Nigerian ports, cargo clearance, and 79 signatories

The Ports Reforms Programme of the Federal Government, which was initiated by the administration of then President Olusegun Obasanjo, is an unfolding experiment. And as such go, the programme, thus far, has recorded its landmarks and challenges.
Reforms aim at sanitising existing systems, and the Ports Reform Programme is no different in its intendment.
A key component of the Nigerian Ports Reform Programme that has been actualised is the concession, under varying lease durations, of seaports terminals to private operators. Thus, under the prevailing landlord model, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) has been divested of the management of terminals and cargo handling operations. Consequently, the NPA retains responsibilities for marine operations and other common-user facilities.
Even the most trenchant critics of the Ports Reform Programme are agreed that, overall, private terminal operators have added great value to the system by enhancing operations at the terminals, thus contributing to the tremendous boost in ship traffic and cargo throughput Nigerian ports are recording.

Unfortunately, however, the good tidings delivered by the Ports Reform Programme have been tainted by the fact that the cost of doing business at Nigerian seaports has remained high seven years after the programme, owing to corrupt tendencies in the system that are promoted by the uncomplimentary roles of officials of government agencies.
A Corruption Risk Assessment (CRA) Report released by a consortium, comprising the IndependentCorrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), the Technical Unit on Governance and Anti-Corruption (TUGAR), and the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP), with the support of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on Nigerian ports, has revealed that an importer or agent will require a minimum of 79 signatures of government officials to clear his/her goods at the gateways to the nation’s economy.
This shocking revelation came to the fore recently when the ICPC, TUGAR and the BPP met with maritime industry stakeholders in Apapa, Lagos, to validate the CRA Rreport. One of the consultants to the CRA Study, who did the presentation of the report to stakeholders at the validation meeting, Constantine Palicarsky, also identified lack of standard operation procedure by government agencies as a major hindrance to ports operations, thus giving rise to corruption in the system.

“It takes 79 signatures to process a cargo in some ports, while, in other ports, it takes up to 100 signatures. This shows that the process is not harmonised, giving rise to corruption,” Palicarsky said. Identifing rationalisation as one of the reasons why corruption persists at the ports, saying that people rationalise corrupt practices, giving excuses why they should not be held culpable, he added: “If we cannot address rationalization, we cannot address corruption.”
Palicarsky also identified ineffective administrative practices and weak institutions as major causes of corruption in the nation’s ports. Other causes of corruption in the system, according to the report, include: widespread poverty, with over 70 per cent of Nigerians living below poverty line, serious security problems and lack of independent institution where corruption occurring in the ports can be reported. The report also identified huge discretionary powers enjoyed and exercised by officials of government agencies as a major source of corrupt practices at the ports. Palicarsky noted that the CRA findings confirmed that government officials in the ports not only enjoy huge discretionary powers, but are also able to delay indefinitely the required signing of documents without consequence.
The ICPC Chairman, Mr. Ekpo Nta, in his address at the event, said that the effort of the Commission aimed at battling corruption at the nation’s seaports should not be misconstrued for a scheme to join the multitude of government agencies constituting nuisance in the cargo clearance process. He said that the validation meeting was aimed at bringing together stakeholders and ports operators to make input and validate the findings of the assessment report conducted by the three bodies. The ICPC boss also told his audience that the Commission has been empowered to seize property acquired through ill-gotten wealth. He said that such property would be seized by issuing a gazette notice demanding the source of income from the owners.
The CRA, conducted in six major Nigerian ports, including the Lagos Port Complex (LPC), Tin-Can Island Port, Port-Harcourt Port, Onne Port, Warri Port and Calabar Port, is a prevention tool, which nterrogates processes and procedures in a given system as well as identify areas which are vulnerable to corruption with a view to providing recommendations. The ICPC boss said that the Maritime Anti-Corruption Network (MACN) had identified Nigeria as one of the countries with corruption-prone systems in the ports sector. This, he said, led to the selection of Nigerian ports for a pilot CRA.
We do not doubt the doubt the veracity of the CRA Report, going by the largely-credible standing of the partner-institutions that commissioned the study, human foibles aside.
We, therefore, urge the Federal Government to summon the much-needed political will to rationalise the overwhelming numbers of its agencies at the ports. “Too many cooks,” it is said, “spoil the broth.” The excessive number of government agencies at the ports, and participating in the cargo clearance processes, constitute great disservice to genuine business transactions at these facilities.
We appeal to President Goodluck Jonathan to really help the ports shed the excess baggage that multifarious government agencies constitute at these facilities.

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