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Port transformation: The ‘Nigerian miracle’ that is making waves around the world

Port transformation: The ‘Nigerian miracle’ that is making waves around the world

Can anything good come from Nigeria and Africa, and can the world copy any model from Nigeria? Many may have forgotten that the world or at least copied such things as National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), Technical Aid Corps, and bank consolidation (mergers and acquisition, M&A), from Nigeria.

Now, two new products have emerged from the maritime sector of Nigeria; the Blue Project (which seeks to end piracy and allow the free flow of vessels and sea trade in the Gulf of Guinea); and port transformation through port operation fast tracking aided by Port Standing Task Team (PSTT).

This is backed by an anti-corruption scheme boosted by the consolidation of all the Standard Operation Procedures (SOPs) of all the port regulatory agencies and help desk to report and trash every complaint from port users, especially vessel captains and agents, all overseen and powered by the Convention of Business Integrity (CBI).

The combined effect of these programmes and agencies has led to a drastic reduction in reports and complaints on one hand and a huge drop in the delay of vessels calling at Nigerian ports, thus cutting down payment of demurrage from weeks to as low as four days.

Now, many countries of the world want to know what Nigeria did and when they found out, they called it ‘The Nigerian Miracle’ and want to copy and apply it.

Why they call it a miracle – Bosah

Emmanuel Bosah, Programme Director, CBI

 

One of the important prongs of the transformation works in Nigerian ports is training aimed at bringing acute awareness and full knowledge of what is expected of every single port operator and the agencies. It comes from the conviction that if every officer or command staff knows exactly what is expected of him/her at every bit of the operational time at the port, it would be easy for such operatives to make operational decisions at any point in time. And if each operative or official knows the consequences of non-compliance especially the fact that all eyes are on them and the IT-driven ‘Help Desk’ is ever agile and watchful, each person would try to discharge the duty required of him or her at each point.

The task team decided to mount training programmes at the ports in Nigeria to achieve this objective. After Lagos, the team moved to Port Harcourt and may move to Calabar.

This specialised and fully loaded training is being anchored by the Maritime Anti-Corruption Network (MACN) and the CBI in partnership with the Technical Unit on Government and Anti-Corruption Reforms (TUGAR), the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), and the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC).

At the Port Harcourt training, the facilitator, Emmanuel Bosah, who is the Director of Programmes, at the Convention of Business Integrity (CBI), tried to bring newsmen up to speed on the objectives of the exercise. At the end of Day Two, he explained what the project has brought to Nigeria, especially in fame and reputation capital.

Bosah called it ‘The Nigerian Miracle’. “The success of this is that the Nigerian project has led to Nigeria being awarded the Outstanding Achievement in Collective Action Award by the Basel Institute of Governance (BIG), which is on anti-corruption and governance.

“This is in recognition of the partnership between the Nigerian government (FG), port agencies, the private sector, and civil society groups working together to identify and implement solutions that led to port reforms and make sure it is sustained.”

What this means, according to him, is that Nigeria understands the value of port reforms and understands the need to work together to solve problems that pose economic challenges. He said understanding how it works shows that Nigeria can solve Nigeria’s problems.

Explaining the miracle, Bosah said it is a fallout of an international meeting that was held by port actors and users around the world who essentially had had very negative experiences of calling at Nigeria’s ports over many past years.

“Since 2019 when the Port Standing Task Team (PSTT), the Nigerian Shippers Council with CBI and MACN and other stakeholders including ICPC and NPA started working together to identify and respond to the challenges of anti-corruption and curb demands at the ports, and more importantly, started practising the reporting mechanism, we provided real-time solutions and responses to challenges faced by vessel captains at the ports.”

He said this in itself led a lot of companies to understand that there was a game-changer. “There was clarity of SOP and that made it easy for captains and agents to know exactly what to expect, and also understand the standards against which they will hold all port officials accountable. When there are breaches of those SOPs, then of course you can bring in the likes of PSTT to solve the problem. That in itself is why it is called the ‘Nigerian Miracle’ because it completely reformed the way people had been doing business in Nigeria.”

Bosah said the replication of this model in countries such as India and Egypt, the ombudsman from the government agency that would lead, is why it is called the Nigerian Miracle. This model has led to an award, he reiterated.

It was gathered that some countries in Europe have now fallen far below and behind Nigeria in this aspect. He revealed that Bangladesh, Siri Lanka, and some other countries are understudying this model.

“And, as a fallout of this model, we did a regional conference on Basel Clearance in January 2023 in Ghana, and we invited the Ghanaian, Togo, Cameroun and Ivorian governments with the aim of harmonizing this to fit with the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) and create a stronger port industry for the entire West African and Central African sub-regions. As a consequence, they now demanded the Nigerian blueprint so they can replicate it in their countries, of course in different ways.”

It takes two to tango: Ofon Udofia, President, Shippers Association, Rivers/Bayelsa

Ofon Udofia, executive secretary of the Institute of Export Operations and Management who is also president of the Shippers Association in Rivers/Bayelsa chapter is known all over Nigeria as a strong voice in international trade.

He was one of the resource persons at the two-day workshop and brought his versatility and experience in the sector to bear. On corruption in the ports, he said it takes two to tango. “In as much as we keep accusing port officials, but we have to report infractions as is done in Lagos. We have seen cases where officials in Lagos run away when they see officers coming.

“The problem we have here (eastern ports) is that people want to solve their problems alone, else, you still go to the back to give them what they want. Report any infraction; also join associations that can go and report as a group. We can report to PSTT, DSS, and Anti-Corruption groups fighting along the exporters and importers.

“We hope that in the next few months, there would be a reduction in corruption in eastern ports.”

The issue of gift versus bribe came up for debate during the interactive sessions in the training. Some operators pointed out that international practice allows or even encourages sea captains to give gifts from port to port and thus make provisions for such.

It was however countered that the friendly gesture was abused in some countries including Nigeria to the extent that the so-called gifts became bribes.

Udofia told newsmen that some agencies have introduced registers of gifts to regulate the such practice. “Some agencies have gift registers. If you must receive anything, it must be registered so the agency will have a record of it and decide what to do with it.”

Others argued that if gifts begin to influence what operatives do to offences by vessels, then it is no longer a gift and must be curtailed.

Read also: $1bn Ogoni clean up: Stakeholders rue frequent sacks

On what the new measures and the training would likely do to eastern ports, Udofia said: “All participants especially the port regulators and paramilitary agencies that have to do with the boarding of vessels have resolved to do better. We have learnt a lot and we expect it to impact on work ethics. Since it is about middle and senior-level officers, when they get back, they will take heed to compliance. I think everybody was happy even if we had to quarrel sometimes due to human differences.”

He said he and his colleagues who have things to do at the ports as exporters and shippers are now in a better position to escalate infractions in the ports. “We even have a case in hand. Our member has an export batch next week and there are areas of un-receipted payments. I will have to go and find out because Government cannot be striving for export to balance its books and we still see un-receipted payments. I will find out and if possible escalate it to PSTT so all these things will stop.”

He appealed to the authorities to allow the benefits of removal of War Risk Insurance (WRI) to trickle down to eastern ports, saying importers in the region are still paying punitive rates. “Ministries of Transportation in the South-South and East ought to wake up on such things. Over 80 per cent of imports in Lagos are from importers from the East, but they still bring them to sell in the East yet goods from Lagos ports are still sold cheaper in the East.

“We met on Ease of Doing Business in the region and we raised a communique and NPA was asked to give us a 30 per cent discount, but up till now, it has not been implemented. The governors and those within the maritime sector in the region should speak up. It’s no time to keep mute.”

Udofia admitted that the Lagos port zone seems to have fully embraced port transformation while the eastern ports are yet to join fully. “Yes, to an extent, because there are still some infractions in this region. Lagos is where most of the agencies have their headquarters. It is easier there. That is even the reason why this compliance training is being done here so we can replicate what is happening in Lagos to eastern ports up to Calabar.”

He said if one needed to relate with Lagos headquarters in every issue of delay in the east, it would lead to more demurrage. “If they replicate what they did in Lagos, this zone would benefit from the ease of Doing Business.”

Group sessions

 

Objective realized

This objective as craved by Udofia and his colleagues for eastern ports seems to have been met. Evidence for this came from Bosah’s opening interview with newsmen when he captured why they were in PH.

He said since 2019 they had been working with the FG to identify how to strengthen the compliance function within port agencies as part of improving Ease of Doing Business (EoDB). This is in line with Presidential Order 001 of 2017. “Part of this training today is to help those port agencies to strengthen their compliance function, and part of that of course is to help them improve the capacity to understand, to define, to detect, to respond to, and to evaluate compliance failures and successes within their institutions. With that, we would domesticate consequences with those that failed to follow the process.

Simply put, we want to train port officials to follow Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) which are the rules and regulations of their individual organisations.”

He said in the situation when they are not in compliance with those rules, they can be held accountable by their own organisations, rather than waiting for the likes of PSTT to do it when it is obvious they cannot be everywhere.

He said it is obvious that heads of port agencies are willing to transform based on engagements they have so far had with the commanders. Some of the agencies have had to carry out a sack of their workers. CBI and partners are merely boosting that determination.

He seems motivated by the successes of the transformation scheme so far. “The key success is because we have been implementing our previous reporting mechanism in partnership with the Shippers Council, called the Port and Safety Support Portal. It means that when a vessel captain comes to Nigeria and has a problem at the port, they go and register at the portal and say who they are having a problem with. That is picked up by the Shippers Council who will immediately respond and find a resolution with the agency without having to arrest anybody and let the Shippers Council carry on with their work.

“In 2019, we had over 200 incidents of corrupt demands that were reported by vessel captains and port users, as of 2022, it fell only to only 50. So, the fear of PSTT is now the beginning of wisdom for corrupt officers. Clarity around compliance with SOPs in terms of joint boarding, boarding time frames, etc, has now become port officials’ respect because they understand the consequences when they fail to follow the rules. It is evidence-based. In terms of behaviour and changes, we are seeing changes.”

He admitted that this same success has not trickled down to the eastern ports, and that is why they came.

“A lot of port users and port officials in the eastern ports (Warri, PH, Calabar, etc) port users are still suffering and we are here to do this training and bring the officers within the fold so they understand that this is what is going on in the other side and it is coming here. Reforms must happen here, too.”

Sounding more distraught, Bosah said nothing has changed in the eastern ports, but in the western ports (Lagos) one can see significant changes in the behaviour of port officials and also in the consequences of non-compliance. “This is not so in the eastern ports. That is the signal we are getting from the private sector port users.”

He spelt out exactly what the partners want to see in the eastern ports, which is to see uniformity all-round the ports, especially on the cargo side which he said is a big issue.

“We want to make sure that port officials understand exactly what the standards should be for compliance, and for them to take it back to their agencies and rank and file so they understand how to behave.

Excited agencies

This objective seems ready to be realized going by the interactive participation of the officers and command staff that attended.

Yusuf Barde is the Ports Services Controller of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) in Onne.

In an interview, he outlined the gains his agency recorded in the two days and what the system would expect from his participation.

“There are a lot of gains and at the end, we are going to translate this to the various offices back to the office. We are going to streamline the training materials for the assimilation of the entire staff force to be able to have a presentation of this nature at our various port offices to translate whatever we have learnt and find out the areas of improvements and corrections.

“NIMASA is a regulatory body in the maritime and we regulate along the lines of international conventions. We always take steps to nip in the bud any potential crisis. If people have genuine grievances and present them, we go in full to do a tripartite investigation. If you have your facts, we take action. We have a mechanism for penalizing any erring stakeholder. If there is a false accusation, we try to tackle it.”

Victor Bradford of the Nigerian Drugs Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) said his take-home is to strive to be committed at all times. “NDLEA will benefit a lot, especially on compliance and working directly with your SOP. My personal takeaway is to do the right thing at all times and to look at your SOP again, being compliant and committed in whatever you do, at all times.”