In my own opinion, the issue of multiple government agencies in the port has been an ongoing issue that we as individuals have called on the various agencies and the ministries concerned about the impact these various agencies have on the livelihood of people doing businesses in the port. When you have to go through Quarantine Service, you go through the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), and what is the difference between these two? You have all kinds of funny agencies. Now you have NDLEA in the port. They have moved their office from where it was in Abuja to the port and they are taking all forms of charges which are impactful on businesses at the port. I think the government should stand up to its responsibility through its ministries either Labour or Transportation and ensure that the number of government parastatals in the port is streamlined as minimal as possible. If possible, we can have just two or three. Customs is inevitable so they should be there. Likewise SON. But I don’t know what the other ones are doing. They are just causing unnecessary friction and inflicting the cost of doing business in the port. So it still rests on the government, the presidency and the ministries to stand and stop playing politics with business at the port.
Before we start to talk about the multiplicity of government agencies at the port, we need to understand port operations. It is port operations that led to having multiple government agencies at the port? Why do we have a port? Ports are the transit areas where goods and services are transported within the waters of a country, for instance, import and export. Imports are needed because they are required for our industries, for consumers, and for commercial purposes. These are goods or products that we use daily. When you look at the imported goods coming into the country, they are things that have to do with regulations by several agencies. Let me start with automobiles. We have an automotive council. They have to look at what comes into the country whether they are standard or substandard. Let us take a look at the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) who also sets standards for multiple reasons beyond automobiles. They look at the quality of cables imported. They look at batteries, generators and so many things that are manufactured outside the country. So, that is key because we are paying foreign currency for these imported goods. So, there must be a regulatory agency that looks at the standard whether it conforms with the quality of international standards. Let us look at the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) who examines food and drinks that come into the country. What I am trying to illustrate is by highlighting the functions of all the agencies at the port. So, at what time should there be an interface? Is it within the port? Or when they are already out of the port? That is the question we need to ask ourselves before we start to say multiple agencies. Where should they regulate these products? And another thing is to look at the Act that set them up. They didn’t just come to the port; they didn’t just come to being. There is an Act of parliament that set them up; that gave them those functions. Are we ready to ask where are they supposed to be interfacing with the goods that are coming in before we begin to blame them?
Also, we look at the possibilities that they can function without losing the mandate they have. If the goods are out of the port, how do they now run after tramadol or run after substandard cables in the street of Osogbo or Zaria? So, basically, there must be an interface position between the regulator and the importers. So, my take is: let us establish an interface whenever you want. Whether you want it in the port or the house, or in the warehouse. Where would there be effective regulation? This is the major question we should ask ourselves. So when you talk about the multiplicity of agencies at the port, what is their mandate? If the mandate requires them to go and sleep in their offices, they would go and sit there and one million tonnes of tramadol would come in and you’ll now say Customs is not doing its work very well. NAFDAC is not doing its job. So before people start making comments, they have to understand the act that established these agencies.
Well, my perspective is that the more we have multiple agencies at the port, the more clearing of goods becomes a problem. This is because every agency would want to show that they are there. It makes activities in the port to be more complex. So, the earlier the Federal Government reduces the number of agencies at the port, the better. Rather, they can make use of the Single Window. Though the lead agency at the port in terms of clearing of goods is customs. So, every other agency rides on the back of customs. If you look at the access roads at the port, you’ll meet many checking points, which have become toll collectors. And if we say we are running an automated system, what is the meaning of all those checkpoints on the road, littering the road, constituting nuisances? So, some agencies are adding to the burden of the cost of doing business at the port and the consumers are always at the receiving end because every dime paid at the port by the importer would definitely reflect how he sells the imported products at the market. So, the government should, with a sense of urgency, cut down the number of agencies at the port to lessen unnecessary payment of duties.
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