BusinessDay

NMLA hinges port competitiveness on automation, infrastructure upgrade

Maritime professionals, who took turns analysing the challenges facing the Nigerian maritime industry, have said that ports can only compete favourably with peers if the cargo inspection processes are automated, bureaucratic bottlenecks are removed, and more infrastructures are built.

Presenting a paper on the topic, the ‘Nigerian Maritime Industry in the Context of Emerging Economic Trends: Challenges, Outlook and Opportunities,’ at the NMLA Maritime Industry Breakfast Series held in Lagos on Monday, Afolabi Olowookere, managing director/CEO of Analysts’ Data Services and Resources, said Nigerian ports ranked low in the Logistics Performance Index behind its West African peers.

He blamed the high bureaucratic clearing process, multiple agencies at the port, and poor logistics infrastructure.

“There are multiple agencies at the port and Nigerian ports are designed more for import than for export. African countries that are ranked high are those probably using the single windows for the inspection of goods, which makes it easier for people to do business at the port,” he said.

Olowookere said there is a need to automate port processes, create a single window for cargo inspection and eliminate human contact at the port.

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He added that the consignee does not need to move individually to Customs, SON, Quarantine, and NAFDAC to undergo the same process rather there should be a single interface for all the agencies responsible for cargo inspection at the port.

He, however, said there are internal and external factors that would force Nigeria to do the right thing like the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) and the Trade Facilitation Agreement of the World Trade Organisation will discipline Nigeria.

Hassan Bello, the immediate past executive secretary of the Nigerian Shippers Council, said there is a wide gap between commercial maritime law and the practice such that the law is chasing the practice, which is wrong because the investor must look at the law before bringing in money to invest.

While urging the NMLA to intensify its legislative agenda to ensure that things are done the right way, Bello told them to also become a pressure group that would lead the way in the development of an African carriage regime, if Nigeria cannot use laws like the Hamburg Rules.

On her part, Funke Agbor, president of NMLA, said the association was concerned about the maritime industry, which is the economic sector that has not been fully developed, and had to bring in the industry players to discuss the issues with the sector.

According to her, the issues have been around for over 40 years, but the NMLA wants to see things done differently.

“We want to ensure that industry players collaborate to bring about the changes that we want. We also want to use ourselves as an advocacy group to penetrate the government. The most important thing was that we have all agreed that we need to effect changes in the maritime sector. We can use facts and figures to show the government that we can do things differently,” she said.

Using Customs revenue as an example, Agbor, who is a senior advocate of Nigeria, said that interest in revenue generation does not allow Customs to facilitate trade.

“We now have to show the government that if Customs facilitate trade, revenue can be generated from areas like logistics, freight among others,” she added.

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