By Stephen Ubanna
For much of last year and now, there have been pressure On Mohammed Bello-Koko, Managing Director, Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, by operators at the Lagos ports of Apapa, Tincan Island, port Terminal Multi-services Limited, PTML and Kirikiri Lighter Terminal phases I and II, including the south eastern ports of Onne, Rivers, Warri and Calabar, to evacuate the overtime cargoes that litter the ports.
This is because Nigeria appear to be losing imported cargoes to the neighbouring West African countries of Ghana, Togo and Benin Republic. Many believe that the lackadaisical attitude of Hajia Hadiza Bala-Usman, the immediate past Chief Executive Officers, CEO, of NPA, and now Special Adviser to President Ahmed Bola Tinubu, who incidentally was a former governor of Lagos state on Policy Coordination to evacuate the overtime cargoes may have given room to the aggrieved Nigerian importers to relocate to the neighbouring West African ports to take delivery of their cargoes.
. Given that there is no substantive minister of Transportation for now as the Lagos state born Nigerian President is yet to constitute his Cabinet may have encouraged Magdalene Ajani, the ministry’s Permanent Secretary, described as an’’ iron woman’’ in maritime circles to take the bull by the horn to address the Nigeria ports space constraints.
She may have known that the ministry and NPA personnel would not embark on the process of the evacuation of the overtime cargoes alone that she has engaged other agencies for the exercise. This is evident as she was said to have led an inter-agency team comprising of NPA, Nigeria Customs service, NCS, under the close watch of Wale Adeniyi, and the Nigerian Shippers Council, NSC, on a fact finding mission to ascertain the exact quantities of overtime cargoes that litter the ports and for immediate action to be taken to evacuate the cargoes.
The Federal ministry of Transportation Permanent Secretary was said to have made it clear to those that cares to listen on June 23, 2023, that ‘’the evacuation exercise will pave way for efficient port operations in Nigeria’’ and encourage more shipping companies to carry more Nigeria bound cargoes that will be discharged at the ports.
There are reports making the rounds that over 3,200 Units of overtime vehicles, and an additional 3,295 Containerised cargoes litter the Lagos port of Apapa, Tincan Island , and the Ikorodu Lighter Terminal, IKLT, while at the south eastern ports of Onne, Rivers, Warri, Delta and Calabar, have a combined total of 956 Units, of overtime cargoes occupying space in the ports.
The overtime cargoes were said to have been abandoned by the importers and Consignees after the Consignments were detained at the ports by the NCS, over alleged infraction to the government fiscal policies. Beyond infraction of government Fiscal policies, high import duties, outrageous demur rage, tariffs, surcharges and unfavourable clearing conditions and government policies, was said to have contributed to the rising number of abandoned overtime cargoes in the Nigerian ports.
Going by the Customs and Excise Management Act, CEMA, Cap 2004, a detained cargo is classified as overtime ‘’if the importer fails to clear and take delivery of the Consignment after 28 days in the port’’.
There is no gain saying the fact that this awkward situation over the last eight years apart from constraining the terminal operators by creating spaces for new arrival of cargoes laden in the multi-national shipping companies vessels and other Chartered vessels for seamless cargo handling operations in the ports.
Note that the CEMA, which has been amended and signed into Law by former President Muhammadu Buhari, , allows the service to auction such overtime cargoes after 90 days of arrival at the port but Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and the immediate past Comptroller General of the NCS, failed to do so.
The Value News findings shows that most of the overtime cargoes have spent between three to four years at the port, awaiting to be evacuated by the relevant agencies. Maritime analyst believe that this has contributed to the deterioration of the country’s port infrastructure which are designed as transit locations as opposed to holding dead weight tonnages which these age long overtime cargoes now constitute in the ports.
Eyewitness account disclosed that following the successful inspection tour of the Nigerian ports by Mrs.Ajani and her team on Friday , June 23, 2023 and Saturday, June 24, 2023, an all-stakeholder sensitization meeting was held in Lagos involving Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, National Association of Government Approved Agents, NAGAFF, National Council of Managing Directors of Lincensed Customs Agents , NCMDLCA, and other Freight Forwarders and clearing Agents including Haulage Associations . Also at the meeting organised by NPA, in Lagos, on Monday, June 26, 2023, were the Concessionaires and officials of the shipping Lines operating in Nigeria.
The meeting was said to have been well-attended by the stakeholders where it was unanimously agreed that ‘’all overtime vehicles and Containerised cargoes that litter the ports should be auctioned ‘’in situ’’, in their current locations by the NCS, which is saddled with the responsibility to auction such overtime cargoes because of their expertise and the items removed immediately from the ports by the beneficiaries.
Perhaps, to ensure transparency and inclusiveness in the auction process, the modalities that would govern the auction process, according to informed sources are being finalized by the stakeholders and would be released after a similar sensitization meeting with stakeholders are held in the south eastern ports of Onne, Rivers, Warri and Calabar.
Until Mrs. Ajani, the Federal ministry Of Transportation Permanent Secretary took the bold initiative to start the process for the evacuation of overtime cargoes at the Nigerian ports, Bello-Koko, Managing Director , NPA , at several fora between 2021 and now, had sought the Cooperation of the NCS, to ensure speedy removal of the overtime cargoes that litter everywhere at the nation’s seaports to free more up space and preserve the durability of the multi-million dollar, ports infrastructure but that was how far he could go.
Let us hope that Adeniyi, the incumbent Comptroller General of Customs, would cooperate with the Bello-Koko, led NPA, to facilitate the process for the evacuation of the overtime cargoes that litter the nation’s ports without further delay.