14 October 2012

Nigeria: Night Clearing Order At Ports Suffers Hitches

The 24-hour service or night clearing operation ordered by the Federal Government last year to achieve faster cargo clearance and reduce congestion at the nation's seaports has failed.

It was gathered that many importers and their freight forwarders have been reluctant to come to the ports to take delivery of their cargoes because of the security implications.

With bad state of the roads, particularly in and out of Apapa Port, importers said night operations as ordered by the Federal Government were ill-advised.

A freight forwarder said with the high rate of unemployment and attendant high rate of crime all over the country, importers and truck owners would be risking their goods and lives running late in the night, adding that hoodlums in and around the seaports would capitalise on this to rob them of their consignments.

Customs officers who spoke to THISDAY at the ports said though they were ready for the night operation, they cannot work in isolation of the importers who have goods to clear at the ports.

A senior Customs Officer at Apapa Port said it was not the first time night operation was being introduced, adding that it had failed because government did not provide the enabling environment to encourage stakeholders to operate at night.

"If you are running at such a slow speed as a result of bad roads, you cannot avoid hoodlums from attacking you. It happened in the past when trucks carrying rice were attacked on motion with bags thrown down from the vehicles by hoodlums. This was when the roads were better. If you try it now, it will be worse. They will not just vandalise consignments, they will attempt at hijacking the trucks," he said.

THISDAY gathered that security implication had also forced the Lagos State Government to soft-pedal on the implementation of the traffic law which provides that trucks clearing goods at the ports should be limited to night operation.

The transport owners had pointed out the security challenges of running in the night when the law was introduced, but government had insisted that the law must be obeyed as the only way left to check the traffic menace around the premier port, Apapa and Tin Can Island Port.

Apapa-Oshodi Express Road, particularly around Coconut Bus Stop, has worsened with containers falling off moving trucks most of the time.

However, it was gathered that various customs commands still allow skeletal units to operate till about 8 pm before leaving their desks.

For instance, at Tin Can Island port, officers in the terminal and gates maintain skeletal services till about 9 pm before closing their gates.

It was gathered that the only time-night operation work was last year and early this year when over 4,000 overtime containers were cleared to decongest the ports.

Industry stakeholders hold the opinion that the best government can do to improve clearing at the ports was to accelerate the reconstruction work on the roads leading to the ports.

"Once the roads are free, the traffic gridlock will be over," one Custom officer said.

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