13 Nov 2011
In recent times, Nigerian ports have started to show signs that the reforms initiated by the Federal Government over the years have started yielding fruits, writes John Iwori who has been following the developments
There have been many reforms initiated by the Federal Government to redress the rot in Nigerian ports over the years. The reforms, which came in various shapes and sizes, were geared towards curtailing the woes that had trailed the operations of the nation’s seaports situated in Onne, Calabar, Warri, Lagos, Koko, and Sapele.
Statistics recently released by the authorities showed that there is a steady improvement in the fortunes of Nigerian ports in the last five years. This is not unconnected with the fact that there is remarkable increase in their efficiency.
This is borne out of improvement in their cargo dwell time (CDT), vessel turn around time, and security of cargoes, ships and personnel at the various terminals, particularly the ones situated in Lagos and Onne.
The port reforms, undertaken by the federal government led to the restructuring of the management of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and the concession of the terminals to private investors.
The exercise, which was midwifed by the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) in 2006, has put the concessionaires to be in charge of the day-to-day running of the ports, especially cargo handling, while the management of NPA remains the landlord.
These factors have contributed to make the ports to be more user-friendly with the concessionaires embarking on several measures to attract clients to their terminals.
Benefits of Reforms
Since the conclusion of the port concession, NPA has continued to discharge its multiple but onerous responsibilities of the landlord, technical regulator apart from its official marine functions.
The performance of its statutory roles and responsibilities in the post-concession era has particularly made the ports to be more competitive and innovative as the terminal operators have been able to modernise port operations.
Realising the immense benefits of the progress that had occurred at the ports for the benefit of the maritime sector and the economy, the Federal Government has however continued to take necessary measures to ensure that the gains are not lost.
THISDAY checks revealed that it was in a bid to consolidate on these benefits besides improving on them to further make Nigerian ports the first choice of call for foreign ships, largely informed the change in the leadership of NPA, which led to the appointment of Mr. Omar Suleiman as its new Managing Director.
Those who are close to the authority told THISDAY in Lagos that less than a year when Suleiman was saddled with the responsibility of steering the ship of the organisation and reposition it to compete favourably with seaports in advanced societies in terms of performance, he has succeeded to a large extent.
This include in proving to President Goodluck Jonathan that he did not made a mistake in appointing him as the new helmsman of the multi-billion naira government parastatal.
According to them, Suleiman has so far made positive efforts at achieving the mandate given to him to reposition NPA and work towards the master plan to develop Greenfield seaport terminals as well as expand port infrastructure that would support the huge inflow of cargo into the country.
Suleiman realises the need for the NPA to tell its story. In fact, the management of the authority, under Suleiman’s watch, saw the need to make the public appreciate its new direction. This informed the basis repackaging of its in-house journal, ‘Nigerian Ports Today’.
With its high quality production and content in the editions it has so far produced, the in-house journal has succeeded in promoting the image of the authority, just as stakeholders in the maritime sector of the economy has continued to appreciate the various positive changes that are taking place in the organisation.
Condition of Service and Restructuring
Having worked in NPA for years before his appointment as the MD, Suleiman knows the place of the importance of the workforce as an agent of implementation of its new restructuring plan.
Besides, he strongly believed that their welfare must be improved for them to deliver their best. This was why he did not hesitate to unfold a new revised condition of service for NPA workers.
In fact, he has been deeply involved in the restructuring of NPA to make it cope with the demand of the present day. This is borne out of his belief that the inherited structure of the authority was obsolete in view of its status as a landlord in the post-concession era.
The restructuring programme was aimed at making the authority continue to carry out its landlord responsibilities at the ports in line with international standards and practice.
The management of the authority has since the beginning of this year placed emphasis on professionalism and ensuring that the right personnel man the right positions so that it can be in a position to discharge its functions effectively. To this end, it has stepped up efforts in the promotion and redeployment of its workers.
A recent exercise carried out by the management of the authority affected some General Managers (GMs), Port Managers (PMs) and Assistant General Managers (AGMs). It has also stepped up training and re-training of its workforce.
This was borne out of the belief that the working environment of the workers must be improved to get the best out of them and to have a conducive atmosphere for a company that is creating a new identity for itself.
To this end, its corporate headquarters, NPA House, Marina, Lagos is presently undergoing rehabilitation following an approval by the Federal Executive Council (FEC).
It has also started the construction of another multiple storey building on the available space within the premises of the headquarters to avail the staff the opportunity of a convenient office accommodation.
In a concerted effort to sharpen the skills of the staff, apart from the constant internal training organised for them, the frequency at which all personnel from all cadres now attend courses within or outside the country.
Wreck and Derelicts Removal
That wrecks and derelicts constitute a risk to safe navigation is an understatement. This explains why the management of the authority, under Suleiman’s watch, has continued to push for the wrecks and derelicts removal from the channels.
The exercise, which is at the verge of completion at the Lagos channels, would ensure safe navigation of ocean going vessels into Nigeria ports. Already, no fewer than 24 wrecks considered ‘critical’ by international certified surveyors and marine experts have been identified and removed.
Industry players, especially shipowners said apart from the fact that the development has made the waterways to be navigable all the year round, it has also paved way for more ships to now patronise the nation’s seaports, leading to an increase in the volume of cargoes that are now imported into the country.
This has led to an increase in the revenue accruing into the coffers of the authority and the federal government.
Dredging and Infrastructure
Besides successful removal of wrecks and derelicts, dredging of the channels to ensure that bigger vessels visit the nation’s seaports without any hitch is being pursued by the federal government through the NPA.
The management of the authority has pursued the dredging of the channels steadily. The dredging exercise besides the removal of some of the ‘critical wrecks’ have made it possible for the Lagos ports to attain 11.5 metres draught by early this year.
Some shipping lines have already started deriving the benefits of the wrecks and derelicts removal besides the dredging exercise. These include Maersk Nigeria Limited, the subsidiary of Danish logistics and port operations giant, AP Moller-Maersk Group.
Already, the company has changed the route of its Far East service to West Africa, thus making Apapa Port, Lagos its first point of call in February this year when MV Izmir a vessel with a length of 232.33 metres arrived the port with 3,500m containers.
As further proof that Nigeria has attained a hub status for shipping activities in the West and Central Africa sub-regions, another Maersk ship, one of the biggest in the world, 250 metres long with a draught of 13.5 metres and named Maersk Calabar also visited Apapa port in July this year with 4,500 containers (TEUS).
This feat would not have been possible without the successful dredging of the Lagos port channels to 13.5 metres.
As evidence that the exercise was not restricted to Lagos channels alone, Calabar port has started receiving the desired attention with a contract for its dredging at the verge of being awarded by FEC.
Similarly, Onne port is receiving necessary attention in terms of dredging. In appreciation of the authorities’ efforts, the Managing Director of Maesrk Nigeria Limited, Mr. David Skov, lauded NPA on the dredging and wreck removal activities.
He said that the exercise would facilitate the deployment of bigger vessels into Nigeria in the months ahead.
The management of the authority also realised the need for the improvement in ports infrastructure to enhance the success of the port reforms. It has therefore embarked on the rehabilitation and upgrading of port infrastructure nationwide.
In this vein, the East West Mole and the Quay Wall/ Aprons and other facilities in the ports, which fall within the purview of the NPA to manage, have been receiving attention in terms of necessary maintenance. Also provision of electricity supply to the ports and other common users responsibilities are being discharged by the authority.
The gridlock that has characterised Apapa-Oshodi Expressway leading to the Lagos ports would soon be over as the rehabilitation of the roads including the access roads have been in progress, following the intervention of the authority, which facilitated the award of the repair contract to Julius Berger Plc and Boroni by the FG.
The Authority has made appreciable impact in the area of Greenfield development as part of measures to have new ports that would enable the nation to cope with the avalanche of goods coming into the country and in fulfilment of one of his key mandates.
This was why apart from the continuous involvement of the Authority in the development of the Lekki Free Trade Port in Lagos and the Olokola Deep Seaport in Ondo State, the new management has pursued the plan to build another port in the Eastern part of the country.
It has already requested for 5,138 hectares of land from the Akwa Ibom State Government for the citing of one of the new deep seaports and there are strong indications that the State Governor is set to grant the request.
To assist the establishment of the proposed deep seaports, it has made public a 25-year port development plan. The document is a strategic plan to help the authority to identify the type of cargo, type of depth and port to build because of the variety in the hydrography of the coastal communities.
Apart from the measures adopted by the management to facilitate clearing of goods at the ports and increase the patronage of nation’s seaports by Nigeria landlocked neighbours, the authority has gone far in its efforts at putting place a one-stop-shop cargo clearance procedure to facilitate trade.
The NPA’s plan with the procedure is to have it integrate all the stakeholders in the maritime industry including the terminal operators, to get correct information and to assist the authority to have the necessary database to work with.
The new management has also been at the forefront of advocating for a reduced freight rate from the international shipping community; the battle it has been fighting in conjunction with the Shipping Association of Nigeria to make Nigerian Ports the most attractive in the Central and West Africa sub-regions.
New Accounting Procedure and Computerisation
In line with NPA’s new identity, the management has already finalised arrangement to change the company’s Accounting Manual Procedure to reflect current global international financial reporting practice.
The review of the current procedure of the organisation was necessitated by the need to keep its financial books tidy and to make financial records retrieval easier.
Also as part of measures to ensure safe and effective operations and administration for all port users, management has been working on plans to computerise all the activities of the ports. This process is designed to address both the long and short term information technology requirements at all levels both within the organisation and its communities.
The programme would ensure that operational efficiency was maintained to support profitability and create a safe and effective system for growth and development. It would allow for the efficiency of all aspects of the port community system (PCS) such as invoicing, revenue collection, tracking and many others.
Reduction of Security Agencies
In adherence to a Presidential directive, the authority recently had to effectively supervise from the port the ejection of some security operatives which have been banned to operate at the seaports permanently.
The affected agencies are the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and National Agency for Food Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Directorate of Naval Intelligence (DNI), and the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA).
Others include the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA), Plant Quarantine and Animal Quarantine and the National Environmental Regulatory and Standards Agency (NESREA).
It also said that in line with the federal government directive, the agencies to operate at the nation’s seaports are Nigeria Customs Service, Port Health, Port Police, Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), State Security Services (SSS), NPA and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).
The streamlining of the number of agencies is in line with the need to further facilitate clearing of goods and make the ports to be much more efficient and customer friendly.
Increase in Cargo and Ship Traffic
To lend credence to the fact that the measures adopted so far by the management has enhanced the success of the ongoing port concession, volume of goods imported into the country has continued to rise steadily with a correspondent increase in the revenue accruing to the authority.
For instance, in the first half of this year, volume of goods imported into the country rose by 10.17 per cent from 36,900,364 metric tonnes in the first half to 40,653,713 metric tonnes during the first six months of this year. Also, 13,053 metric tonnes of goods were shipped into the port during the period as against 10,100 tonnes recorded last year.
To demonstrate that the ports have been recording an increase in all its performance indicators, available statistics showed that the total gross tonnage of the ocean going vessels which visited the ports in August this year stood at 10,026,813 which showed a 6.2 per cent increase over the same period of August 2010 figure of 9,437,966.
Other performance indicators also indicated that the average turnaround time of vessels for all ports was 6.1 days compared to 6.6 days in August 2010.
Perhaps the fact that the current NPA management had collaborated with all the relevant stakeholders in the economy apart from the security agencies operating at the seaports has also assisted in enhancing the success of all the measures it has put in place so far. Some of these included the Army, the Anti-corruption Committee, and the Shipping Association of Nigeria, among others.
Industry players have opined that if the authority continues to entrench transparency and probity in the system as well as forge ahead with the restructuring process at the ports, indications are that the nation’s seaports would soon entrench themselves as hub for other countries in the West and Central Africa sub-regions.
This explained why several stakeholders have enjoined the management of the authority to consolidate on the gains it has made so far, and by not avoiding inertia in the years ahead.
Source: This Day Live