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Customs orders scanners to enhance ease of doing business at ports – Usman

…As NPA promotes utilisation of Eastern ports to decongest Lagos

The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has ordered electronic scanners that are due for delivery this year or next in order to enhance cargo clearance at the nation’s seaports, Hadiza Bala Usman, managing director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), has disclosed.

Cargo inspection, which is a critical part of port business has been challenging because Nigeria through its inspection agencies led by Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and other government agencies, does physical inspection due to lack of scanners in the ports to enable drive through inspection.

But with the acquisition and utilisation of electronic scanning machines, it would take shorter time for containers to be inspected and for them to leave the port location to importer’s warehouses.

Usman, who was a guest on Traffic Radio, 96.1 FM, which was monitored by BusinessDay, pointed out that the authority has been looking for ways to increase ease of doing business at ports by reducing turnaround time of the vessel.

She said the NPA on its part, ensures that the channels are good by removing the wrecks, ensures the pilots navigates and anchor the vessels safely to the port and that terminal operators efficiently remove the boxes from the vessel.

She however frown at the fact that hundreds of thousands of containers that comes to the nation’s seaports annually are positioned daily for Customs and other agencies to open and carry out physical inspection, which comes with attendant delays.

“After inspection, comes the evacuation of cargo to the hinterlands or importers’ warehouses, and if all port locations would have intermodal transport system -rail connection, utilisation of inland waterways and road connection, there would be significant improvement in the congestion around the port corridor,” she said.

If, according to her, Nigeria estimates the volume of containers that comes into Lagos Ports and imagine that all of them go through the road, there would be serious congestion as we have it today.

“We are also promoting the use of the Eastern ports such as Calabar, Warri, Onne and Port Harcourt Ports. For instance, Calabar Port has draft limitation which does not allow vessels that are above 7 meters draft to berth there. That is why we are encouraging the use of flat bottom vessels to call at Calabar Port. We have also given harbour dues discount to ships using Calabar and other Eastern ports,” she further disclosed.

On Apapa gridlock, she expressed concern on the unimaginable impact the gridlock has on turnaround time of cargoes.

“There has been an element of rent-seeking around the port corridor where truckers are mandated to pay money before given access into the port. This is why we are deploying electronic call-up to remove human intervention in the process. Electronic system will be transparent because there would be a dashboard at certain port locations to enable truckers see the movement of trucks,” Usman explained.

She said there is need to have designated truck parks where trucks can park before accessing the port, and that the NPA has advertised for some private people that owns certain truck parks to apply.

She however said that to restore sanity within Apapa corridor, NPA has been able to identify about seven truck parks that meet the requirement to participate in the call-up, each of these parks would have capacity to accommodate about 2,000 to 3,000 trucks, and every truck coming to the port to pick or drop a cargo must go through one of these parks.

On port regulation, she further disclosed that NPA which had issues around the concession agreement as the landlord, had to identify areas where there are gaps and they are presently being addressed by making sure there is penalty for failure to adhere to the provisions of the agreement.

“For instance, if government is supposed to dredge the quay walls of a particular terminal and they don’t do it. The government would be penalised by making it to lose money from fees while concessionaire that fails to deploy the needed infrastructure or equipment would also be penalised by imposition of more fees,” she pointed out.

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