Inspite of several years of privatisation, port users are still looking on to the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), to perform its pre-concession roles.
This explains the current roles of the NPA in port and cargo operations in Nigeria
Since the return to democracy in 1999 and with the advent of 4th Republic, the most remarkable development in the life of the nation’s seaport is the port reform of 2006 embarked upon by former President, Olusegun Obasanjo.
The port reform of 2006 helped to reposition and transform Nigeria’s seaports for more competitiveness and efficiency to compete favourably with its peers in the African region and indeed the rest of the world.
In achieving the aforementioned milestone, the Federal Government adopted the landlord model of port concession, ceding cargo handling operations to private terminal operators while the Authority retained the responsibility of providing marine services.
The policy of port concession stemmed from the desire of the then Federal Government to infuse private sector efficiency into the port value chain by embracing PPP as a model of global business.
From all indications, the port concession exercise transformed the operational functions of NPA to a more technical regulation with core responsibilities of providing and maintaining common user facilities such port internal roads, illumination, dredging, bouyage, pilotage, towage and another technical enablers of safe navigation, in addition to exercising regulatory oversight on terminal operators.
However, it appears there is limited public understanding of the roles of NPA in the port given the dominant perception that everything ports rest on NPA, when in actual facts there are other government agencies such as the Nigeria Customs Service and others including security agencies whose roles affect port efficiency and operations.
The external access roads which are of key importance to the evacuation of cargo to and from the ports are under the management of the Federal Ministry of Works, waterways security is the responsibility of Marine Police, NIMASA and the Nigerian Navy, electricity is under the purview of power holding company and recently the shippers Council as the economic regulator.
While the Authority has undergone a reform process that radically changed its processes and procedures, most of the other agencies of Government are yet to effect similar reforms. These lack of changes at same pace, has huge implications for port operations.
In a recent interview, maritime expert Nwachukwu Kelechi, clarified that “contrary to misconceptions and false narratives in some news media establishments, the NPA is solely responsible for the development and maintenance of port access road within the port and not roads outside the seaports.
Today however, maintenance and development of access to the hinterland remains the responsibility of the government.
NPA management performance
However, stakeholders have commended NPA’s current management for executing its constitutional roles and responsibilities.
For instance, NPA was recently commended for its role in strengthening security architecture at the ports.
According to the European Union, the current management has taken its role seriously by reducing vulnerabilities, risks and increase skills and vigilance at the ports
The EU through Nico Vertogen, said, “there is huge improvement in Nigeria port security architecture and that was very reassuring for us to notice. But, there can always be improvement, do more training but in general, the situation is good.
“It was a very detailed needs assessment results because we need to understand how security and safety is organised in Tin-Can island and Apapa and that constitute a detailed training program that was tailor-made especially for security where we have international certification,” he said.
However, Port users especially clearing agents also applauded the NPA management for keying into the core responsibilities and roles of the agency.
An importer, James Akinwale, noted that as part of measures to improve ease of doing business at the ports, the Bello Koko-led management team approved the licensing of 10 Export Processing Terminals (EPT) to facilitate seamless export cargo evacuation out of the nation’s seaports.
“Licensing of 10 Export Processing Terminals to facilitate exports at Nigerian Seaports is to provide a one-stop shop for export where quality control, cargo assessment by all government agencies and issuance of good-to-ship clearance will be obtained. This has led to a significant reduction in truck turnaround time due to successful implementation of the E-Call Up System,” Akinwale stated.
Further checks also revealed that the current management’s enforcement of Minimum Safety Standards on trucks accessing the ports has led to significant reduction in number of accidents recorded at the port corridor.
Another clearing agent, Chukwuka Ayam, stated that: “Enforcement of Minimum Safety Standards on trucks which stipulates that all trucks accessing the ports are inspected, certified and issued compliance identification to assure safety has resulted in at least 65 per cent reduction in number of accidents recorded, arising from improved standards of trucks operating within the Port premises.”
NPA partnership with International Maritime Organisation
The NPA has also engaged the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), on the development of Port Community System on the automation and digitalisation of the port processes. A source who pleaded anonymity remarked that, “the current management has engaged with the IMO on development of Port Community System pursuant to the IMO instrument on automation and digitalisation of port processes.
“Management have also, awarded the consultancy for the deployment of Vessel Traffic Service (VTS); a maritime safety measure that equips with Domain Awareness Capability to enable us guide and provide safety information to vessels within our channels and ports approaches in line with the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) conventions.
“On the critical front of trade facilitation/ease of doing business/employment generation, the NPA management under the firm and focused guidance of Koko created new businesses and attendant job opportunities such as the barge operations services which besides reducing pressure on the roads have grown into a N2 billion annual generation business both from direct investment and accompanying externalities,” the source said.
According to him, Bello Koko has also covered remarkable grounds in the crucial maritime benchmarks such as improved Navigational Aids, Enhanced Port Security, Engineering Infrastructure/Operational Capacity Strengthening and Employee Welfare and Training/Industrial Harmony.
“Procurement and deployment of Security Patrol Boats (SPBs) to all Pilotage Districts to address incessant attacks of vessels along the channels and at Ports’ waterfronts, his management considerably enhanced port security. He also adroitly established a robust partnership with the EU-funded West and Central Africa Ports Security (WeCAPS) towards risk prevention, vulnerability assessment of port infrastructure, skills acquisition to port personnel to strengthen the security and safety of the Nigerian Ports,” he said.
Leading advocacy against extortion along port corridors
Disturbed by increasing acts of extortion by hoodlums and miscreants along port access road, Mohammed Bello Koko is personally leading the advocacy to eliminate illegal check points where these atrocities are perpetrated through intensified collaborations with security agencies.
As if to confirm the effectiveness of these collaborations, last week the Lagos State Police Command arrested 15 hoodlums, 3 Police Officers, 1 LASTMA and 1 FRSC personnel caught aiding and abetting extortion. This is coming on heels of the reception at the NPA headquarters of Mr. Idowu, the Commissioner for Lagos, where Bello Koko enlisted the Commissioner’s support to frontally tackle the menace of corruption, which according to Koko is “doing reputational damage to Nigeria, given that the ports access road is an international business corridor”.
“Those are not all. He established a standing partnership with the Navy, Nigerian Army to in addition to combating illegal checkpoints along the port corridor make traffic management more effective. There was the standardisation of operational procedures for different activities such as barging, private jetties, pilotage, vessel berthing/sailing, which represents another positive of his leadership,“ he added.
He further stated that significant reduction in the traffic gridlock along the main Port corridor and the internal access roads through enforcements, proper batching, continuous access control mechanisms and movement of cargo via barge operations are others.
An understanding of the roles, functions and powers the extant laws of the country vests on the NPA is necessary in giving an objective assessment of the Authority’s performance.