Hon. Iju Tony Nwabunike

Francis Ezem

National Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents ANLCA has warned that Nigeria’s projection of attaining 48-hour cargo clearance from her various seaports would remain a mirage until she puts in place a national single window platform that would link all relevant operators and stakeholders in the industry.

Recall that the country had following the return of Destination Inspection DI regime in 2006 after nearly 20 years of Pre-Shipment Inspection PSI, projected that it would attain 48-hour cargo delivery at her seaports from the date of arrival in the next five years (sometime in 2011), a projection that has remained unattainable due to the lack of the basic infrastructure including a national window platform.

National President of the association, Hon. Iju Tony Nwabunike, who spoke in an interview at the weekend, also noted that the creation of Ministry of Maritime Matters in the country to effectively supervise all the government agencies operating at the ports especially the Nigerian Ports Authority NPA, the Nigeria Customs Service, Standards Organisation of Nigeria SON and the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control NAFDAC, would do a lot of good to the seaports in terms of efficiency and seamless port operations.

 In what appeared an agenda setting for policy makers, the President noted that inability of the government to put in place a National Single Window Platform would continue to make the country’s seaports inefficient and uncompetitive with its peers in West Africa, with high incidences of cargo diversion to neighbouring seaports.

“The importance of a National Single Window in terms of efficient port operations cannot be over-emphasised. In addition to eliminating all the bottlenecks associated with cargo clearance by enhancing ease of doing business, it will reduce corruption by eliminating human contact and also help address the current gridlocks around the seaport locations”, he said.

It was however gathered that the efforts by the current Minister of Transport, Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi to ensure that the single window comes into effect were frustrated by fight for supremacy between the Customs and the NPA over the control of the platform.

Hon. Nwabunike noted that the only way out of this was for the government to allow an independent Information Communication Technology ICT firm to handle the platform as was the case under the DI scheme when it was handled by Webb Fountain, arguing that any other firm can be allowed to handle it to forestall such supremacy battles.

According to him, “One of the greatest challenges faced in this industry is that the government does not consult the stakeholders while making policies and these policies affect us directly more than anyone else. We will be able to give useful insights on what will make the policies work in the interest of the nation but they will not consult us and things keep going bad”

He also noted that there is no unity of purpose among the relevant agencies of the government in the industry, especially terms of implementing policies with everyone singing discordant tunes, a development that makes the creation of Maritime Ministry expedient.

He argued that the current practice where the agencies are scattered within Federal Ministries of Transport, Finance and Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment does not make for proper cohesion, insisting that the relevant agencies should come under one ministry and one minister.

“Time has come for the government to re-structure the maritime industry to make the seaports efficient and competitive, thereby increasing revenue generation. Agencies such as Customs, NPA, SON and NAFDAC should come under one ministry for effective supervision to check the current practice where they work across purposes”, he argued.