The Federal Government’s ease of doing business drive is starting to yield a positive result at the nation’s ports as the policy on vessel boarding has helped in reducing the cost of doing business for ships by reducing clearance delay and corrupt activities as well as improving ship turnaround time.
With the launch of the Port Process Manual (NPPM) in March 2021, Nigerian ports were able to create a Standard Operating Procedure and pruned down the agencies allowed to board vessels berthing at the ports.
The law allows only five agencies to board the vessel within the first one hour of arrival and they include Port Health, Nigeria Customs Service, Nigeria Immigration Service, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and the Department of State Services (DSS).
It also allows agencies such as the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and Port Pollution Control to carry out statutory functions onboard the ship during its stay at berth.
Port Health is the first to board the vessel and is allotted a maximum of 45 minutes. Immigration and Customs are expected to carry out joint boarding. While Customs is allowed to have two officials, Immigration can board with three officials and they are allotted a maximum of 30 minutes.
Another set of agencies to inspect the vessel is NDLEA and DSS, and they are allowed to spend 30 minutes, except in a situation of credible security intelligence.
This vessel boarding policy has saved vessel captains $20,000 per visit to Nigerian ports, an amount being spent in the past. This amount can translate to hundreds of millions of dollars lost to corruption in the past when multiplied by the thousands of ships that visit Nigerian ports annually.
Moses Fadipe, national coordinator of the Port Standing Task Team (PSTT) in charge of implementing the provisions of the manual, said in a recent forum that the new policy had drastically reduced the time it took to move a ship from anchorage to berth.
According to him, it takes an average of 90 minutes, down from 5 hours in the past, thereby reducing the opportunity for corrupt demands in terms of cash and other gift items received on-boarded vessels by government officials.
“To board a ship, there is a muster point where the official is expected to disrobe himself by dropping any money on him and if the person returns from the ship and money is seen on him, it will be confiscated by our team. The official has permission to only board the ship with his identity card,” he said.
He said this development has improved Nigeria’s reputation internationally as the country won an award in Basel, Switzerland, for fighting corruption in 2022.
Confirming the development, a recent report released by the Maritime Anti-Corruption Network shows that in 2021, the demand for bribes, un-receipted payments, and other corrupt practices on the marine side of vessel clearance at Nigerian ports dropped by 60.2 percent to 51 incidents in two years, from 2019 to 2021.
A breakdown shows that the Nigerian ports recorded about 266 incidences of demand for un-receipted payments in 2019, which dropped by 51.9 percent to 128 incidents in 2020, and dropped further by 60.2 percent to 51 incidents in 2021.
Olusoji Apampa, chief executive officer of the Maritime Anti-Corruption Network, said Nigeria is beginning to build integrity in the maritime sector despite not being able to fully fight corruption.
According to him, Nigeria needs to begin to focus on cutting down rent-seeking in the cargo clearance side of the port business, which is currently posing serious challenges to port users.
He said that despite the changes recorded in vessel clearance, a lot needs to be done in the clearance and post-clearance of cargo in the port.
Giving insight into the factors that delay ship clearance in Nigeria, Aminu Umar, a ship owner, said ship clearance delay can take place in three different ways, namely at the vessel documentation stage, navigational and operational stage or due to port congestion.
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He said ships experience delays in Nigeria while trying to obtain clearance documentation from government agencies, which is being done manually.
According to him, documentation is done electronically in other countries in a seamless process using a portal that interlinks all government agencies involve in vessel clearance.
Umar said that apart from the delays associated with the boarding of vessels, ship owners go to the agencies like NIMASA, NPA, Customs and Immigration differently and physically to carry out documentation procedures.
He said the Federal Government can borrow a leaf from other developed countries of the world to create a common trade portal or a single window that interlinks all the agencies, reduces human interaction and further eases ship clearance at the port.