Inspite of reforms, many port users still blame the NPA for certain operational issues. In this report, TOLA ADENUBI dissects the roles of the NPA and other parties in today’s operations.

IN the last 24 years, the most remarkable development in the life of Nigeria’s seaport is the port reform of 2006 embarked upon by former president, Olusegun Obasanjo.

The port reform of 2006, which adopted a Landlord-Tenant model of port operation, helped to reposition, and transform Nigerian seaports for competitiveness and efficiency in order to compete favourably with its contemporaries in the African region and indeed the rest of the world.

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The reform ceded cargo handling operations inside the ports to private terminal operators while the Authority retained the responsibility of providing Marine Services.

The policy of port concession stemmed from the desire of the then federal government to infuse private sector efficiency into the port value chain by embracing a Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) as a model of global business approach.

The port concession era transformed the operational functions of NPA to a more technical regulation with core responsibilities of providing and maintaining common user facilities such as port internal roads, illumination, dredging, bouyage, pilotage, towage and another technical enabler of safe navigation, in addition to exercising regulatory oversight on terminal operators.

However, it appears there is limited public understanding of the roles of NPA in the port given the dominant perception that everything port rests on NPA, when in actual facts there are other government agencies such as the Nigerian Customs Service and others including security agencies whose roles affect port efficiency and operations.

Other major players

While the external access roads which are of key importance to the evacuation of cargoes to and from the ports are under the management of the Federal Ministry of Works; the responsibility of maintaining security on the waterways falls on the Marine Police, NIMASA and the Nigerian Navy. Electricity which concerns illumination of the port area is under the purview of power holding company and was recently moved to the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) as the port economic regulator.

In a recent interview, maritime expert Nwachukwu Kelechi clarified that “contrary to misconceptions and false narrative in a section of the media, the NPA is solely responsible for the development and maintenance of port access road within the port and not roads outside the seaports. Maintenance and development of access to the hinterland is the responsibility of the government through the Federal Ministry of Works.”

Stakeholders laud NPA

However, stakeholders have commended the current management of the NPA for executing its constitutional roles and responsibilities. For instance, the NPA was recently commended for its role in strengthening security architecture inside the ports.

According to the European Union (EU), the current management has taken its role seriously by reducing vulnerabilities, risks and increasing skills and vigilance at the ports

The EU through Nico Vertogen, said, “There is huge improvement in Nigeria port security architecture and that was very reassuring for us to notice. But there can always be improvement by doing more training, but in general, the situation is good.

“It was a very detailed needs assessment results because we need to understand how security and safety is organised in Tin-Can island and Apapa and that constitutes a detailed training programme tailor-made especially for security where we have international certification,” he said.

Port users, especially clearing agents, also applauded the NPA management for keying into the core responsibilities and roles of the agency.

An importer, James Akinwale, noted that as part of measures to improve ease of doing business at the ports, the Bello Koko-led management team approved the licensing of 10 Export Processing Terminals (EPT) to facilitate export cargo evacuation out of the nation’s seaports.

“Licensing of 10 Export Processing Terminals to facilitate exports at Nigerian Seaports is to provide a one-stop shop for export where quality control, cargo assessment by all government agencies and issuance of good-to-ship clearance will be obtained. This has led to a significant reduction in truck turn-around time due to successful implementation of the E-Call Up System,” Akinwale stated.

Further checks also revealed that the current management’s enforcement of Minimum Safety Standards on trucks accessing the ports has led to significant reduction in number of accidents recorded at the port corridor.

Partnership with IMO

The NPA has also engaged the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), on the development of Port Community System on the automation and digitalisation of the port processes.

An official of the NPA who pleaded anonymity remarked that “The current management has engaged with the IMO on development of Port Community System pursuant to the IMO instrument on automation and digitalisation of port processes. Management have also, awarded the consultancy for the deployment of Vessel Traffic Service (VTS); a maritime safety measure that equips with Domain Awareness Capability to enable us guide and provide safety information to vessels within our channels and ports approaches in line with the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) conventions.”

Speaking further on the achievements of the Koko-led management the NPA official said, “On the critical front of trade facilitation/ease of doing business/employment generation, the NPA management under the firm and focused guidance of Koko created new businesses and attendant job opportunities such as the barge operations services which, besides reducing pressure on the roads, have grown into a N2 billion annual generation business both from direct investment and accompanying externalities.

“Bello Koko has also covered remarkable grounds in the crucial maritime benchmarks such as Improved Navigational Aids, Enhanced Port Security, Engineering Infrastructure/Operational Capacity Strengthening and Employee Welfare and Training/Industrial Harmony.

“Procurement and deployment of Security Patrol Boats (SPBs) to all Pilotage Districts to address incessant attacks of vessels along the channels and at Ports’ waterfronts, his management considerably enhanced port security. He also adroitly established a robust partnership with the EU-funded West and Central Africa Ports Security (WeCAPS) towards risk prevention, vulnerability assessment of port infrastructure, skills acquisition to port personnel to strengthen the security and safety of the Nigerian Ports.

Advocacy against extortion

Disturbed by increasing acts of extortion by hoodlums and miscreants along port access road, Mohammed Bello Koko is personally leading the advocacy to eliminate illegal checkpoints where these atrocities are perpetrated through intensified collaborations with security agencies.

To confirm the effectiveness of these collaborations, the Lagos State Police Command last week arrested 15 hoodlums, three Police Officers, one LASTMA and 1 FRSC personnel caught aiding and abetting extortion. This is coming on heels of the reception at the NPA headquarters of Mr. Idowu, the Commissioner of Police for Lagos, where Bello Koko enlisted the Commissioner’s support to tackle the menace of corruption which, according to Koko, is “doing reputational damage to Nigeria, given that the ports access road is an international business corridor”.

The NPA MD also established a standing partnership with the Navy, Nigerian Army to, in addition to combating illegal checkpoints along the port corridor, make traffic management more effective. There was the standardisation of operational procedures for different activities such as barging, private jetties, pilotage, vessel berthing/sailing, which represents another positive of his leadership.

“On the Engineering infrastructure/Operational Capacity Strengthening front, Koko initiated the creation of Forcados Signal Station to enable the Authority to capture the movement of more Service Boats and the commencement and completion of bathymetric Survey for the dredging of Escravos Channels,” the NPA official added.

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