The dearth of information in the nation's seaports remains a challenge for port users that needs to be addressed, writes John Iwori
Many experts and analysts believe the dearth of information or inadequate information in the nation's seaports has remained a huge challenge to port users over the years.
Nigeria's officially designated ports of entry with full complement of government agencies such as Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), State Security Service (SSS), National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and the Nigeria Police Force include Port Harcourt, Onne, Calabar, Warri, Koko, Sapele, and Lagos.
Nevertheless, the ports situated in Lagos remain the busiest in the country with Apapa Quay remaining the largest African container terminal. Under the Greenfield development agenda of the Federal Government, ports are being developed in Lekki, Badagry, and Ibaka, Akwa Ibom State. The development of these ports is in response to the numerous challenges that have hampered the efficient running of the existing ones.
Confusion and Inaccuracies
In the absence of accurate information, confusion arising from inadequate data on the operations of the nation's seaports has become the order of the day.
Stakeholders in the maritime sector of the economy have used every opportunity at their disposal to draw the attention of the authorities to the ills plaguing the system due to the fact that ports lacked information.
Those who spoke to THISDAY stated that this is not healthy for the nation's seaports. This is not unconnected with the fact that the absence of reliable information in the nation's seaports has often led to inaccuracies and confusion as many port users, especially exporters, importers and licensed customs agents find it difficult to take informed decisions on their consignments.
Information on cargoes coming into the nation's seaports is in most cases, not readily available to port users. Besides, the nature of the cargo, quantity, name of vessels, crew members, time of arrival, last port of call, port of origin among other data required to make an informed decision are not readily available to consignees and their agents.
At a seminar which took place in Lagos recently, erstwhile Port Manager (PM) of Lagos Port Complex (LPC), Mr. Joshua Asanga, noted that before and after the port concession programme, port users move about the port in search of useful information about the ports, including movement of ships and cargo.
That the situation in the nation's seaports was chaotic in the pre-concession was to say the least. This was the era when the ports were held by the jugular by undesirable elements called "wharf rats".
These wharf rats were the holders and purveyors of information on vessels and cargoes movement within the ports. They know the position and the status of cargoes in the terminals. This explained why they were courted by many consignees and their agents who need one form of assistance or the other.
Against the backdrop of Nigeria's quest to be a hub in the West and Central Africa sub-regions, this was a huge dent on Nigeria's campaign. Indeed, the global maritime watchdog, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) frowns at the issue of safety in the ports.
This is why there are many conventions and guidelines on safety and security of cargo, ships and crew members. The situation in the nation's seaports has changed tremendously as the port concession era has addressed some of the ills that plagued the operations of the port in the pre-concession era.
Nevertheless, the post-concession era is yet to make the operations of the terminals to be at par with what is obtainable in the ports situated in the developed world. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo probably had this in mind when he initiated the port reforms in 2005.
The exercise which was midwife by the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) led to the concession of the nation's seaports to private investors in 2006. Since then, the day-to-day running of the terminals is now in the hands of the concessionaires.
Though Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) remains the landlord, it is no longer responsible for cargo handling. In line with the agreement it signed with the concessionaires on behalf of the Federal Government, it is responsible for the maintenance of common users' facilities. Whether the authority has succeeded in this onerous assignment is a subject for scrutiny another day.
PIMS to the Rescue
It was in a bid to address this malaise that the authority has evolved an information management system that will address the dearth of adequate information on the movement of cargoes and vessels in the nation's seaports.
Tagged Ports Information Management System (PIMS), the platform will, among other things, provide a one-stop shop information portal for all aspects of port operation online real time in the nation's seaports. It was designed with an eye for port users. This is because PIMS will enable port users and other stakeholders' access information without stress in LPC.
LPC, which remains the busiest in the country, is home to Apapa Quay, presently concessioned to AP Moller Apapa Terminals Limited, one of the subsidiaries of Danish port operations and logistics giant, AP Moller Maersk Group.
Asanga, who has since been deployed to NPA House, the corporate headquarters of the authority situated at Marina, Lagos as the General Manager, Procurement following a recent shake up in the authority, told participants at the seminar that the new information system was designed to simplify information gathering at the ports.
He noted that PIMS was meant to address the ills of not having adequate information on the movement of ships and cargoes easily accessible to port users. He explained that part of reasons for the new system was to check movement of unauthorised persons within the ports.
He also said that key beneficiaries of the new system are the corporate organisations that may want to occupy vacant slots on the screen but for the people and other several stakeholders themselves. "PIMS is separated and peculiar to the different seaports", he added.
Executive Director Marine and Operations of NPA, Mr. David Omonibeke, who spoke at the event, noted that information is expensive and that the authority would do all it could to enhance speedy dissemination of port information to facilitate smooth port operation.
He said soon NPA will automate all port operations, adding that what the LPC had done is an integral part of the new port automation.
He therefore enjoined port users and other stakeholders to support NPA in its bid to make the ports more efficient as it is obtainable in the ports located in the developed maritime nations.
Coming up with a new initiative is one thing, sustaining it is another thing. There are many laudable initiatives that have not seen the light of the day. Examples of good policy initiatives that ended up the dustbin of history are too numerous for this reporter to recount here.
Many laudable initiatives have been jettisoned for lack of sustenance. It is against this backdrop, that not a few stakeholders have raised doubts about the sustenance of this new initiative of information gathering and dissemination in the nation's seaports.
Does NPA have what it takes to sustain PIMS or it will end up the way of other failed projects? Though the authority has promised to take PIMS to other seaports, the definite date of doing so is yet to be made public. In the absence of making the date public, the public will not be in a position to monitor its progress in this regard.
In view of the frequent changes in the leadership of parastatals in the Federal Ministry of Transport, especially in NPA and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) in recent times, what will become of PIMS in the hands of the new helmsmen?
Will they have the political will to continue from where the present handlers would stop? As the authority basks in the euphoria of a new information order in the nation's seaports, how to sustain it so that it can endure for the benefit of Nigeria, nay Nigerians in the years ahead should be uppermost in the hearts of the helmsmen.
Will NPA heed wise counsel and do the needful or will it ignore it? What mechanism has it put in place to sustain PIMS in the years ahead? What is it doing to create awareness among stakeholders on the information order in the ports? Can PIMS stand the test of time?
These and many more questions are begging for answers, as the LPC savours the new information order in Nigerian ports; starting with the Lagos Port Complex.