The House of Representatives Committee on Customs yesterday tackled the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and other agencies over congestion of ports across the country, which is frustrating the ease of doing business.
This is just as the NPA has accused police and naval officers of being responsible for the persistent gridlock at the port access road at Apapa, Lagos, due to multiple checkpoints they set up to extort motorists.
The lawmakers, at an interactive session aimed at proffering solutions to the traffic congestions within the ports and make them economically competitive, said the country could no longer wait to address the issues.
Chairman of the House Committee on Customs, Leke Abejide, listing various issues facing the ports, decried the long cargo clearing processes at the ports, saying the faster the Customs processes, the more revenue they would generate for the nation and the agency.
He said, “Bonded containers that are supposed to be dropped at sea side by the shipping lines are not being allocated to another bonded terminals together with other containers for the said bonded terminals to take the whole vessel loads to its terminal first on the cost of the importers before the bonded terminal which is the final destination pick the container to their terminal.
“Apart from the cost which is abnormal and triple, there is time consumption which lead to delays make nonsense of the federal government’s policy of ease of doing business.
“Shippers’ Council in today’s meeting should tell us what it is doing to monitor the excesses of all the shipping lines in trying to kill the export business by leaving containers at the ports.”
In his presentation, the acting Managing Director of NPA, Mohammed Bello Koko, while highlighting some of the challenges faced by the agency, alleged that the police and other security agents were fronting some area boys who extort motorists on their behalf.
He said, “There’s the issue of extortion, there are multiple checkpoints at the ports extorting people. And these checkpoints are manned by police officers.
“At times you find men in naval or military uniform, extorting vehicles illegally and Lagos state government has been very cooperative in terms of enforcement of the SOP as it relates to the truck call up system.
“We held a meeting recently with Federal Road Safety Commission, LASTMA and other officers in the police force, and we decided that let them identify checkpoints and the essence of the checkpoints is let it not interfere with traffic.
“The essence of the check point is to verify that these trucks are allowed to come in.”
When asked to adopt automated terminal delivery where anyone without a ticket cannot come in or have their trucks impounded, Koko alleged that the people to implement same were the ones involved in extortion.
He also said currently there are over 5,000 old containers taking up space in the ports. According to him, the Customs has not auctioned any containers in recent times, thus creating a huge space challenge at the port.
Koko further said all the ports across the country are working though those outside Lagos face certain limitations.
“All the ports are working, but the eastern ports have geographical limitations. They have the longest channels that exist in Nigeria because they are near the ocean. So, because of that location and the insecurity in that area, it makes it difficult for shipping companies to use those ports.
“We have also given concessions to shipping companies and we are hoping that it will encourage more activities in those ports. We are encouraging the use of flat vessels in those areas but the NPA cannot determine for importer where to take his cargo.
“Studies have shown that between 60 to 70 percent of cargoes imported is used in the southern part of the country. So, you don’t expect an importer who wants to use his raw materials in a factory in Lagos or Ibadan to take his cargoes to the eastern part of the country,” he said.
Chairman of the House Committee on Customs, Leke Abejide, gave the Nigeria Customs Service two weeks to reduce its long cargo clearing stages from 18 to four so as to decongest ports.