By Dan Amor ,0802 359 7734 (sms only pls) [email protected]
Trapped in the morass of a thieving and an uncaring governing elite that has done everything but govern well, the Nigerian Ports that constitute one of, if not, the most veritable gateways of trade between the import-driven economy and the rest of the world, appear riddled with endemic corruption. Everywhere you go, from the Federal Ministry of Transport, the supervisory ministry that overseers the entire gamut of transport and logistics industry; the Nigerian Ports Authority – a major parastatal in the maritime sub-sector, and to the Nigerian Customs Service – the para-military agency that polices the land, air and sea borders of the country, all your nostrils can sniff is the putrid stench of corruption. And, to all intents and purposes, the three major priorities of operators and stakeholders in all these agencies are: corruption, corruption and corruption.
For instance, terminal operators at the various ports in the country had reportedly presented a request to the immediate past Minister of Transport, Alhaji Suleiman Yusuf seeking approval for them to increase their respective charges. According to Captain Adamu Biu, the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), the Minister set up a committee to look into the request. But unfortunately, instead of allowing the committee to complete its assignment, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) went ahead of the committee to write a report to the minister, and without confirming from the original committee he had inaugurated, the minster approved the increment in handling charges which is currently generating dust in the maritime industry. Biu, who stated in a recent edition of Maritime Management Series (MMS), that he was still in a quandary as to why the NPA had to submit a report to the minister ahead of the committee, described the increment as fraudulent. He also dismissed the report as a false representation of the Committee’s original report.
In fact, the NPA is believed to be employing arbitrary means to impose a regime of multiple taxation on operators in the maritime industry. Almost a year after stakeholders in the industry have been calling on the NPA to account for the huge amount of money made from the Cargo Tracking Notes (CTN), the authority is still at large. Following the scrapping of the controversial payment system by the Federal Government in the third quarter of 2011, players in the industry are still clamouring for NPA to give account of proceeds from the two year old exercise. Before the Minister of Finance and Supervising Minister of the Economy Dr. Ngozi Okonjo – Iweala abolished the Cargo Tracking Notes payment, to free the ports of the grip of extortion, corruption and arbitrary charges that had stifled port operations and cargo clearance in the country, the NPA had netted over N4.2 trillion.
Through intense lobbying by regulators in the industry, especially the NPA, the Federal Executive Council at its December 9, 2009 meeting approved the implementation of Cargo Tracking Notes system “as part of procedure for cargo security and safety’. Consequently, beginning from January 11, 2010, every commodity loaded or unloaded (import / export), at or with Nigeria as the final destination had to, prior of shipment, obtain a Cargo Tracking Note or international cargo tracking document from a Nigerian Ports Authority representative. A company, Transport and Ports Management System (TPMS) Limited (TPMS Antaser Afrique), a Belgium-based company was designated by the Federal Government as the sole representative of the NPA and the only authorized agent to issue a Cargo Tracking Notes. Despite public outcry and protests by stakeholders, Cargo Tracking Notes was forced on stakeholders in Nigeria. It is a programme so common amongst the French speaking African countries. It was also adopted by Ghana to enhance cargo information collection but no fee is charged.
Yet, in spite of its stoppage by Dr. Okonjo-Iweala and her directive that the authorities should ensure that 24 hour goods clearing is made possible at the Ports, the Nigeria Customs Service and officials of the NPA still constitute a cog in the wheel of progress at the ports. The objective, internationally, acknowledged that cargo tracking notes make it possible for countries to have advance information on cargos even before they are loaded into vessels to guarantee the security of their port infrastructure, vessels and other crew has met a dry well in Nigeria due to corruption. Dynamites and other explosives used in making bombs which are employed by militants to kill, maim and destroy lives and property in the country all pass through the land, air and sea borders of Nigeria while corruption reign supreme at the ports. Perennial instances of fraud and corruption allegations against officials of the Nigeria Customs Service reached a frightening dimension in 2008 when a World Bank study on Nigeria’s restrictive policy revealed massive corruption and ineptitude among officials of the Nigeria Customs Service.
The report circulated that banned cargoes worth N600 billion were navigated into the country annually with the proceeds finding their ways into the pockets of the officials of the Nigeria Customs Service. Nigeria, the report stated, is one of several countries with a long list of banned goods, and this provides strong incentives for fraud and corruption. The banned goods, according to the report, have facilitated substantial smuggling and consequent rent seeking by Nigeria Customs and Excise. As one of the primary areas where revenues are generated through imports and exports, the men of the Nigeria Customs basically control the air and sea ports. To make the job easy for the Customs, government has appointed destination inspection agents to handle all import assessment while the Customs officials handle the verifications and sometimes perform physical examination on imports and exports. This role has turned to money spinning for men of the Nigeria Customs as they now use the inspection report known as Risk Assessment Report (RAR) as a shadow to extort from importers and their agents. Besides, lack of infrastructure and insecurity, the major problem plaguing Nigerian Ports is corruption. Until something drastic is done to combat this, the situation will continue.