By Steve Agbota, [email protected] 08033302331
The Nigeria’s maritime industry recorded so much ups and down in 2020, a year, industry stakeholders considered one of the toughest driven by the COVID-19 and #ENDSARS protests.
It was also bedeviled with several other challenges including traffic gridlock, port congestion and high cost of doing business among others, all of which impacted both stakeholders in more ways than one.
For instance with cost of doing business rising throughout the year, many businesses had collapsed in the course of the year as both importers and exporters as well as indigenous ship owners still at the mercy of foreigners.
This was even as the Federal Government agains failed to disburse the much awaited $200 million Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF) to enable Nigerian ship owners participate in the nation’s coastal waters.
Ironically, the Nigerian ports tagged the most expensive in the world, due to poor coordination, poor policy, multiple charges against which the ports have continued to lose cargoes to its neighbours.
During the year also, the ports still continued to contend with obsolete infrastructure, including roads, rail system, quay, buildings, equipment and yard and remained heavily coupled with congestion and high level of insecurity and pilferage. Even the much-talked about 48-hour cargo clearance is a failed system. The port reform has brought no development. It is also disheartening that reduction of cost has not been achieved and no functional scanners across the ports and land borders.
But as the year 2021 kicked off, stakeholders in the industry, especially the shippers and Customs brokers/freight forwarders have called for creation of Ministry of Maritime Affairs that would be headed by someone who understands the sector inside out and not a politician with no knowledge of the sector.
They said government should stop lumping maritime industry with the Ministry of Transportation, just as Aviation sector was carved out of the Ministry. They said creation of Maritime Ministry would reduce cost, create employment and generate more revenue and take care of challenges facing the industry.
They demanded that Federal Government should fix the Apapa access roads; develop workable policies that will bring about development such as guaranteed security architecture and infrastructure facelift to aid the maritime sector for the next 12 months and beyond.
Speaking with Daily Sun on his expectations, the Vice President, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Prince Kayode Farinto, said that government should live up to its responsibilities, be serious about the maritime sector and instill discipline in the sector.
According to him, if a department like Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON), for example, is consituting nuisance, the government should remove the head of that department and bring in those who are ready to work and perform optimally.
“If Customs is confused the way they are now, government should remove whoever is the Controller General, disband the management team and inject new blood and let us see where we can have a viable economy if we are serious with the recession and COVID-19. Maritime sector has a lot to assist government to power its machineries and generate more revenue.
“We need to harness a lot of things. We cannot harness them with the lackadaisical attitude of the government, we cannot harness it with lack of discipline at the various departmental agencies, and we cannot harness it when foreigners are coming and slamming illegitimate bills on Nigerians, which is going to the final consumers. We cannot harness it when the elite is killing the economy,” he said.
He said government should live up to expectation and be decisive, be very good and be a listening government, then recession would be a thing of the past, latest by March end.
He warned that if government continues with the level that they are going, recession would extend to second quarter of 2021.
He added: “The buck stop on the government table that Nigeria needs the minister of transport that is vast in the area of transportation. Government must be looking at intermodal transport system. We have overused our roads. We do not have what is called port developmental plan. We cannot say Nigerian port in the next 10 years, this is the government’s plan; we do not have it. It looks as if we are in banana republic and as if we are not organised.
“Government should sort out the areas when you want to make policy in the maritime industry to bring out the best, involve every stakeholder; let them know that this is what we want to do. Subject it to constructive criticism, from there, you gather information you will be able to propel yourself and work better.”
However, National Coordinator of Save Nigeria Freight Forwarders Importers and Exporters Coalition (SNFFIEC), Chukwu Patrick Osita, said stakeholders want Nigeria to be among top 10 maritime nations in the world in 2021. He, however, lamented that Nigeria has come a long way that impurity and corruption have hindered the nation’s maritime sector not to be what is expected of stakeholders.
“All these things that I have said are stripping us off from being a good maritime nations, having a good friendly port or a good existing port. What we shall do now is this; government should be serious about the ports and should be serious about the sector. Some countries don’t have other things apart from maritime sector and they earn good revenue from the sector to sustain their economy,” he said.
In order to correct the anomalies in the system, he implored government to create Ministry of Maritime Affairs, which will take care of both shipping companies, agents, terminals and the rest. He added that the sector would no longer be under Ministry of Transport because Ameachi has not gotten it right.
“That is why you see the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN), messing up. You see regulatory agencies reporting to Ameachi and before Ameachi run to railway and come back, bureaucracy has taking over. Ameachi didn’t even have time to attend to some letters. All these Director Generals and Executive Secretaries will be waiting for him from where he has gone to back and attend to them.
“We need maritime ministry and the headquarters should be in Lagos or Port Harcourt where people can reach at all times because where the water is that is where you have the headquarters. We need a minister that will sit down and do the work,” he suggested.
He hinted that it is those who do not know that maritime sector is a moneymaking machine on its own that jokes with it. In fact, everything about the maritime sector is money, any space and anything people do in the sector is money and government should be able to understand that, according to him.
“Those who do not understand that has been using maritime sector to play politics that is the problem. But I’m praying that 2021, government should be able to get grid of gridlock, penalised those who fails to comply with the maritime laws, being it shipping companies, terminal operators in other to get things right in the sector.
“Government should ready to step on toes because those that lead this nation before are the buyers and owners of the terminals and the shipping companies that is why the whole thing moving in circles,” he said.