On the eve of the 10th anniversary of the implementation of the International Ships & Ports Facility Security Code (ISPS Code), former Assistant General Manager, Security of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and Chairman of the Port Facility Security Officers (PFSO) Forum, Major Henry Ajetunmobi (rtd), says Nigeria has not fared badly in the ISPS Code implementation even though the country needs to do more to attain higher safety standards at the ports.
10 years into ISPS Code implementation in Nigeria, are we where we should be?
I doubt very much if we are there. I think it will be very dangerous to go into that kind of complacency that we are there or have fully complied with ISPS code. But I can say that we have moved on, we are not where we started from, we have left Egypt but Canaan is still very far ahead.
As a maritime nation, we signed as a member of the International Maritime Organization (1MO) to comply with all the rules, regulations and conventions of the ISPS Code which itself is an aspect of Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention. Everything came into being because of the threat to the maritime sector across the whole world. And that threat became so prominent with the September 11 attack which we all are very much aware of and that gave birth to the ISPS Code. We have an international obligation to put in certain measures that will upgrade the security of not only ships in our ports but of our port terminals. This is an ongoing effort because the nature of the threat when we started in 2004 has changed. We have recorded some milestones, but there are still fresh challenges ahead. Terrorism is not confided to the maritime sector of the economy, it has become a major life issue in national discourse. For us in the maritime sector, we are challenged that the bad guys are innovating so we must innovate our security measures. ISPS code really challenges us to continue to evaluate, review and assess the threat profile in our immediate environment and this we must do otherwise we will be left behind. The rest of the maritime world realizes that there is never a question of saying that you are satisfied with the milestone you have recorded, you have to move on. The whole world is being challenged to come with preventive rather than reactive measures and if we must say, security has become the fastest growing industry in the world. We are not there because the challenges of port reforms are very comprehensive. It is not something you do sectorally, yes the terminal operators may be doing quite a lot, the port authorities which are the technical regulators of the port system may be doing well but there are still so many sectors that we have to wake up to and improve.
How would you assess the level of security within the port environment?
If we are talking about the immediate port environment, we know for a fact that the town has taken over the port. The town has become right in the center of the township and that poses different challenges. Challenges of access control, challenges of port access road maintenance, traffic congestion and dilapidated infrastructure. These are problems that all together put pressure on whatever security measures that the authorities may want to put in place. We also have to deal with the larger public. What is the level of security awareness among the populace especially about the port community? We are so lackadaisical in our attitude to security, we can’t continue like this.
The US Coast Guard recently confirmed that some Nigerian ports are now ISPS Code compliant. Do you think this status can be sustained?
Let me correct an impression, certificate of compliance issued to any terminal is at that point in time, it does not last forever. Even the ones that are certified compliant have a challenge to keep improving upon it and it is also a challenge to those that are declared non-compliant that they too now have a model to set their own standards by. They too now have to struggle and strive to make sure that they are compliant.
Do you think Nigeria deserves the US sanction over the ISPS code implementation?
I would say no that we do not deserve the sanction. What Nigeria needs is encouragement and a reminder of the areas where it is lagging behind and be challenged to improve upon these areas.
What is the way forward?
The way forward all of us must know and accept is that there is a problem and that security has become something so important that we cannot afford to leave to only the professionals anymore. Everybody should be involved.