As NPA Moves to Commence 24-hours Port Operation

To improve Nigerian ports efficiency and competitiveness among its contemporaries in West and Central Africa, the Nigerian Ports Authority and the Nigeria Customs Service, will soon commence 24- hours Ports operation, a development described by stakeholders as the game changer. Eromosele Abiodun writes

Between 2017 and 2020, it was estimated that Nigeria lost over N38.4 trillion due to lack of 24-hour port operations. This means port economy was losing a whooping N9.6 trillion annually, N800 billion monthly and N200 billion weekly.

To address this, the federal government four years ago, announced an Executive Order for 24-hour operations at the Apapa port and banned touting by officials or unofficial persons at any port; be it air, land, and seaports in the country, the intention of the government was to enhance trade facilitation.

As part of the measures, the government directed its agencies present at the Ports to harmonise their operations in 60 days, into one single interface station domiciled in one location in the port implemented by a single joint task force at all times, without prejudice to necessary backend procedures.

According to the executive order, the new single interface station at each port, “Shall capture, track and record information on all goods arriving and departing from Nigeria and remit captured information to the head of the MDA and the head of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on a weekly basis.’’

Some of the advantages of 24-hours port operation include; low incidence of congestion and low level of delay associated with clearance of goods. Under a 24-hour port operation system, people making payment should be able to make their payment even at night to the banks.

NPA’s Audacious Move

To make this a reality, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), have unanimously agreed to revive and begin implementation of 24hrs port operations at the nation’s seaports.

The policy, when reintroduced, will drive up efficiency of the port, improve ease of doing business, Port competitiveness and as well decongest the seaports.

Though, there have been challenges identified with the 24 hours policy, stakeholders, especially, operators and regulators have described the challenges as surmountable.

For instance, the NPA said it is working with the Lagos State government and the Nigeria Police, to create an enabling environment for 24 hours port operation to thrive.

In a chat with newsmen in Lagos, the Managing Director of the NPA, Mohammed Bello-Koko, stated that while the Lagos State government is working to provide illumination along the port access road, the authority is working to illuminate the port premises.

According to him, “On 24hrs port operations, we need Customs officers to be working on shifts where we can have cargo clearance and be discharged into the night and for 24 hours. Also, we need the shipping lines and the terminal operators and security agencies to be on their toes for 24 hours so we are working out those modalities.

“The Customs Comptroller General, Bashir Adewale Adeniyi, is quite supportive to increase trade facilitation, make the port more competitive and also ensure that the cost of doing business in the port is reduced. He has worked with us that the export desk is working properly and we have seen a great increase in the quantity of Cargoes in terms of export.

“On security for 24 hours port operations, we are working with Lagos State government, not only to decongest outside the Ports, but also to provide security and to ensure that when you bring cargo out at night there is safety. Lagos State is working to provide illumination along the Port because when the lights are up on the road, it means you reduce the number of people that will create havoc. We are also ensuring that within the port premises we provide illumination that is to work within the port.”

The NPA helmsman disclosed that the Nigeria Police has also been brought into providing security because the federal government is serious about port efficiency and increasing productivity.

“We discussed with the Nigerian police and I know that we have Marine police that are operating within the port. The FG is serious about improving port efficiency and increasing it and I believe this government will do whatever it is to achieve it. Very soon we will see the police brought into this because the Lagos State government is playing a key role in providing security along the port corridor, ”he ended.

Nigeria Customs Backs NPA

Apart from the Nigeria Police, the Nigeria Customs Service has said it is in support of the move to actuallise 24-hour port operation.

The Comptroller General of Customs, Bashir Adewale Adeniyi, in a chat with journalists recently, said the NCS is fully supporting the NPA’s quest for 24hours ports operation saying one of the seaports would be used as a pilot test for the operation.

The NCS boss pledged the service commitment but stressed the need foe a round the clock security for other ancillary service providers to key into the operations.

“I am happy that you made reference to the effort of my controllers in the ports I was discussing with one of them on the issue of 24 hour operations in the port. For those who have been in this environment for quite some time, they will remember that we have actually tried this some 10-15 years ago but we had some issues, some challenges and people said there is a need for security around the port area for the banks to operate.

“We need to maintain round the clock protection and things like that but I believe that we must have to start one way. We must have to start in a way because if we do not make any trial, how do we know we failed.

“Before we started the Concessioning of the ports in 2005-2006, there were lots of glitches but gradually we started overcoming them. Also, the automation of Customs procedures started with a lot of glitches and now we have perfected them. We have automated virtually all the business processes in Customs and we are still trying to go beyond that, so let us take on board those expected challenges that we have if we start 24 hour operations.

“I will pledge Customs commitment to it and like I told the Controller that on one of those nights, I will lead Customs inspection to a particular Port unannounced to see our operations, to see Customs processing, declarations but you know like I have always said you cannot clap with one hand so when we process and release, terminal operators must be there to load the containers, the people at the gate must be there to open the gates, the shipping companies to do TDO and things like that.

“So, we have to start somewhere even if it means taking a port to run a pilot if that is the route we want to take but somehow, this is the only way in which we can start making mistakes, correct them and then we move forward, ”he stated.

Clearing Agents Express Readiness

Also, clearing agents under the aegis of Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), have expressed readiness to key into 24hours Port operations.

Speaking, the Vice President, Segun Oduntan, stated that the association will give assistance to the authorities to achieve the feat in the nation’s seaports.

“We are going to talk to our members and tell our people that there’s a new solution that is in town. I hear that part of the complaint against Customs night operations is that our people are not coming. ANLCA being the foremost association, we are ready to buy into and give assistance to the Tin Can Island command. You are starting this now, and you are like in the Pilot Phase, definitely, all others will follow suit, ”Oduntan stated

Also speaking, a clear agent, Chukwuma Onyeka, stated that with efforts geared towards the attainment of 24 hour port operation, the nation’s ports will be the better for it

According to him, the efficiency and effectiveness of the port will rise, even as he said the ship turn around time and cargo dwell time will improve.

Onyeka, also stated that the already congested Tin-Can Island and Apapa ports will be decongested.

He added, “Cargo clearance processes will now be all round the clock. The situation where port officials close for the day in the evening, thus leading to jobs being shifted to the next day, will no longer be tolerated. Customs and other agencies of government operating inside the ports will now run shifts to ensure port operations continue non-stop. 

“Also, shipping companies will now have reduced turn around time as shipping services will continue all through day and night, thereby reducing vessel turn-around time and also leading to a reduction in the cost of doing business at the nations ports.”

Stressing the need for 24 hours port operation, the Customs Area Controller, Tin Can Island command of the NCS, Compt. Dera Nnadi, stated that Nigerian Ports are supposed to operate 24hours just like other ports of the world.

“The world does not sleep. When they’re sleeping in Nigeria, somebody in China is loading container. When China is sleeping, Europe and America is awake loading containers. So, it behooves on us to also be awake 24 hours to receive and to exit these containers.

“In Nigeria, certain aspect of the ship side operation is 24 hours. Certain aspects of Customs work like enforcement and gate operation is 24 hours. Boarding is 24 hours. But the nation has not or is yet to attain the level where basic operations like delivery of import loading cargo is achieved in the night.

“We had to scan containers in the night, rather than close offices, usually by 4.30pm or 5.30pm time, we need to extend it into the night, we tried that and it worked, so we decided to extend it further.

“The first day we started, we scanned 56 containers. We said since it worked, we scanned up till 2 a.m. Before we stopped. Now, let those who enforce delivery of cargo outside the port work overnight too. We have started it, and it is working, “he said.