Six years into the implementation of the seaports concession scheme of the federal government under which the terminals were ceded to the private sector, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) can be said to have undoubtedly played a crucial role at ensuring the success of the programme.
Little wonder that experts have adjudged the port concession scheme, which is a fall-out of the comprehensive reforms of the NPA as one of the most successful of such exercises that have been undertaken in various sectors of the economy.
This is because the concession has to a very large extent fulfil the purposes for which it has been undertaken and as such modernise the nation’s ports , make them to be more effective and efficient as well as on the way to positioning the country as hub for other nations in west and central Africa.
Though, the programme which culminated in the appointment of some companies as concessionaires from 2006 was midwifed by the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) on behalf of the government, it is actually the NPA through its past and current managements that has mostly been responsible for the various inputs that have ensured that it achieved the desired result.
Thus the due diligence carried out by the BPE and the NPA led to the emergence of the companies which became concessionaires in all the seaports owned by the federal government and which are under the NPA.
The concession had to be undertaken to ensure that the ports are efficient, that is capable of satisfying the needs of the port users which is for them to take delivery of their goods as safe and prompt as possible while it is also to reduce the cost of clearing goods at the ports to the barest minimum.
The essence of the concession was also to enable government attract private investors funds to the port industry and as such allow government to have money to invest in other areas of the economy.
The concessionaires were expected to develop the terminals, provide cargo handling equipment, handle the vessels and provide cargoes to the consignees after the release by the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS).
On the other hand, NPA is expected to provide major port infrastructure, marine services, undertake the development and maintenance of the quay walls, that is the area of interaction between the vessels and th eport facilities as well as make the water ways navigable.
The authority is also to provide towage and pilotage services as well as common user facilities.
Thus the extent to which the terminal operators have carried out their functions while the NPA has effectively discharged its own responsibilities in terms of its services as well as performed its regulatory and landlord roles have led to the success of the port.
This is why there have been gradual improvement in terms of volume of goods shipped into the country as well as increase in productivity of the concessionaires at the seaports.
According to the NPA Managing Director, Engineer Omar Suleiman, one of the successes of the port concessioning programme is that the NPA started it and midwived the scheme.’ It was the NPA that cried to the government that the way of doing business at the ports has to change because we no longer like it. The programme has yielded a lot of dividends’, he stated adding that the concession has implemented so far has done so well for Nigeria.
Perhaps to lend credence to the assertion of the NPA MD, the consensus in the maritime sector is that the volume of goods coming into the country has increased; the turn around time of vessels which used to be 30 days is now one or two days while cargo dwell time has reduced massively but can still be improved upon.
Also, the way and manner the past managements of the NPA at the most highest level have effectively discharged the regulatory and landlord functions of the NPA has to a large extent been responsible for the success of the concession . However, the NPA had to first reformed itself internally in preparation for the take off of the programme. Thus labour issues were settled, and leakages in revenue generation plugged.
But post concession, however, the current managing director has sustained the success as well as moved to improve on it through the landmark restructuring he has embarked upon to consolidate the gains of concession as well as reposition the nation’s seaports.
The President of the National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Mr Lucky Amiwero and the chairman of the Tin Can Island Chapter of the Association, Chief Victor Ozigbo agreed that the reforms have modernised and improved port operations and that the NPA has played a significant role in the success that has been achieved so far with the concession scheme.
At most of the terminals, ships no longer have to wait at anchorage or queue for between two and three weeks before they can enter the ports but they now move to berths almost immediately.
Ship turn around time
Also average berth occupancy rate has improved markedly since the kick off of the concession Statistics indicate that in most of the terminals especially those at Lagos Port Harcourt, Onne and Calabar ports ship turn around time has witnessed tremendous improvement.
Pre- concession, it takes about three weeks to one month for ships to finish discharging their cargoes at the ports but this in most of the terminals have reduced to about four to five days.
This has largely been made possible by NPA’s monitoring role and its insistence that the terminal operators must adhere strictly to the provisions of the agreement which they signed with the federal government on the development of the ports.
While the cost of doing business at the ports has not been totally brought down, the various measures that have been put in place by the federal government and the NPA have nonetheless made the Lagos Ports better places for doing business.
Security and Safety
The fact that NPA has also made sure that the concessionaires invested in modern day security technology, ranging from close circuit television (CCTV), personnel intruder security system and the construction of a security command centre in their terminals has guaranteed the safety that ships, crew and goods have enjoyed at the ports.
The vehicle and personnel screening procedures which the NPA has put in place at the gate of every port coupled with the various security measures of the concessionaires have also contributed to the security and safety at the Lagos ports.
As part of its marine functions and to ensure the success of the port concession NPA has consistently deepened the channels of the Lagos channels and those of other ports in the country which can hardly take ships of up to nine metres before the concession. This is in fulfilment of its maintenance and capital dredging responsibility.
The dredging of Calabar Port, Warri and Escravos is in the process. Also Calabar and Warri Channels buoys are being marked.
Also, through constant dredging of the draught, the channel at the APMT and the Apapa Bulk Terminal Limited (ABTL), Apapa, Lagos can now accommodate vessels up to 13. 5metres .Pre concession, the draft was about 10 metres at Onne and 7.5 metres in Port Harcourt.
Before, vessels that visited the ports cannot carry more than 1,000 twenty – foot equivalent units (TEUs) of containers or even up to220 meters in length but it is a credit to the managing director and the NPA that Maersk Nigeria Limited in the history of the nation’s maritime recently brought into Apapa Port, a vessel it named Maersk Calabar vessel with 4, 500 containers.
As at the last count, NPA has removed at least 95 per cent of wrecks along the Lagos Channel. According to its General Manager, Chief Micheal Ajayi, the authority has removed 21 wrecks out of the 24 identified wrecks along the channel.
This has not only made the waters of the Lagos Ports to be navigable all the year round, it has also paved way for more ships to now patronise the nation’s seaports, leading to an increase in the volume of cargoes that are now imported into the country and thus a rise in the revenue of NPA.
While the investments made by the concessionaires have varied according to the type of cargoes they handle, but they have all in different ways invested massively in their operations .This is because in varying degrees, all the concessionaires operating at the ports have upgraded the facilities they met at inception, courtesy of the technical regulator function of the NPA.
For example, APM Terminals, which is Nigeria’s biggest terminal operator, has invested over USD 180 million over the past five years in upgrading facilities in the Apapa port terminal while it has budgeted about $ 60 million dollars for fresh investment in the terminal this year.
It should be noted that ABTL has also invested massively in its terminals from the inception of the concession when it demolished all the sheds it met there, built modern warehouses, and purchased modern day silos and other sophisticated equipment as well as put in place other infrastructure.
The investment includes the acquisition and installation of IT infrastructure, training in handling the newly acquired modern cargo handling equipment, and the construction of a modern facility.
These investments which have led to the upgrading of their terminals have also comprised the purchase of sophisticated cargo handling equipment, such as container handlers, ship to shore cranes, mobile cranes, acquisition of skilled workforce, capacity building, information computer technology and other infrastructure.
The ABTL’s MD, Captain Omatayo disclosed that concession has sanitised and added immense value to the ports, the maritime industry and the economy adding that the NPA through the performance of its landlord and technical regulatory functions has however contributed to the success of the scheme.
Positive spill over effect
By now, all the concessionaires have constructed befitting offices and warehouses for the Nigerian customs service while some of them like APTML have gone further by establishing cybercafés at the Apapa Port for the purpose of Direct Trade Input (DTI) use by customs agents for import duty payment.
However, the beauty of the concession and the positive role that has been played in its success by the NPA is that it has elicited strings of reforms by the customs that have also led towards the realisation of the 48hours good clearance at the ports.
Apart from the destination inspection (DI) of goods that has gained ground, the customs has also moved from the automated system for customs data (ASYCUDA+) to the ASYCUDA++ which has now resulted to the adoption of the simple clearance procedure and the upfront payment for goods at the ports.
24 hours Operations
As part of measures to further improve on the level of cargo dwell time at the ports and as such enhance the success of the port concession, the NPA has taken the lead in 24 hours operations as it drags the other security agencies at the ports along with it.
It has now ordered and would soon take delivery of pilot cutters and other marine facilities which will ensure the success of this scheme apart from the fact that it has already put some facilities in place at the ports for the purpose. The common user areas within and outside the Lagos ports and others in the western ports are now well lit to facilitate clearing of goods and vehicular traffic at night.
Increase in cargo volume
Volume of cargoes handled by the concessionaires have indeed risen markedly following the efficiency the scheme has brought about and for the fact that the concessionaires have strived to meet the target in the volume of goods given them under the lease agreement they signed with the federal government on the scheme.
As at 2011 the cargo throughput handled in the Nigerian Ports which was less than two million metric tonnes pre concession in 2006increased to 82,763,384 metric tonnes. This is a testimony to the effectiveness of the marine functions of the NPA and the fact that it has doggedly executed its technical and landlord regulatory role to wards the concessionaires.
Due to the marked increase in the volume of goods which the concession has brought about due to the effective supervision of the concessionaires by the NPA and the through performance of its dredging, facility maintenance and wreck removal functions, the authority under Suleiman is moving further to build two new deep seaports.
One is to be commenced soon at Ibaka, in Akwa Ibom States and the other which is already ongoing at Lekki, in Epe , Lagos State to ensure that the nation’s ports have additional capacity to accommodate the increased in the volume of goods coming into the country due to the success of concession.
Reduction of Security Agencies
To further remove part of the bottlenecks to the overall success of the concession, the NPA has been appointed to supervise the effectiveness of the streamlining of the number of agencies that have been operating at the ports .The authority is now to ensure that only the eight agencies authorise to function permanently at the ports do so while it is to keep the 10 banned one in check.
Security and Safety
Also due to the security provided by both the NPA at the ports’ gates and the concessionaires at their terminals, incidents of pilferage of containers and stealing of other goods has become almost non existence at the Lagos ports.
The fact that NPA through the Western Ports have also made sure that the concessionaires invested in modern day security technology, ranging from close circuit television (CCTV) , personnel intruder security system and the construction of a security command centre in their terminals has guaranteed the safety that ships, crew and goods have enjoyed at the ports.
The vehicle and personnel screening procedures which the Western Ports has put in place at the gate of every port coupled with the various security measures of the concessionaires have also contributed to security and safety at the Lagos ports.
Thus going by the roles that have been played by the NPA in the scheme, the port concession which enters its sixth year this month can be said to have succeeded in bringing about improved services as well as attracted investments into the nation’s seaports.
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