Emmanuel Jime is the executive secretary of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC). In this interview with some select journalists, he shares how the about-to-be-deployed technology will address the issue of crude oil theft and fraudulent practices at the ports. Amaka Anagor-Ewuzie brings the report.
The Federal Government wants to reintroduce the Cargo Tracking Note, which will be supervised by the Council, what are the benefits to the industry?
CTN is a very useful tool. First, part of the problem of this nation is the proliferation of small arms, and most of it passes through our ports. Our borders are porous, but we can reduce the ability of people with bad intentions from accessing our country. CTN will enable this country to be able to identify what is contained in cargo from a port of origin. It prepares our security apparatus from the very beginning to know exactly what the content is.
In other words, if for some reason, you take off and decide to divert to places where you can change the actual content of the vessel, the tracking device will give us the very ‘get-go’ to act. It will allow us to be able to alert our security agencies and let them know the exact content of the ship ahead.
We are also looking at the possibility that CTN will be able to identify the movement of crude from our ports to different destinations worldwide. Crude theft has constituted a big obstacle to our ability to sufficiently get the revenue that is due to our coffers. We will have a tool that will enable our security agencies to know from the beginning that there is a particular activity that is being undertaken in our waters. If we can at least reduce substantially the incidence of such occurrences, whether it is in the area of small arms finding their way into our nation or the theft of our crude, that I think is substantial.
There is also the incidence of under-declaration which over time has been part of the challenge that we have. People may argue that with scanners in our ports that obviously will substantially reduce but we are talking of the ability to know even from the port of origin.
We are talking about the efficiency of our services, cargo clearance, and about delays that lead to demurrages. Before the ship berths, the manifest can be supplied to us ahead. Then, clearance can proceed while the vessel is still at sail, and by the time the ship finally arrives, all you need to do is to walk in and clear the goods. That will enable the efficiency that we have been looking for.
How has the Council been able to carry stakeholders along on the project in terms of awareness creation?
It is being delivered in stages. We have not actually concluded the process of getting the consortium that will deliver the platform. Once, we are done with the paperwork, the processes are concluded then comes the sensitisation. We need to be sure that we are ready before engaging the stakeholders. We have gone ahead to start a discussion. Recently, the leadership of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) came on a courtesy visit.
Every attempt must be made to ensure that the deployment of cargo tracking notes does not unnecessarily add to the cost of doing business. It is the responsibility of NSC to make sure that the cost of doing business in our waters is reduced to the barest minimum. At the moment, there is already a substantial fraction of the administrative cost that will be brought to bear, embedded in the cost of freight. So, it is not going to be something that will be new to the extent that will bring in additional funding.
In the past, the CTN was delivered as if revenue generation was the main objective. So, if you make it a revenue-generation tool, then, it will impact the cost of doing business. But there is going to be little administrative cost.
The main target of the Council is port efficiency. How would you describe the current level of efficiency at the ports?
Not too long ago, the Federal Government established a regulatory framework through the Nigerian Ports Process Manual (NPPM), with which the ports system is being regulated. The NPPM is a harmonisation of the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) being operated by different entities. This was brought in as one document to guide how we function. To implement this, the Ports Standing Task Team (PSTT) was established. Both the NPPM implementation and its oversight by the PSTT are led by the NSC.
It is an inter-agencies platform, but the NSC is driving them. Today, we are happy to report that the average turnaround time in our ports due to the activities of the PSTT such as joint boarding of vessels, has improved. There is also a joint examination of cargo. In the past, we had different agencies of government that took their time and decided in their own space when to perform a function. This is no longer the case. We believe that if we save time in the manner in which cargo examination is done, and in the manner, vessels are boarded, there is a tremendous amount of efficiency that is then brought to bear on the manner of the conduct of business in the port.
I am happy that we have been given the tools through this particular document and of the work of the Task Team, which has assisted other divisions that are present here in the NSC. The regulatory services division that is working hand-in-hand with the PSTT is now better to guarantee automation in the industry which we have been driving and of course a number of the tools that are available for us to be able to ensure there is quality service delivery in our ports.
The PSTT has also extended its activities to cover access to the ports. Many years ago, the gridlock that visited access into the ports, whether it is in the area of the trucks coming in or containers littered in the ports. Now there is sanity, some level of order is beginning to develop, and we can only continue in that pathway because it guarantees that we can be more sustainable in ensuring quality service delivery in our ports.
Sometimes in 2022, the Council raised the alarm that the PSTT operatives have been threatened over their activities at the ports, what is the situation now?
The threat and the challenge are still there. But there is doggedness and a firm commitment. In fact, the leadership of the PSTT under the gentleman we all call the ‘Star Boy’ of the NSC, Fadipe, is exemplary in their conduct. There is nothing that has not been thrown in their way to interrupt their ability to work. They have resisted every temptation and provocation. We commend some of the stakeholders who are part of this team, particularly the Nigeria Police Force, the Customs Service, the Road Safety Commission, and other agencies of government that have supported the team in their work. The harder the challenges, the harder we are fighting back to continue to support the work of the PSTT.
How far has the Council gone with the port community system project?
The former Minister of Transport, Muazu Sambo identified that whatever we needed to do to enhance the quality of services in our ports should be handled by the port’s economic regulator. That was why he came up with the decision but by the time we could start, it became somehow clear that the NPA that was given the responsibility earlier had taken it to an extent for which our taking over would have created an encumbrance to their ability to execute it.
So, the Minister called both agencies and asked us to work together to achieve the objective. We did not take over completely as the Minister had directed earlier but we supported the NPA.
In other words, you just contributed your own input to the NPA?
Yes. Not only have we given our input, but we are also making sure that our personnel are also involved in the process by working hand-in-hand with the NPA on the matter.
Do you want to talk about the level they have gone so far?
The NPA had passed the procurement and other stages. What is left was just to deploy the technology.