The cost of cargo and terminal handling charges is one of the factors confronting Nigerian Ports.
Nigerians must acknowledge the obvious shortcomings in our ports infrastructure especially in the area of provision of adequate cargo handling gear and over bearing as well as over zealous attitude of the numerous security agencies operating within our ports for reasons that are absolutely not altruistic.
According to Mr Okey Ibeke, ( editor in chief Business and Maritime West Africa) in his address during its maiden Town Hall Meeting on “ Cargo Handling and Port Charges”, one of the protocols following the founding of the Economic Community of West Africa States ( ECOWAS) is the trade Liberalisation Scheme ( ETLS). This protocol which was adopted to boost intra – regional trade stipulates a token 0. 5 percent tax on goods manufactured in any ECOWAS country.
In the case of manufactured goods, according to him, “ imports through these countries are re -labelled and repackaged as made within the sub – region in total disregard of world Trade Organization’s role of origin and transported by road into Nigeria at the payment of the ridiculous o.
5 percent levy stipulated in the ETLS protocol.
For Vehicles, especially cars, Benin Republic for instance, encourages Nigerian importers to route their cars through Cotonou and designate them as transit goods destined for any of the land locked neighbours as the final destination. With such legal cover, no import duty is demanded nor paid on such vehicles apart from some statutory handling charges and transit fees.
While transit goods are supposed to be escorted under Customs bond to the border posts of the country of final destination in accordance with International law, yet, no such thing is done for the cars by the Benin authorities who are safe in the knowledge that cars will be moved to Nigeria.
However, the amount collected on each car in Benin is minimal but given the high traffic, the revenue is tremendous enough to oil their economy.
Nigerian’s economy is being snookered by the same protocol and instrument for brotherhood and economic integration within the sub – region.
The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency ( NIMASA) relies on the three percent levy on cargoes shipped into Nigeria to fulfil its statutory responsibilities, Nigerian Ports Authority ( NPA ) collects revenue based tonnage of vessels that call at our ports, Frieght Forwarders depend on consignments at the ports to do business, transporters and logistics providers of ancillary services at the ports are kept busy by the stream of ship and cargo traffic, Local governments that derive revenue through wharf landing fees are affected, Stevedoring companies that employ the legion of dockworkers are out of business, therefore it is time for the government to evaluate the benefits of the ETLS or lack of it as well as the level of implementation of the CET by ECOWAS member states.
Due to the effects of these challenges , stakeholders recently gathered in Lagos and identified the various challenges on ports.
Barr. Hassan Bello ( Executive Secretary of Nigerian Shippers Council), listed kinds of port charges to include storage charge, Harbour charge , container cleaning, container deposit, Demurrage as well as nomination charge.
Multiplicity of fees, Double charging, High service charging, over regulation, attitudinal, Extortion, unreceipted payment, Double examination, late clearing process and high level of corruption were identified as challenges in the port.
Bello who was represented by Mrs Celine Ifeohora ( Assistant Director Compliance Monitoring Division, NSC) outlined Delay in locating container, delay associated with booking for custom examination, complaints of inadequate service by service providers and users, political will and cargo dwell time as poor service delivery in the port.
In order to address these issues, the secretary noted that government must instil penalties for offenders, Nigeria must have high technological machine to examine containers, government must collaborate with private sector and economic regulator must be allowed to play its role by being independently so as to work with stakeholders to make the ports better.
On that same vein, the Nigerian Maritime Agency and Safety Administration under the leadership of the Director General, Dakuku Peterside said that as team leader of the maritime Regulatory Agency they are committed to the enthronement of global best practices in the provision of Maritime Safety and Security for safe and secured shipping in a cleaner marine environment.
They must build a veritable maritime data base that would assist elucidate the maritime capabilities to enhance stakeholder confidence, they must ensure that their emergency response capabilities meets the international standards and port reception facilities must maintain the minimum acceptable security level.
Dr. Boniface Aniebonam( Founder National Association Of Government Approved Frieght Forwarders ( NAGAFF), who also spoke on ‘’ Challenges On The Path To Making Cargo Handling and Terminal Operations Efficient and Competitive : The Freight Forwarder’s Perspective’’
From the standpoint of Feight Forwarders, there had been some marked improvements in the level of efficiency among private operators after port concession.
Aniebonam however said that a lot needs to be done in terms of costs and quality Assurance.
He enumerated the challenges on the path to making cargo handling operations efficient and competitive to include the level of competitiveness on Nigerian Ports, the impact of cargo diversion on ship traffic, templates for port pricing, and availability and efficiency of ports handling equipment, others are impact of foreign exchange and fiscal policies as well as Abuse of ETLS Protocol, smuggling and porous International Borders.
He disclosed that there are no known templates for port pricing in Nigeria, and this has compounded by the non – existent of a regulatory body. The Shipping Company and Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria,( STOAN) raised charges anyhow.
The high tariff is usually the direct consequence of reckless change of government policies on foreign exchange. High bank interest rate also affect port and terminal operations. The higher the interest rate, the lower the activities on terminal operations.
According to him, the impact of foreign exchange and fiscal policies of any government goes along way to either make or mar terminal operations and the economy as a whole, currency devaluation has serious negative impact on ports and terminal operations. This is because investors who have finalized importation plan will inevitably halt the plan so as not to incur loss of money.
He further identified smuggling as another issues affecting Nigerian ports, stressing that a country that encourages smuggling by commission or omission will end up crippling ports and terminal operations, this is because smugglers will not patronize seaports and approved border routes.
Factors leading to smuggling through borders and legal diversion of Nigerian bound cargoes to other countries include; Vessel turn – around is lower in Nigeria compared to our neighbouring countries, customs duty is very much higher than what obtains in our neighbouring countries, systematic corruption among officials of government agencies operating at the ports and borders and frequent changes of port operations policies and duty rates on imports.
Government should make concerted efforts to evolve robust foreign and fiscal policies that will impact positively
on the ports and terminal operations which in turn will engender good governance, buoyant economy, peace and stability in Nigeria.