Terminal operators under the aegis of the Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN), have decried the high rate of manual examination of cargoes at the nation’s seaports, and asked the Nigeria Customs Service to deploy technology to drive the process.
Vicky Haastrup, the chairman, who spoke in Lagos at the weekend said a manual examination of cargoes is not efficient and does not promote social distancing.
“We have a situation where people must visit the port physically to do Customs documentation and cargo examination before they can take delivery of their consignments. This is not safe at this time and it is also inefficient. The Nigeria Customs Service should do everything possible to install functional scanners at the port to reduce the high rate of physical examination of cargoes as well as human contacts,” she said.
According to her, Customs should also make it possible for consignees to process their release documents and make necessary duty payments online without having to visit Customs commands.
“There is also a need to reduce the number of government agencies that participate in cargo examination at the port in addition to reducing the number of checks carried out on cleared cargos both inside and outside the port premises. Customs’ clearing process must become smart at this time,” Haastrup said.
The STOAN Chairman also said that due to declining oil revenues, Nigeria must begin to make a deliberate attempt to shift its balance of trade.
“Nigeria must move quickly from being a net importer to a net exporter of food. The government will need to support farmers for better agricultural yields that will be attractive to the international market. Farmers also need to be supported in reducing wastages experienced during harvests and in the course of getting their produce to the market. Funding and logistics support for the farmers is also of great importance at this time,” she further advised.
She called on the government to simplify the cumbersome processes and unnecessary bureaucratic bottlenecks associated with documentation and processing of export cargoes at our ports.
“Terminal operators and the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) worked hard to keep the ports running during the Covid-19 lockdown because we are aware of the importance of seaports to the wellbeing of our people. We knew the port had to remain open to ensure that there was no shortage of food, drugs and other essential supply to Nigerians,” Haastrup said.
She added: “The shipping sector is key in securing the continuity of economic activities, ensuring supply chains to industries, transportation of essential goods, including energy and food supplies, and transportation of vital medical and protective equipment, and supplies.
“It is imperative for the fight against COVID-19, the supply of essentials, as well as for increasing the chance of global economic recovery on the other side of the outbreak, that maritime and connected transport is allowed to continue. We are happy that the President and the NPA saw the merit in this argument and classified ports and shipping as essential services. I must also give kudos to NPA, Customs and terminal operators for ensuring that the ports operated optimally during this period,” she added.
In addition, she stated that terminal operators donated N700 million to the Federal Government to support the country’s effort to curtail the spread of coronavirus and supported the port community through massive awareness campaigns and the donation of various personal protective items.