Steve Agbota, [email protected]

The Nigeria’s maritime sector experienced ups and down in 2019. The sector was bedevilled with series of challenges, which impacted both port users and operators especially the shippers negatively.

Many businesses have collapsed; Nigeria lost its fourth attempt to get re-elected into the ‘Category C’ of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) Council seat, cost of doing business at the ports became unbearable for both importers and exporters, the nation’s ports are congested due to perennial gridlock at Apapa.

Ironically, Nigerian ports were tagged as the most expensive in the world, as result of poor coordination, poor policy, multiple charges and others thus the reasons why Nigerian ports losing cargoes to its neighbours.

Also, the Nigerian ports suffered obsolete infrastructure, which include roads, rail system, quay, buildings, equipment, and yard and remained heavily congested leading to insecurity and pilferage, delays in cargo clearance and inefficiencies in cargo handling largely due to manual processes.

Even the 48-hour cargo clearance, is a failed system. The port reform has brought no development. The essence of the port reform is to increase capacity in terms of efficiency. It is also demoralizing that reduction of cost has not been achieved and no functional scanners across the ports and land borders.

But as the clock ticks into the year 2020, stakeholders in the industry especially the shippers and Customs brokers hope for a better operating environment.

Stakehokders who spoke with Daily Sun said there was total system collapse at the ports in 2019 and there is need for the government to do whatever possible to bring normalcy to the ports in 2020.

They demanded that Federal Government should fix the Apapa access roads, develop workable policies that will bring them around and development such as guaranteed security architecture and infrastructure facelift to aid the maritime sector for the next 12 months and beyond. They believe that Federal Government can come up with policies and well implemented, it will revive the lost glory of the nation’s ports.

Speaking with Daily Sun yesterday, the President of the Shippers’ Association of Lagos State (SALS), Rev. Jonathan Nicole said the first thing for everybody in the maritime sector in 2020 is to sacrifice a lot together like a cluster friends to appreciate the problems in the sector.

He added: “Again,  the challenges in the sector as we all know is recognized, look at the distance future where we believe that we in the maritime sector will overcome the problems presently faced by the majority key players especially the shippers.

“The major issues that we believe that will be tackled collectively is the ability of the Federal Government to appreciate the suffering of the key players, for instance, the importers, the exporters and the major stakeholders because one, the bottomline is for businessmen to make money and they go into business purposely to make money. In that case, the effort of the Nigerian Shippers Council in checkmating reduction of cost of doing business has to be carried out vigorously by all.”

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According to him, cost of doing business, which is really getting out of the hand, has to be curtailed, controlled and appreciated in the sector.

Outside that, he said the issue of the traffic in Apapa has to be resolved amicably by all involved especially the shipping lines and terminal operators, At the moment, he said the challenges in the sector are huge, enormous and very restrictive to a group of people.

He explained: “What I mean by restrictive, it centered on the loses of shippers. Once that has been identified, all the key players must come together and resolve the problems of the traffic, the numerous government agencies that that involved operating in the sector.

“Recently, we have the challenges of NAFDAC charges excessively, in fact making them more important than any other person in the sector; all those things should stop because NAFDAC is only a regulatory body not the final habitat in maritime sector. We cannot just go with issues that will create more bottlenecks for importers.”

Meanwhile, the President, National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents, Lucky Amiwero, said the expectations of stakehokders are high. He said for the past five years, the maritime sector has been flopped, slapped, destroyed and put in limbo.

He stresedd that most of the areas in Lagos where cargo are supposed to move from Apapa to KLT and from KLT to Lillypond and all the rest, nothing is being done. He said these are the areas Government must focus it attention in 202 if there is going to be any development in the sector.

He said government cannot use maritime sector as a political tool and grow, adding that the sector needs experts to develop policies that will move the industry forward in 2020 and beyond.

He stated : “The people who drive the affairs of maritime sector are not stakeholders; they don’t have any stake because they come in as politicians, made all the whole mess and go.  That is not what is done in other part of the world. You need experts to sit down and give you experts’ knowledge so that you will be able to redesign your concept. When you bring these things, everybody wants to do it politically.

“For instance, if you look at the gridlock is still there, concessions are there, scanners are not there for security agencies to carryout examinations of goods, processes are not there. NIMASA has been collecting cabotage fees since 2003 up till now, they are talking about disbursement and stakeholders don’t know much they want to disburse.”

He hinted that the maritime economy is bleeding on the way the government has gone so far. He said Government has not been serious on the economy.

According to him, the revenue from maritime sector if properly harnessed can assist the government to finance so many projects across the country. He said unfortunately, that is not what stakeholders have seen so far.