Eight years after the Nigerian ports system was reformed by the Federal Government, the process of handling and clearing cargo at the ports is still inefficient. Notably, the dividend of port reforms is still being limited by issues bordering on damage, loss and especially delay of cargo at the port.
Damage on cargo mostly occurs when the wrong equipment is used to handle a particular cargo. Overloading of containers beyond the specified capacity leads to poor handling of the containers. In this circumstance, terminal operators are more likely to use the wrong equipment to the containers and the cargoes in such cases may suffer damage.
Investigations reveal that training of cargo handlers and dockworkers is very important if the issue of cargo damage must be addressed in Nigerian port. This is because an ignorant cargo handler may deploy the wrong equipment while discharging a cargo, which will result to cargo damage and loss to the importer. Also, multiple handling of cargo subjects it to damage, especially for transshipment cargoes that are handled severally from port to port. Similarly, improper documentation by port users and under-declaration of cargo tonnage by importers are also reasons for undue delays and shoddy services at the seaports.
On cargo clearance delay, the recent shift in cargo inspection procedures is making clearance of cargo difficult for some importers who imported cargo in November 2013 using the Risk Assessment Report (RAR) issued by the old destination inspection regime handled by destination inspection service providers. Investigations reveal that currently many manufacturers have their consignments held up in the bureaucracy of the clearing process following the shift to a Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR) by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) since the 1st of December 2013.
Prior to this shift to PAAR, destination Inspection providers did issue Risk Assessment Reports (RAR). It is apparent that the bottlenecks in transiting from the old RAR to PAAR is responsible for this current hold-up of cargoes at the seaports
The other side of the story is that the Lagos seaports environs are surrounded by factories and oil tank farms. The presence of these operations creates traffic congestion in the ports area. This impacts negatively on ports operation, as it makes movement of cargoes in and out of the ports difficult, which contributes to delay in cargo delivery to the importers’ warehouse.
Also, the lingering phenomenon of bad state of roads in the area of the ports makes it difficult for trucks to move in and out of the ports difficult. There are frequent cases whereby cargoes that have been cleared out of the ports get stuck on the road or even upturn, due to the multiple bad portions on the Apapa-Oshodi road.
We are disturbed that Nigeria is still struggling with an ineffective road mode of moving cargoes from the ports. It can be recalled that when the erstwhile colonial masters conceived the Lagos ports, railways were linked to them for easy facilitation of port and cargo operations. But, for lack of adequate maintenance and vision, smooth and quick clearance and movement of cargoes from our seaports are still fraught with huge avoidable hurdles that do not augur well for the growth of the economy.
We strongly believe that there is an urgent need for full resuscitation of the cargo haulage operations of the nation’s rail service beyond the capacity of moving about 80 containers from Lagos to Kaduna and Kano every month.
In addition, we seize this medium to decry the phenomenal penchant of being quick at changing processes and policies without making adequate transition plans that would ensure that the system runs smoothly. The current delays resulting from the shift to PAAR gives the impression that this process shift was not properly thought out, or that even the Customs Service was not properly oriented to take charge of this new risk assessment process.
However, we call on all stakeholders to quickly do the needful and make the clearance process of cargoes to be quick and smooth, and save businesses the cost of undue delays. These businesses are already burdened by numerous challenges that threaten their growth.