NPA: Bello-Koko Moves To Evacuate OverTime Cargoes In Nigerian Ports

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.

Overtime Containerised Cargoes In The Lagos Port Of Apapa

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. 

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