In 2006, the Federal Government under the then administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo embarked on a total reform of the Nigerian seaport.
This move brought in private sector investors as concessionaires and ceded the cargo handling operations of the port to them as terminal operators while the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) became both the landlord and the technical regulator for the port.
No doubt, the reform repositioned Nigerian ports for competitiveness and efficiency to compete favourably with its peers in Africa and globally. With the landlord model of port concession, terminal operators handle cargo while the NPA provides marine services.
These marine services of NPA include maintaining common user facilities such as port internal roads, illumination, dredging, buoyage, pilotage, towage, and other technical enablers of safe navigation, in addition to exercising regulatory oversight on terminal operators.
Aside from the Ports Authority, there are other government agencies such as the Nigeria Customs Service and others whose roles affect port operations and efficiency.
For instance, roads leading to the seaports, which are essential for cargo evacuation, are under the management of the Federal Ministry of Works while the provision of security on the waterways is the responsibility of the Marine Police, NIMASA, and the Nigerian Navy; electricity is under the purview of power holding company.
While the NPA has undergone reform that has changed its processes, most of the other agencies of government are yet to effect similar reforms, and this has huge implications for port operations.
Nwachukwu Kelechi, a maritime expert, told newsmen that contrary to the false narrative that the NPA is solely responsible for the maintenance of access roads within the port and not roads outside the seaports, the maintenance and development of access to the hinterland is the responsibility of the Ministry of Works.
Stakeholders have commended the current management of NPA for transforming the port industry. Just recently, the European Union commended the NPA for strengthening security architecture at the ports through the reduction of vulnerabilities, risks and increasing vigilance at the ports.
Nico Vertogen, a representative of the EU said there is a huge improvement in Nigeria’s port security architecture, adding that there is room for improvement.
Port users have also applauded the NPA for delivering on its responsibilities to enthrone efficient service delivery.
James Akinwale, an importer, commended the licensing of 10 Export Processing Terminals (EPT) to facilitate seamless export cargo evacuation out of the nation’s seaports by the Mohammed Bello-Koko-led management of the NPA to ease export trade.
“The terminals facilitate exports at ports by serving as a one-stop shop for export where quality control, cargo assessment by all government agencies, and issuance of good-to-ship clearance will be obtained. There is a significant reduction in truck turnaround time due to the successful implementation of the electronic call-up system,” Akinwale said.
Reducing truck-related accidents at the port corridor led to the enforcement of Minimum Safety Standards on trucks accessing the nation’s ports.
Chukwuka Ayam, a Licensed Customs Agent, said the policy has resulted in at least a 65 percent reduction in the number of container-carrying truck accidents at the port.
The digitalisation of port services is critical and to automate the port process, the NPA engaged the International Maritime Organization (IMO), for the development of the Port Community System. This is in line with the IMO’s policy that every port globally must be automated by 2024.
Also, the NPA has awarded the consultancy for the deployment of Vessel Traffic Service (VTS), a maritime safety measure that is equipped with Domain Awareness Capability to enable Nigeria to guide and provide safety information to vessels within its channels and ports in line with the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) conventions.
To further ease cargo evacuation from the port, the NPA management under the guidance of Bello-Koko, has created new business and job opportunities by enabling the use of barges to evacuate cargo from the port. This has helped to reduce pressure on the roads and has grown into an N2 billion annual business.
Findings have shown that NPA under Bello-Koko has covered remarkable grounds such as improving navigational aids, port security, engineering infrastructure, operational capacity, and strengthening industrial harmony as well as employee welfare.
Other areas include procuring and deploying security patrol boats to all Pilotage Districts to address incessant attacks of vessels along the channels and at terminal waterfronts to enhance port security.
Similarly, the NPA has established a robust partnership with the EU-funded West and Central Africa Ports Security (WeCAPS) towards strengthening the security and safety of the Nigerian ports.
One of the challenges that face truckers and add to the cost of doing business at the nation’s seaport is the issue of extortion. This is the management of NPA is leading the advocacy to eliminate illegal checkpoints where illegal tolls are collected from truckers.
Last week, the Lagos State Police Command said it arrested 15 hoodlums, three police officers, one LASTMA and one FRSC personnel caught aiding and abetting extortion.
At the recent visit of Idowu Owohunwa, the commissioner of Police for Lagos State to Bello-Koko at the NPA headquarters, the NPA boss solicited the Commissioner’s support to frontally tackle the menace of corruption. He said the corruption abetted by checkpoints is ‘doing reputational damage to Nigeria, given that the ports access road is an international business corridor’.
The Authority also established a standing partnership with the Navy and Nigerian Army to make traffic management more effective.
“There was the standardisation of operational procedures for different activities such as barging, private jetties, pilotage, vessel berthing/sailing, which represents another positive for Bello-Koko leadership,” said a source close to the NPA.
On infrastructure and operational capacity, the NPA created Forcados Signal Station to enable the Authority to capture the movement of more service boats, even as it has completed the bathymetric survey for the dredging of the Escravos channel.
Though, many port users still expect the NPA to deliver its pre-concession era roles, having an understanding of the functions and powers of the Ports Authority is critical to give an objective assessment of its performance.