, the Council may never know peace. And if elections is to be conducted too, there is likely to be another round of crises this year in the Council. Th e CRFFN since its inception in 2007 has witnessed non performance, court cases and infighting which may likely escalate this year .
Nigeria Customs Service (NCS): With AfCFTA, Smuggling will Increase –
Going by the performance of the NCS in 2020 in terms of revenue and anti- smuggling activities, one may say the service is not doing badly. More so as they are only implementing government fiscal policies. But despite that , the challenges of delays, corruption and multiple alerts and units operated by the service is major challenge to port operators. The Customs is seen as only pursuing revenue collection while negating trade facilitation. Lack of scanners also play a major setback in the operations of the agency. With the coming of AfCFTA, which means that over 50 countries in Africa will be transporting their products borderless, the Customs will face a huge challenge of having to checkmate the huge influx of these products. Smugging of goods through the porous borders is another herculean task the NCS will face in the AfCFTA regime this year.
Importers / Freight Forwarders: Suffering Continues – The Nigeria port system in 2021 has opened another ample opportunities for importers and their agents. With the AfCFTA , there will be more jobs for them, especially from the African countries. But the greatest challenge they will face this year is the high cost of doing business, scarcity of forex, extortion from government agencies and gridlock along the ports access roads. More lamentations is expected from this group this year as they are bound to be more business loses due to lack of funds and unfavorable government policies. Especially during this second wave of Covid-19 pandemic and economic recession.
Looking at the 2021 budget and its revenue expectations, more revenue is expected from the maritime sub- sector, but the enormous challenges facing the sector will hinder such expectations from the government.