The Chairman, Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN), Vicky Hastrup, has called on the federal government to speed up work on port access roads and put the necessary environment in place to reduce the high cost of doing business at the ports.
Hastrup, who said terminal operators have lost 40 per cent of their revenue to COVID-19 and gridlock on the port access roads, commended the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) for investing in port equipment to ensure efficient cargo handling.
The STOAN boss, who decried the loss of revenue due to myriad of problems in a chat with THISDAY, said ordinary Nigerians are the ones paying for the cost of doing business at the port.
"If there can't be a free flow of traffic to the terminal, don't forget the discharge of ship is dependent on the availability of trucks. There are some cargos you can't keep on the ground. Fertilizers, fish and cargo for export cannot be kept on the floor, trucks has to be available to move them.
"As a matter of fact they need to be moved from the ship to the truck and when you do not have access to the port what happens? The discharge of ship is delayed, this increases the cost to end users," she added.
According to her, "Whether we like it or not this add to the cost of doing business and cost to ordinary Nigerians who go to the market to buy food items. What we have at the port is a collection of problems put together and until the problems are solved we will remain where we are."
She decried the high rate of manual examination of cargoes at the nation's seaports, and asked the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to deploy technology to drive the process.
Haastrup, who spoke in Lagos at the weekend, said manual examination of cargoes was not efficient and does not promote social distancing.
She said: "We have a situation where people must visit the port physically to do Customs documentation and cargo examination before they can take delivery of their consignments. This is not safe at this time and it is also inefficient.
"The Nigeria Customs Service should do everything possible to install functional scanners at the port to reduce the high rate of physical examination of cargoes and to reduce human contacts.
"Customs should also make it possible for consignees to process their release documents and make necessary duty payments online without having to visit the port or Customs commands.
"There is also need to reduce the number of government agencies that participate in cargo examination at the port in addition to reducing the number of checks carried out on cleared cargos both inside and outside the port premises. Customs' clearing process must become smart at this time."
The STOAN Chairman further said due to declining oil revenues, Nigeria must begin to make deliberate attempt to shift its balance of trade.
"Nigeria must move quickly from being a net importer to a net exporter of food.
Government will need to support farmers for better agricultural yields that will be attractive to the international market.
"The farmers will also need to be supported in reducing wastages experienced during harvests and in the course of getting their produce to the market. Funding and logistics support for the farmers is also of great importance at this time.
"Adequate storage, inventory management, and transportation are key logistics activities that represent the most serious constraints facing our agric export today.
These will need to be addressed by governments at all levels."
Government should also endeavour to simplify the cumbersome processes and unnecessary bureaucratic bottlenecks associated with documentation and processing of export cargoes at our ports," she said.
Haastrup said at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, terminal operators engaged the federal government on the need to ensure that the nation's seaports remained open during lockdowns so as to ensure that the supply chain was not disrupted.
"Terminal operators and the Nigerian Ports Authority worked hard to keep the ports during the lockdown running because we are aware of the importance of the seaports to the wellbeing of our people.
"We knew the ports had to remain open to ensure that there was no shortage of food, drugs and other essential supply to Nigerians.
"The shipping sector is key in securing the continuity of economic activities, ensuring supply chains to industries, transportation of essential goods, including energy and food supplies, and transportation of vital medical and protective equipment, and supplies,
"It is imperative for the fight against COVID-19, the supply of essentials, as well as for increasing the chance of global economic recovery on the other side of the outbreak, that maritime and connected transport are allowed to continue, and that government works actively to support the sector throughout the period of the crisis."