Finding solutions to regular trade hiccups

A stakeholders’ workshop organised by the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Mines, and Agriculture(NACCIMA) earlier this month, had its focus, as was reflected in the theme ‘`Unlocking Shipping Gridlock at the Ports: Stakeholders’ Initiative’, on ways of  easing gridlock at the ports.

Undoubtedly, it was a mind-rubbing session among various stakeholders on ways that would improve trade ultimately. While it is applauding that such session hold and should continue to hold, it is also very important that the sessions result in positive impacts to serve as stepping stones for a next level of deliberations; for assessments and projections.

The issue of congestion at the ports has always posed a challenge to smooth trade operations in totality. It would have been thought that after at least five years of the concession regime, significant change should have been established.

Of course, concessionaires have invested at the ports, which is only normal, bearing the fact that there should be some standard in place for them to operate and make returns for their investments. But the crux of the matter is, challenges that are begging for attention need to be taken in like manner, to help the industry move ahead.

It could be recalled that during the NACCIMA- organised workshop, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) shared the ‘good news’ that while the ports handled a total of 80 million cargoes last year alone, it had so far handled 36 million cargoes this year.

The NPA however noted that the volume of cargoes handled at the ports was becoming too cumbersome for the available facilities meant for running the port operations; noting that  facilities had become insufficient for the volume of activities taking place.

While it may be reasoned as only logical that facilities be upgraded or expanded to measure up with the growing needs of port operations, it is not out to place to imagine how industry key players; the port owners, regulators and service providers want the Nigeria port operations to compete favourably with ports of neighbouring countries.

It is the responsibility of the key players to always stitch each service in port operation into the overall fabric, so that there are no loose ends that continue to hold the industry back.

As was noted also at the workshop, adequate attention had not been given to the modus operandi of the haulage companies operating within the ports, which operations are vital in the chain, to achieve a complete shipping service provision for consignments to arrive at their final destinations.

However, at various occasions of key maritime events, government regulatory agencies under the Ministry of Transport have talked so much about plans to sanitise the operations of the haulage companies, but at every new meeting, the situation remains the same.

If something meaningful had been started at least in the last one year, there would have been some changes. It was not surprising therefore that part of the causes of the gridlock at the ports was blamed on a short supply of haulage service providers.

They also did not leave out the ‘old story’ of truck drivers’ negative attitude of turning the roads into parks and not conforming to regulations. But they forgot to mention that bureaucracy was not allowing the trailer park project to move on and be completed, let alone making time to check the operations of unregistered haulage companies.

The organised body of the haulage companies, the Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO) has, however, through its chairman, Chief Remi Ogungbemi, cried out that AMATO was working in a very hostile environment with no holding bays, multiple levies from federal, state and local government agencies.

Stating the obvious, the solution lies in building truck holding bays, improving cargo clearance process, which involves the Nigeria Customs Service, importers and their agents, and working policies that are friendly to the local environment.