Nigeria Maritime Industry and lessons of COVID-19

The good thing about the rampaging Coronavirus disease, as deadly as it is, is that it has exposed the inadequacies in our system.

The pandemic has laid bare the shortcomings that have long been embedded in our most of our public institutions.

Take the health sector for instance, the rampaging disease has shown the deep-seated rot in our health system where our public hospitals, despite the humongous amount appropriated each year, are not better than consulting clinics.

Our health care system is already overwhelmed by sheer enormity of the pandemic.

Our emergency response system was also subjected to harsh reality of inadequacies, having suffered for long through irrational fire brigade approach method.

The Nigeria Maritime industry, the second biggest revenue earner for the country, is no exception.

The pandemic has exposed the failings in the documentation and cargo delivery method.

The pandemic gave away the policy inconsistencies and inadequacies in the shipping industry.

The pandemic laid bare the insincerity of purpose of government and industry administrators to develop the sector.

Just as Temisan Omatseye, the erstwhile Director-General of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA)has rightly observed that COVID-19 has shown the underbelly of the maritime industry.

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

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

We feel scandalised as the pandemic punished us for our failure to embrace full automation of our procedural processes at the port.

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 this lockdown without challenges as it is presently.

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 now 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 are currently witnessing during the COVID-19 lockdown when the port industry is not working to its optimum capacity and efficiency.

The time is now when all loopholes must be plugged to move Nigeria Maritime Industry forward and take its pride of place in the comity of maritime nations.

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