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Who should  regulate barge operations?

Chinazor Megbolu   |   
On September 15, 2020, the Federal and Lagos State Governments announced the stoppage of all barge operations along the Marina coastline.
The Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) was directed by the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi,  to revoke approvals for barge operations granted some companies, which have desecrated the once beautiful and peaceful Marina coastline.
The Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, and the Minister for Transportation, Hon. Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, both declared the stop-work order while on an unscheduled visit to inspect activities around the Marina coastline.
During the inspection, they saw a long row of trucks and containers that have constituted health and security hazards on the Marina.
They felt the activities are devastation of the coastline that used to be the pride of the state, attracting a crowd of visitors on a daily basis.
 Amaechi in his remarks said was of an urgent need to sanitise the entire Marina coastline and restore its tranquillity and beauty, thereby ordering that trucks should stop coming to Marina to load.
The Federal Minister also said that the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) did not permit anyone to carry out barging operations.
Amaechi, however, insisted that all such activities must stop with immediate effect.
According to Amaechi; “the Federal Ministry of Transport has agreed with Lagos State Government to ensure that whoever is making use of Marina coastline should stop.
“We have agreed with Commissioner of Police to stop those using the roads and we have agreed with NPA to cancel all barge permits pending when each person will come back to NPA, NIWA and Lagos State Government to renew such approval’’.
On his own part, Sanwo-Olu directed the Lagos State Commissioner of Police in the State to arrest and prosecute anyone who flouts the order to stop unauthorised activities on the Marina as the State government would do everything to bring sanity to the coastline.
To the Governor: “We are also talking to the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing because we understand that some of the approvals were from the Federal Ministry of Works. So, we are also taking up that responsibility and we would do what we need do”.
With both the Federal and State Governments order putting a stop to illegal activities along Marina coastlines, one wonders who the regulator is.
Recall that vessels congestion got worse when the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) halted barge operations. During the period, operators and stakeholders frowned at the move because there were indications that vessel congestions will worsen at the Lagos seaports as the NCS placed ban on the usage of barges to convey containers in and out of the ports.
However, the adoption of barges as evacuation model was earlier introduced by the NPA in order to reduce congestion at the ports, which was to curb congestion on the port access roads and it seemed to have paid off not until the NCS banned barges operations.
 A case of federal government agency countering its counterpart moves.
Meanwhile, the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) in a statement signed by its President, Hon. Iju Tony Nwabunike had described the ban as “a trade frustrating and wicked policy”.
He also called on the NCS boss to address the matter through consultation and dialogue with stakeholders rather than a blanket ban.
The bottom line is that it was later lifted.
Despite, the stoppage, the nefarious acts of barge operations continued under the watchful eyes NPA until the intervention of the Federal Government and Lagos State through Amaechi and Sanwo-Olu.
According to a stakeholder, Mr. Chidi Anthony Opara during a chat; “I am not conversant with current barge operations, but it is obvious that NPA has not been living up to its responsibilities as a regulator,  mainly because of the fact that those it is supposed to be regulating are more powerful than Nigeria.
“That is a very decisive factor. In Nigeria, laws are made for the weak, not for the strong and powerful”.
He maintained that the commercial concerns of NPA is supposed to be regulating and connections up to the topmost echelon of officialdom, stating that they do ignore directives from the regulator.
“In this situation,  there is nothing the regulator can do in terms of enforcement, if you touch them,  they run to their friends in government for protection, which is usually given,” Opara said.
Moreover, he posited that most regulatory officials in Nigeria are not fully aware of what regulation entails.
Some other stakeholders have frowned at the stoppage of the barge operations, stressing that timing is absolutely wrong.
They stated that such move would lead to a continuous increase in port congestion.
To a truck owner, Mr. Emmanuel Chibuzor, “banning barge operations would amount to rise in congestion at the ports. The operators were working based on what they saw on ground, which has led to some form of succour”.
He argued that if their licenses were revoked, it shows the government is making the whole thing worse, saying the cost of barging containers is an additional burden to both agents and importers.
According to him; “their charges are very expensive, they are not being regulated, and the stakeholders are not being carried along by the NPA in decision making”.
The NPA has to live up to its billing by regulating the operation of the barges operators.

© 2020, maritimemag. All rights reserved.

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