Daily Trust (Abuja)

23 January 2014

Nigeria: Ports Administration and Lingering Security Hurdles

Security in the present day society has been described by many observers as the foundation of sustainable democracy and human empowerment.

Political economists also view security in a modern society as the driver of economic and political growth.

In the global maritime sector, operators accept safety and security as the fulcrum of international maritime services and anticipated growth.

With these thoughts, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), a global agency that harmonises maritime activities across the world, in 2004 established the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code.

The code, which is now the benchmark for measuring sustainable growth, comprises measures aimed at preventing or detecting security threats to ships and ports across the world.

The ISPS code also provides standards and consistent frameworks for evaluating risks, assisting governments in managing dynamic security threats and formulating appropriate and peculiar security measures.

In Nigeria, the Nigerian Maritime and Safety Agency (NIMASA) is the designated authority for implementing the ISPS code.

The Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) also complements NIMASA with other subtle bye-laws in the management of ports across the country.

In recent times, some of the security measures taken by the authorities to secure ports are erection of perimeter fencing and electronic screening of port users to enable only people with genuine reasons to access the ports.

The NPA's security personnel and the port police officers also carry out regular joint surveillance patrols at the ports and waterfronts.

On the other hand, operators have also organised themselves into pressure groups that mobilise and educate members on the dynamics of maritime operations and security

However, in spite of the efforts being made by the authorities and operators to make the ports secure, some analysts believe a lot needs to be done to make Nigerian ports safer and investor-friendly.

Mr Nureni Kuranga, the President of the Marine Board of Inquiry of Nigeria, said that recent arson at the Lagos and Port Harcourt ports have exposed the security lapses in the nation's ports.

He said that the fire which engulfed and destroyed some ocean vessels at the two ports underscored the need for relevant government agencies to make extra efforts to protect the country's ports and waterways.

Kuranga stressed that NIMASA and NPA should be at the forefront of efforts to ensure the safety of the ports and waterways.

He said that investigations on the recent arson at the two ports revealed that the marine police and other security organisations were not doing enough to protect the waterways, especially in Lagos.

"Government is funding the marine police, they need to be proactive and guard our waterways against potential attacks," he said.

Kuranga argued that the security of ports was vital to Nigeria's economy, stressing that the country derived its highest non-oil revenue from the maritime sector, while the sector provided employment for many citizens.

Sharing similar sentiments, Mr Fidelis Elija, a clearing agent, described as worrisome the porous nature of the country's ports and waterways.

He recalled that in 2012, the country's ports and waterways recorded a high incidence of piracy, in spite of the government's measures.

Elija observed that the increasing attacks on ocean-going vessels and boats around the country's sea ports followed the take-over of some of the islands around the ports by pirates.

He said that the rising activities of pirates at the sea ports and their environs also arose from the dearth of modern security equipment and poor coordination of the activities of the security operatives.

He said: "Gunboats and helicopters should be procured for the Nigerian Navy to enhance their operations on the waterways.

"The Navy should also be given lighter speedboats that can traverse the shallow creeks."

Commissioner of Police Ambrose Aisabor, in charge of the NPA Police Command, however, underscored the need for increased public cooperation, insisting that the police needed useful information from the citizens to tackle security challenges.

The police chief conceded that incessant attacks by sea pirates were also threatening the development of coastal communities.

Nevertheless, Mr Sani Akomolafe, a maritme expert, stressed that the establishment of NIMASA was part of efforts to bridge the security gaps in the maritime sector.

He stressed the need for the implementation of the ISPS Code so as to facilitate the security of the country's ports for the benefit of Nigerians and foreign investors in the maritime industry.

Akomolafe underscored the need to step up efforts to apprehend and prosecute suspected pirates so as to serve as deterrent to others, while reducing the level of insecurity in the sector.

Some maritime experts insist that the protection of seaports and the inspection of cargo moving through the ports are essential in efforts to attain effective service delivery in the industry.

The experts lament that the activities of sea pirates have continued to hinder the smooth operations in the maritime industry, stressing the need to initiate efforts to stamp out the pirates' activities.

NAN

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