Last week Tuesday, August 11th, 2020, Heads of Maritime Agencies under the Ministry of Transportation, tickled the port community with the assurance of working towards introduction of 24-hour port operations.
The parastatals chiefs said they have just realised that port efficiency and robust service delivery could not be achieved without round-the- clock port operations.
Industry operators were elated by the new found zeal of these heads of parastatals to change the narrative at the nation’s seaports.
But we did not share the same optimism of some of the stakeholders.
In as much as we believe that the resolution of the heads of parastatals is long overdue and the way to go, we are the least excited by the proposition.
That was not the first time government will mouth the need to go 24-hour operations at the ports.
In June 2017, the Vice-President , Yemi Osinbajo, as an Acting President then, issued an Executive Order which mandated 24-hour operations at the ports.
Till today, the so called Executive Order was not heeded.
It still remains an order.
That was why we are amused by the resolution of the heads of government agencies in the industry which, to us, followed the same pattern of mere proclamation.
We are yet to see how this resolution will come into fruition if the Executive Order issued by an Acting President three years ago was not complied with.
It then suggests clearly that 24-hour port operations cannot be decreed into existence.
To ensure that our ports operate on 24-hour basis, it needs more that Executive order and mere resolutions by the heads of government agencies.
Rather, it needs well-coordinated action plans backed by strong political will of government to push it and collaboration of all the agencies and operators involved in cargo documentation and delivery process.
It has often been repeated that some certain structures must be on ground before 24-hour port operations could be tenable.
We are sure that the heads of government agencies, as core professionals and drivers of the industry, should be aware that they cannot build something on nothing.
The 24-hour port operations will continue to live in their imagination if critical infrastructures necessary to support and sustain the process are not in place.
At the risk of repeating what industry players have often said, port access roads should be in good shape, devoid of any incumbrance.
The terminals should also be efficient to handle more cargo which is the function of adequate handling capacity that will not lead to cargo glut.
In addition, the ports and the access roads must be well lit at night which is a function of regular electricity supply.
Adequate security for cargo and operators, especially at night, must be provided.
This also applies to the quayside that must be well lit at night.
More importantly, there must be a strong synergy among all the agencies of government and others players in the cargo documentation and delivery chain to facilitate cargo clearance.
In other words, single window portal for all agencies such as NPA, NIMASA, Customs, Shipping companies, importers, clearing agents, terminal operators, Shippers council, NAFDAC, SON, NDLEA and the customs duty receiving banks, should be created and embraced to ensure a one-stop shop for cargo documentation and delivery process.
The various individual agency portals should be collapsed into one single and unified platform.
Whatever has stalled the single window project should be removed.
Also, Customs processes should be streamlined and made easily amenable to automation process, especially the scanning process.
The present manual cargo examination should be de-emphasised.
The Customs should ensure uninterrupted operations of it data collection through servers which are said to be breaking down at will.
In other words, port operations should be fully automated to aid seamless 24-hour operations.
All the modes of transportation should be deployed for the evacuation of cargoes from the ports.
Apart from road, which we have over-relied on for cargo evacuation, rail and water transportation should also be developed and deployed.
All these critical structures cannot be proclaimed into existence except through deliberate and coordinated efforts by government and relevant players in the cargo clearance chains.
So, when the heads of the agencies made this pronouncement last week, we were not excited but rather curious to know how their wish could be turned into a reality.
We find it rather ridiculous that Nigeria, the self -professed giant of Africa with the biggest economy on the continent , is still striving to ensure its ports operate 24-hours, a feat which has become a ritual for the less-fancied African countries, let alone other advanced economies.
To us, agitating for 24-hour port operations in this 21st century is an eloquent testimony of port inefficiency and travesty of the wish of Nigerian ports to become cargo hub centres in the sub-region.
We are however least surprised at this glaring inadequacies given the fact that our port operations are still not fully automated.
The infatuation for corruption of our port operators and administrators has frustrated successive efforts to make Nigerian port efficient.
Our level of pessimism over the latest efforts to put the ports on 24-hour operations does not in anyway represent disbelief in the capacity and zeal of the heads of government agencies.
Neither does it imply an attempt to impugn on their collective wish and aspirations.
Rather, our cautious optimism was based on the absence of key structures which should form the foundation on which the 24-hour port operations would be laid.
We commend the new found synergy among these heads of government agencies which we regard as novel and unique.
We also laud their passion and zeal to make the ports efficient.
But we caution that their passion and zeal should be rooted in realism.
In as much as we believe that 24-hour port operation is achievable and realisable, but we dare say it may not be feasible under the present circumstance as all odds are stacked against the idea.
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