Social Distancing Negligence, NSC Intervention Timely

Social Distancing Negligence, NSC Intervention Timely


Chinazor Megbolu


Defying the regulations against further spread of Coronavirus also known as Covid-19 is to the detriment of the masses even as government has the responsibility to make sure that citizens abide by the regulations.

Since the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic and spread to Nigeria through an Italian index case, measures have been put in place to curtail the deadly menace.

Despite the measures, cases are still being recorded on a daily basis portending that the lockdown rules are being flagrantly flouted by Nigerians.

In effort to see out the virus from Nigeria, government agencies and organisations are making frantic efforts to nip it in the bud in their individual organisations and by extension, the general populace.

Recall, that deaths have been recorded unhindered of thousands across the globe over the Covid-19 pandemic within its less than five months of ravaging the world.

Since the outbreak of coronavirus code named COVID-19 pandemic, preventive measures have been encouraged the world over towards containing further spread of the disease.

Deaths have been recorded in thousands in some countries and very few in Nigeria at large. Majority of those who tested positive to the disease later became negative. No thanks to few deaths.

The Federal Goverment, towards containing the spread of Covid-19 pandemic in Nigeria, declared total lockdown in the country especially in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Lagos and Ogun States giving their volatile state when it comes to human navigation and traffic.

In the wake of the lockdown, the ports were given opportunity to operate but with conditions. Preventive conditions were outlined for everyone who has business to do there to abide with.

The Nigerian Maritime sector like every other sector, had its own share of the Covid-19 pandemic scare even though no case or death as a result of the disease has been recorded so far within the ports operations.

In view of this, the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) being the economic regulator of the port, last week deployed some of its staff to monitor compliance among port operators and other ancillary service providers.

The NSC intervention through the posting of its staff to monitor and ensure compliance with the guidelines outlined by the regulators is therefore timely; as most of the terminal operators, shipping companies and some goverment agencies have neglected the regulation thereby endangering lives at the port corridor.

Some of these organisations in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic in Nigeria, have supported both the public, private and individuals in cash and materially towards curtailing the spread and also as palliatives towards cushioning the effects of Covid-19 pandemic in Nigeria. The same set of organisations in the ports during the period of lockdown, became negligent in their daily activities with freight forwarders and customs brokers paving way for NSC intervention.

The Executive Secretary, NSC, Barr. Hassan Bello towards ensuring compliance to safety and healthy lifestyle at the nation’s seaports, assigned some of its staff to enforce compliance within the confines of the port corridors.

The maritime economic agency said the move was in view of the importance of the continuation of port operations as essential services, highlighted by President Muhammadu Buhari in his March 29 address.

“Nigerian Shippers’ Council has been engaging with all stakeholders under its purview to ensure that safety and health guidelines are strictly adhered to so as to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“To this end, the Council has assigned its officers to the various shipping companies and terminals to assist in ensuring that all safety and health regulations issued by the authorities are strictly adhered to during these times.

“NSC cannot overemphasise the importance of all port users, particularly freight forwarders, conducting themselves responsibly and adhering to health guidelines as they go about their very essential business,” he said.

Bello had pointed out the underscoring and importance of port operations, when he hinted on the postulations of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and Chairman, Presidential Taskforce on Covid-19, Mr. Boss Mustapha, who during the daily COVID-19 briefing, referred to his conversation with the Executive Secretary, NSC, Barr. Hassan Bello.

According to the statement, it was confirmed that some banks had agreed to open for businesses in the Apapa axis for a limited number of hours in order to facilitate port operations. The SGF had explained that at the onset of the lockdown, banking halls had been marked out as potential risk zones for Covid-19.

As a review of that line of thought, it became necessary when it emerged that banks had to open for people to pay custom duties and other charges.

Meanwhile, former National President, National Association of Goverment Approved Freight Forwarders, Dr. Eugene Nweke in an online interview said: “The port industry all over the world remains a security zone, which thrives on international best practices with regards to safety, security of lives and investment of port users and Investors.

“Safety and security measures is also applicable to cargo processing and handling as well as equipment management and operations within the port”.

Nweke maintained that the NSC as the economic regulatory authority, has the onerous task of ensuring that under the prevailing circumstances occasioned by Covid-19 pandemic, stipulated guidelines of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the government directives, are followed succinctly.

He noted that NSC’s insistence that critical port operators must create an enabling environment to engender the smooth flow of  cargo clearance out of the port without compromising the precautionary measures set aside to combating the Covid 19 pandemic is crucial.

“The deployment of its staff to the shipping companies and terminal operators’ operational offices, is to add impetus to its quest and resolve not to leave any stone unturned, pursuance to compliance to stipulated guidelines. “Simply said, it is a demonstration of its commitment towards achieving set objectives,” Nweke said.

The Sea Empowerment and Research Centre in its week 3 report focused on physical distancing, fumigation and disinfecting all passenger terminals/areas, use of digital documentation and use of safety and protective equipment at the seaports.

Its Director General, Mr. Francis Uchechukwu Aniezechukwu said the aim of the research was to draw the attention of the various port regulatory agencies namely; the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) and other port stakeholders to the low level of compliance to the UNCTAD Technical Note on Port Responsiveness in the fight against Covid-19 pandemic for the third consecutive survey at the Lagos ports.

On the level of adherence to social distancing in the port terminals areas and outside offices at the various ports in Lagos, Aniezechukwu hinted that the group scored Apapa port 60 per cent, Tin-Can Island port 39 per cent and PTML terminal and Kirikiri Lighter Terminal scored 9 per cent.

“There is extremely poor level of compliance inside the port terminals, port areas and outside port offices, less than 1 per cent each,” Aniezechukwu said.

He further disclosed that, there was zero adherence to the use of personal protective equipment within the port as Apapa port scored 29 per cent, Tin-Can Island port 39 per cent, PTML terminal 69 per cent and Kirikiri Lighter Terminal 79 per cent respectively.

On fumigation and disinfecting of terminals and outside offices, Aniezechukwu, who is also a legal consultant maintained that the PTML terminal improved on disinfecting of terminals, port areas and outside offices even as he scored it 69 per cent while Apapa port, Tincan Island port and Kirikiri Lighter Terminal were rated 0 per cent.

He went as far as stating that the research conducted, witnessed a gross non-compliance to this rule.

According to him; “this disease is deadly and growing at a deadly rate”.

Aniezechukwu however, called on government agencies and stakeholders alike, to take proactive step towards containing the spread of the virus at Nigeria’s seaport and protecting the health of the port users and operators.

Aniezechukwu also posited that adherence would enhance the gain made so far from the ongoing port operation.

Going by the reports and the seriousness of COVID-19 rampage, the NSC intervention cannot be better timed and to a very large extent, would go a long way in containing the spread of Covid-19 pandemic in the nation ports especially, if those staff posted to enforce compliance do not compromise.

Editing by ‘Biodun Soyele

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