Why port agencies should collaborate for maximum effect

One of the glaring featuresof operating structures in third world countries is that rather than work together, people see themselves as competitors. At the end, less is achieved than when forces are pooled together. The advanced countries have gone far because they preach collaboration instead of competition.

In today’s world, collaboration in the workplace is nothing new. However, it is becoming increasingly important in the modern world as we become more connected around the globe. Cloud computing and faster internet connections has given rise to tools enabling employees to collaborate effectively, producing a more educated, skilled and engaged workforce.

When working on a project, an individual often needs the input of other employees. By collaborating with different departments or even different offices, skills can be pooled to make the project more successful than it might otherwise be.

Collaboration not only equals a happier workforce, it represents an educated one. A collaborative workplace naturally cultivates a sense of community within an organization, with employees feeling almost like they are a part of a family. This compels them to go beyond the expectations of their role, absorbing as much organisational knowledge as possible and driving the business forward with informed and sound decisions.

As this plays out in the life of an individual in a workplace, same goes for an organisation within a community with other organisations trying to achieve same goal. This is why the call by some stakeholders and well-meaning Nigerians for synergy among the agencies at the port should be given a chance.

Research shows that developed nations have learnt to attract more investments by getting its critical agencies to collaborate rather than compete in matters of national interest.

Stakeholders thinkthat agencieslike the Nigerian Port Authority (NPA), Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency(NIMASA), Nigeria Shippers Council (NSC), Nigerian Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) should be rallying forces at this time to bring Nigeria out of economic recession.

The call for collaboration began when some well-meaning Nigerians discovered bitter rivalry among some of these agencies including tribal politics to de-market the other. There is also this uncoordinated regulatory framework and interagency rivalry among the very groups and some have even called for the passing into lawof the National Transport Commission Bill in order to address the conflicts of interests.

A Maritime Lawyer recently bemoaned the uncoordinated regulatory framework and interagency rivalry among Federal Government agencies in the maritime sector. The Lawyer who craved anonymity however asked the National Assembly to urgently pass into law the National Transport Commission Bill in order to address the conflict of interests in the Maritime industry.

According to the Lawyer, various agencies of government within the country’s Transport Ministry have a lot of haphazard uncoordinated activities.

He said, “For instance, between the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency and the Nigerian Ports Authority, there are conflicts of interest over wreck removal; between Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency and the National Inland Waterways Authority, there is conflict over who controls the inland waterways. This has affected the industry.

The legal practitioner however called for the coordination of the regulatory framework in the Transport sector which he said was possible through the Transport Commission Bill. He also said when passed into law, the bill would facilitate healthy competition.

“The National Transport Commission Bill shall create an economic regulatory framework for the provision of transportation services and facilities, facilitate effective competition, promote competitive markets and ensure that the misuse of monopoly power is prevented in the provision of transport service.He said the bill was to provide a regulatory framework for the Sector.

Also Barrister Emma Ofomata, a Maritime Lawyer believes that collaboration will bring out the best from the agencies if they see themselves as working on a common goal. He said that matters like wreck removal for instance should not pose a problem between two agencies.

On his part, Barrister OsualaNwagbara, also a Maritime Lawyer said that in modern era, companies achieve more when they work together especially if they are within a conglomerate, adding that in the maritime industry the same spirit should be at work.

Analysts believe that instead of conflict, NPA and NIMASA could actually collaborate on such areas of conflict and will even help give each other information when they notice some external incursions while also watching the others back. The same goes for NIMASA and NIWA or even the Nigeria Customs Service.

Although the proposed National Transport Commission Bill will ultimately create an economic regulatory framework for the provision of transportation services and facilities, facilitate effective competition, promote competitive markets and ensure that the misuse of monopoly power is prevented in the provision of transport service, the agencies themselves must understand the meaning of collaboration if the bill must be effective when passed into law.

In the entire maritime industry stakeholders have commended two agencies as creating the rallying point for collaboration and coordination.  The immediate past DG of NIMASA, Patrick Akpobolokemi once told industry stakeholders that “The era of competition is over. We are now in the era of collaboration because the goal is to make Nigeria a maritime hub in the African continent. Regular meetings among the leadership of NIMASA, NSC, the NPA, NIWA, the NRC, and the Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron will definitely provide the adequate forum to rub minds and jointly propose solutions to the executive and legislative arms of government,’’ he declared.
Also the present DG, Dr.DakukuPeterside, right from assumption of office,  called on relevant government agencies especially ‘security–oriented ones’ to work together  to enable them unlock synergistic benefits of joint efforts for the security of the nation’s maritime sector.

“Security is not the responsibility of any one government agency, hence the need for synergy and collaboration between relevant government bodies. The interest of the country must be placed above individual interest as such we must be willing to share ideas and information in this partnership”, Peterside said.

He said both government bodies were economic gate keepers that were working towards ensuring safety and security in their designated statutory duties; and expressed the readiness of NIMASA to work closely with other agencies to actualize its mandate.

NIMASA said that Peterside had in recent times intensified co-operation security-wise with the office of the National Security Adviser; the Nigerian Navy; the Nigerian Army and the Nigerian Air Force to strengthen maritime security in Nigeria and by extension the Gulf of Guinea.

An important thread that runs through all the agencies mentioned is that they are specifically set up to play regulatory functions and to generate money for the government. Since it is paramount that they play these roles well, analysts believe that in looking at their core mandate none will be able to achieve it successfully without collaboration.

Recently the managing director of the Nigerian Ports Authority HadizaBalaUsman said the Authority was looking at working with the Nigeria Customs Service to create the enabling environment for ease of doing business at ports and for effective cargo clearing.

She also emphasised the need to collaborate with the Nigerian Railway Corporation to facilitate movement of cargo by rail which those before her relegated to the backroom in spite of the necessity. Maritime stakeholders believe that at the nation’s ports, the Nigerian Shippers Council has played a vital role in getting the other agencies to a roundtable beyond.

Executive Secretary, Nigerian Shippers’ Council, Hassan Bello said recently when the Comptroller General of Customs, Hameed Ali paid him a courtesy visit that one of the problems faced by the maritime industry is lack of collaboration and “uncoordinated acts” of government agencies at the port.

“In the port system, you cannot but cooperate and collaborate because the port is a community and it is very important that you synergise so that the industry could move forward.“That is what is lacking. We believe in equilibrium and balance and working relationship between all the interested parties,” he said.

He said the existing collaboration between the NSC and Customs has helped promote transit trade, which would soon see Niger Republic and Chad begin importing their cargoes through Nigerian ports.

“The NSC has been working with the operators in Niger and we have got a lot of support from Customs.“Customs has removed 90 percent of barriers and we are in no short time about to see Niger first and Chad coming back to Nigeria. This signifies the benefit of cooperation,” he said.

While calling on the government to eliminate all barriers to seamless cargo clearance at the port, Bello said there was an urgent need for government to invest in massive infrastructure development including roads, rails lines and waterways.

He said it was the responsibility of the government to provide conducive atmosphere for businesses to thrive and also to protect investment of service providers.“It is very important that government be told the truth. Government sometimes also has a share of the problems that is happening. Access to the port is not very good. No matter how efficient our terminals are, if shippers cannot get their cargoes out on time, then there is a problem.“Government owes it a duty to the investors to protect their investment, provide electricity and also provide  the right atmosphere so that the port system will thrive. Government should be consistent for predictability and certainty. There has been some policy somersault which is not good for investment,” he said.

Speaking earlier, Ali assured that he will further strengthen the existing collaboration and relationship between both agencies.He said, “We want to create an understanding. I know we have been working very closely with you but we want to further cement that bond. We want to make it a relationship that will be an everyday interaction.

“Sometimes we don’t get the records we desire to be able to assess and make sure we do our jobs. The papers that are presented, the manifest most especially comes to us with a lot of problems. Some of them are falsification of documents, some of them not having correct description of the goods.

“For instance, in the manifest they will tell you they are carrying chemicals but chemicals are in categories. So it now behoves on us to begin to wonder what types of chemical.So these are areas that we are finding it a little bit difficult to sort out and we think since we are with you here, we need to let this before you that if you can assist us it will go a long way in doing our job,” he said.

Bello also thinks that collaboration should extend to the private sector. “It is important that the Nigeria Shippers Council work with the private sector closely this is what we are poised to do. It is important that the value chain should be intensified and articulated, the council will articulate its new port order and the hallmark of the new port order is continuous consultation with the private sector operators and all other stakeholders in government such as Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC), National Agency Foods and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC)).

“There have been a lot of consultations and the government agencies operating in the ports all have one goal. Nigeria Customs Service has one goal. That is, trade facilitation, increase revenue by blocking leakages and loopholes in the system. This applies to the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NSC and NPA. Our roles and responsibilities are geared towards repositioning the sector. The Council was able to channel this energy through active consultation. The important thing is that there should be collaboration and synergy. This is due to the fact that synergy is key to port operations because of the chain of interests, issues and stakeholders, no matter there must be unionism”, he said