AGAINST the backdrop of a renewed congestion at the sea ports and the terminals, the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, Ms Hadiza Bala Usman, has said that the non-availability of services along other value chain in the cargo clearing process during the coronavirus, COVID-19, shutdown short-circuited free flow of cargo delivery process.
Speaking at the recently concluded 14th edition of the Annual Business Law e-conference, Bala Usman explained that most operators in the value chain were not functional, adding that the restrictions on the interstate travel also compounded the slowdown in cargo delivery.
At the conference themed, “Business Unusual: Digital Acceleration for Growth in a New World”, Bala Usman explained that when Federal Government declared the port operations as essential services that should not shut down, it did not take cognisance of other linked services that were closed down, adding, “so when you bring your cargo into the port, you are taking them to a warehouse, you are taking them to a manufacturing site, you are taking them to other location that has been closed down. Workers in your location that need to work with those items are not at work, so invariably you are stuck with the imports.”
On the issue around rent waivers, the NPA boss stated: “We at the Nigerian Ports felt the need to provide that waiver recognising that it has an effect on the turnaround time of vessels. One of the things that we sought to do is provide consignees with the cushion noting that the ports operations is a value chain. This is for even consignments that are within Lagos area.
“Then you have the state lockdown. So if I have my cargo coming in through Lagos ports and I need to take them to Port Harcourt or Kaduna, I can’t traverse the several states to get there. So, invariably I am stuck in the port and that is why Nigerian Ports Authority felt the need to grant the waivers to the importers.
“We are giving terminal operators a credit note for the waivers. So, if you now give N10million rent waivers for the period, NPA is refunding you that amount in form of credit. It is the Federal Government that is losing that amount of money which it could have gotten from your operations for that period.
“You gave a waiver for N10million and government has reimbursed your money, as a terminal operator you don’t lose anything; what you could lose is the efficiency in the operation of your terminal, the turnaround time of your vessels and the need for enhanced evacuation of cargo.”
On the non-availability of banking services during the lock down, Usman stated, “When the lockdown initially started, in the first few days the banks were not operational and I quickly called the Central Bank Governor and within 12 hours, we had a meeting with the Deputy Governor of the Central Bank and the Managing Directors of all Banks were all logged on to the meeting. It was resolved within 24hours and banks around Apapa and Tin-can Ports became operational. They asked their branches to open to enable consignees pay for services rendered to them by the terminals including customs duties.
“The banks in those areas were given the permission and time to operate and that was something we did to get efficiency and quick turnaround from Central Bank.”
She noted that the issues around port operations were not just limited to the vessels coming in, as the economy and Nigerians suffered in one way or the other.
She explained further, “It is a whole system, and when you look at now there is a reduced consumption on a lot of items because we are not buying as much just as we are not earning as much too; we don’t have that much spending power, so that automatically affected the people that are producing any cargo that comes. You had anticipated sale of your product but they were not sold.
“So if there is a limited demand for cargos that comes into the country there is an attendant effect on what will be utilized and what was needed during the lockdown. If we have items for export, those having agricultural produce cannot come because Kaduna is locked down, Ogun is locked down, so all of these things have effect of inflow and outflow. It is the same thing with vessels coming in, they also had that challenge of turn-around time.”
Equipment shortages: Bala Usman also blamed the crisis at the port on efficiency of the equipment in the terminals.
According to her, external factors in the congestion in Apapa area and the need for NPA to ensure that inflow and outflow were streamlined, there was also the need to ensure that the terminal operators had the necessary cranes to do container handling operations.
She stated: ‘‘Terminal operators needed to have improved equipment to offload the cargo from the vessel, they need to have improved infrastructure within the terminal and we have that incidence with APMT where we did not see commensurate investment in equipment and infrastructure to enable them take on all those volumes of cargos that were needed to be discharged.
‘‘Having gone through that with APMT, they have now brought in the necessary cranes and now we have seen an improved operation.’’