• Thursday, May 23, 2024
businessday logo


Renewed move to boost efficiency through 24-hour port operations

Renewed move to boost efficiency through 24-hour port operations

The Federal Government in 2017, signed an Executive Order on Ease of Doing Business that mandated government agencies and service providers involved in cargo clearance at seaports, to operate 24 hours round the clock to reduce costs for importers by ensuring timely cargo delivery to the importer’s warehouse.

Though the implementation of this order has been stalled for years due to several factors, this report examines the renewed move by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and the Nigeria Customs Service to ensure the nation’s seaports operate 24 hours.

In 2017, it was estimated that importers lose an average of N1 trillion annually to demurrage and storage charges paid to shipping companies and terminal operators for not taking delivery of their consignments as and when due.

Read also: Customs assures of seamless operations at Lekki Port

This led the Federal Government to introduce the 24-hour port operation. By operating 24 hours, the ports can eliminate delays and costs associated with the non-clearing of cargo on weekends and public holidays.

The Order mandated government agencies especially the Nigeria Customs Service and other providers of port services especially those involved in cargo clearance to be on the ground 24 hours to carry out cargo examinations, fast-track cargo delivery, and reduce the cost of doing business for importers.

Then, the 24-hour port operation was stalled by issues such as security threats, lack of sufficient lighting, a 12-hour banking system, and the apathy among freight forwarders during the night hours to take delivery of their consignments. This is why the NPA recently came up with new ideas to drive international best practices in port operations.

NPA’s new moves

The Nigerian Ports Authority and the Nigeria Customs Service recently agreed to begin the implementation of 24-hour port operations at the nation’s seaports to enable our ports to become competitive.

To drive this, the NPA said it is working with the Lagos State government and the Nigeria Police Force to create an enabling environment for the port to operate 24/7.

According to Mohammed Bello-Koko, managing director of the NPA, the Lagos State government is working to provide illumination along the port access road while the authority will illuminate the port premises.

He advised Customs officers to work on shifts to enable cargo to be cleared and discharged for 24 hours.

“Also, we need the shipping lines and the terminal operators and security agencies to be on their toes for 24 hours. We are working out modalities for the implementation of 24-hour port operation,” he said.

Describing Adewale Adeniyi, comptroller general of Customs as a supportive administrator who is keen on facilitating trade, making the port more competitive, and reducing the cost of doing business at the port, Bello-Koko said the NPA is working with the Lagos State Government to provide security and to ensures that cargo discharged at night are safe.

“The Federal Government is serious about improving port efficiency. Lagos State government is playing a key role in providing security along the port corridor,” he added.

In addition, the Nigeria Police will provide security to reduce the number of hoodlums capable of threatening port business at night.

Customs’ support

Adewale Adeniyi, Customs CG told journalists recently that Customs is fully supporting the NPA’s quest for 24-hour port operation pointing out that one of the seaports would be used as a pilot test for the operation.

“For those who have been in this environment for quite some time, they will remember that we tried this some 10-15 years ago, but we had some challenges and people said there is a need for security around the port area for the banks to operate. We need round-the-clock protection,” he said.

Pledging to lead Customs inspection, processing, and declarations, he insisted that the terminal operators must be there to load the containers, the gate must be on the ground to release, and shipping companies must be there to do terminal delivery orders (TDO).

Before now, ship-side operations such as vessel boarding used to take place round the clock while other services of Customs including enforcement and gate operations were also taking place 24 hours.

Then, delivery of imports, loading cargo, scanning cargo, and examination of cargo were not taking place 24/7 because Customs officers work between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.

But the good news is that this has started changing. At the start of 24-hour port operations at the Tin-Can Island Port (TICP), Dera Nnadi, Customs area controller of TICP, said Customs initially extended container scanning to 8 pm rather than closing offices at 4.30 pm.

“The first day we started, we scanned 56 containers; it worked, and we extended the scanning operations up till 2 am. Now, those involved in enforcing the delivery of cargo outside the port also need to work overnight. We have started 24 hours of operation, and it is working.

In addition to working at night, Customs also introduced weekend operations, which involved coming to work on Saturdays and Sundays to ensure the timely release of goods from the port.

On the provision of security at night, Nnadi said the Nigerian Ports Authority has agreed to lighten up the entire port environment and ensure that security is provided for night operations.

“The entire port environment and beyond will be illuminated. We also agreed that security will be provided at the port from Tin-Can First Gate up to Mile 2 and from the Second Gate up to the Breweries in Ijora Axis. We also agreed that the markets around the port environment should be streamlined, not to constitute a nuisance, but to be part of the port community that will add value,” Nnadi explained.

Freight forwarders’ support

Segun Oduntan, vice president of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), said the association will support Customs to realise 24-hour port operations.

He promised to talk their members into complying with Customs night operations.

Also speaking, Joe Sanni, a Customs broker, said there is a need to put some fundamental infrastructures in place.

According to him, Nigeria must also ensure that the ports work 24/7 by installing CCTV cameras and illuminating every nook and cranny of the ports.

He pointed out that this will enable Nigeria to be among the countries where cargo delivery time is predictable.

On his part, Chukwuma Onyeka, another clearing agent, said that round-the-clock port operation will help to decongest the ports.

“It will enable shipping companies to improve turnaround time because the port business will continue all through day and night, thereby improving vessel turnaround time and resulting in reduced cost of doing business at the ports,” he added.