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Is Nigeria’s Port Industry Ready For Another Covid-19 Lockdown?

It is no longer in contention that the second wave of the dreaded Covid- 19 pandemic is currently blowing across the world.
Some countries in Europe and Asia have already been badly hit by the second wave of the rampaging pandemic.
While most of them have gone on second round of lockdown to check the spread of the virus, others are presently contemplating the painful but unavoidable option.
Nigeria is not immuned against the latest round of the scourge as the authority has announced the resurgence of the pandemic.
Some states have even rejigged their Covid-19 safety protocols to curb the resurgence of the virus.
Tomorrow, December 22nd, 2020, the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 is expected to announce measures to tackle the second wave of the virus.
One of the options may likely be another phase of lockdown.
Can the fragile Nigeria’s economy, which is already in recession, withstand a second round of lockdown?
Can the Nigeria’s port industry cope with another round of lockdown?
This is the poser agitating the mind of this platform given the trauma which ports users went through during the first lockdown some months back.
During that time, the inadequacies of our port system was laid bare to the whole world to see.
The semi-analogue operations at the nation’s sea ports were put in harsh and sharper perspective.
Because of our timidity to embrace automation, the port operations and operators were punished for these shortcomings.
The port operations, especially cargo documentation and clearance procedures, which are yet to be fully automated, were nearly stalled.
It took the brave intervention of the Shippers’Council, the economic regulator, to rally all the players in the supply and delivery chains before the operations could be slowly  put into motion.
It then dawned on us the reality of the imperativeness of automation of port operations.
But since we exited the lock down, has anything changed to suggest out port system is ready for the likely second lockdown?
We are not sure that the port operations will still not go through the same challenges they experienced during the first lockdown, should another round of lockdown is introduced.
As a matter of fact, we dare say, should the second lockdown be announced, port operations will experience worse challenges than those they encountered previously.
Apart from the fact that no appreciable level of automation in the port operations has been achieved since the end of the first lockdown, the situation is even  grimmer now.
Last week, during his inspection of the terminal operators to access their operations, the Executive Secretary of Nigerian Shippers’ Council, Barrister Hassan Bello, returned a damning verdict on the automation levels of all the operators.
This then clearly suggests that the operators are not ready.
Secondly and more worrisome is the fact that there is  cargo congestion at the port due to the interplay of many factors, chief among which is the malignant traffic gridlock on the port access roads.
So, should the government announce another round of lockdown due to the second wave of the pandemic, the effects will be more catastrophic than before.
Not even the intervention of Shippers’ Council  could safe the situation, this time around.
This is the sorry state of the nation’s seaports which are currently still bugged down with semi-analogue and cumbersome procedures.
Also, the contrived traffic gridlock, created by corrupt officials, has continued to beleaguer the port operations.

We are sad to watch the industry and its operators struggling to keep working during the first lockdown occasioned by the pandemic.

We are amazed to see how the lives of operators were exposed to risks as the industry was still grappling with out-dated operational procedures.

We feel scandalised as the pandemic punished us for our failure to embrace full automation of our operational procedures.

Funny enough, the industry and its administrators are yet to learn from the lessons of the first lockdown.
Despite long years of rhetoric and preparations, government has continued to pay lips service to the full automation of port processes.

What we have is a fragmented automation system that is not fused into one coordinated method.

One lesson that sticks out like a sore thumb which the pandemic has foisted on the industry, is the need to embrace full automation, especially the documentation and cargo delivery system.

The failure of our port administrators to implement the much talked- about Single Window project in the industry has come to fore during the pandemic.

The single window project is a single platform that integrates all the players in the system on a single platform where information can be shared.

As such, in documentation and cargo delivery method, the system will integrate freight forwarders, shipping companies, terminals operators, customs and importers on a single platform that will aid quick and seamless cargo documentation and delivery system.

It eliminates human contacts in the cargo delivery method.

Also, the industry single window project is intended to integrate the operations of all the government agencies such as NPA, NIMASA, Nigerian Shippers’ Council, Nigeria Customs and other players of the industry.

However, despite the advantages of the project, its implementation has consistently been frustrated by greed and corruption among the port administrators.

A fully operational single window project would have made the port operations to continue full blast during the lockdown without challenges.

There wouldn’t have been any need for freight forwarders to be physically present at the port before they ply their trade.

The Nigerian Shippers’ Council could have utilised elsewhere the resources it then deployed to making sure Customs brokers get to the ports during the lockdown.

If Nigeria Customs Service had embraced scanning system, there wouldn’t have been any need for physical examination of cargo.

If the banks, terminal operators, shipping companies, Customs have all been integrated on the same single window platform, importers and their agents wouldn’t have had any need to physically go to the ports for documentation and delivery processes.

All these procedures would have been carried out in the comfort of their rooms.

What we currently have in the industry is a fragmented automation system which is not harmonised into a single-window portal.

It is an individualist approach to automation when the operations of each of the operators such as the Customs, NPA, NIMASA and Shippers’ Council are automated but without fully integrated with one another.

Until this is done, the industry will continue to experience the avoidable challenges as we witnessed  during the COVID-19 lockdown when the port industry was not working to its optimum capacity and efficiency.

Unfortunately, the industry is not yet positioned to contend with another round of lockdown, should it happen.

© 2020, maritimemag. All rights reserved.

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