Stakeholders in Nigeria’s maritime sector have said that the move by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to revive and begin the implementation of 24-hour port operations at the nation’s seaports, after over 15 years of abandonment, will drive up the efficiency of the port, improve ease of doing business, port competitiveness, and decongest the seaports.
The agencies of the government told journalists in Lagos recently that they are doing everything possible to ensure the success of the 24-hour operations at the ports. For instance, the NPA said it is working with the Lagos State government and the Nigeria Police to create an enabling environment for 24-hour port operation to thrive. The managing director of the NPA, Mohammed Bello-Koko, stated that, while the Lagos State government is working to provide illumination along the port access road, the authority is working to illuminate the port premises.“On 24-hour port operations, we need Customs officers to be working on shifts where we can have cargo clearance and be discharged into the night and for 24 hours. Also, we need the shipping lines and the terminal operators and security agencies to be on their toes for 24 hours, so we are working out those modalities.”
The NPA helmsman stated that the police have also been brought in to provide security because the federal government is serious about port efficiency and increasing productivity. We discussed with the Nigerian police, and I know that we have Marine police that are operating within the port. The FG is serious about improving port efficiency and increasing it, and I believe this government will do whatever it is to achieve it. Very soon, we will see the police brought into this because the Lagos State government is playing a key role in providing security along the port corridor,” he said.
Also, the Comptroller General of Customs, Bashir Adewale Adeniyi supported the NPA’s quest for 24-hour ports operation, saying one of the seaports would be used as a pilot test for the operation. The Customs boss pledged service commitment but disclosed the need to have round-the-clock security for other ancillary service providers to key into the operations.He said, “We are supportive to anything that can increase trade facilitation, make the port more competitive and also ensure that the cost of doing business in the port is reduced. On security for 24 hours port operations, we are working with Lagos State government, not only to decongest the Ports but also to provide security and to ensure that when you bring cargo out at night, there is safety.”
Though there have been challenges identified with the 24-hour policy, stakeholders, especially operators and regulators, have described the challenges as surmountable.
Clearing agents under the aegis of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) have expressed readiness to key into 24-hour Port operations. The Vice President of the association, Segun Oduntan, stated that the association will give assistance to the authorities to achieve the feat in the nation’s seaports. “We are going to talk to our members and tell our people that there’s a new solution that is in town. I hear that part of the complaint against Customs night operations is that our people are not coming. ANLCA being the foremost association, we are ready to buy into and give assistance to the Tin Can Island command. You are starting this now, and you are like in the Pilot Phase, definitely, all others will follow suit,’’ Oduntan stated.
Also speaking, a clearing agent, Chukwuma Onyeka, stated that with efforts geared towards the attainment of 24-hour port operation, the nation’s ports will be better for it. According to him, the efficiency and effectiveness of the port will rise, even as he said the ship turnaround time and cargo dwell time will improve. “Cargo clearance processes will now be all round the clock. The situation where port officials close for the day in the evening, thus leading to jobs being shifted to the next day, will no longer be tolerated. Customs and other agencies of government operating inside the ports will now run shifts to ensure port operations continue non-stop. Also, shipping companies will now have reduced turnaround time as shipping services will continue all through day and night,” he said.
Stressing the need for 24-hour port operation, the Customs Area Controller, Tin Can Island command of the NCS, Compt. Dera Nnadi, stated that Nigerian Ports are supposed to operate 24 hours just like other ports of the world. He said, “The world does not sleep. When they’re sleeping in Nigeria, somebody in China is awake loading a container. When China is sleeping, Europe and America are awake loading containers. So, it behoves us to also be awake 24 hours to receive and to exit these containers. In Nigeria, certain aspects of the ship side operation are 24 hours. Certain aspects of Customs work like enforcement and gate operation are 24 hours. Boarding is 24 hours.’’
A clearing agent, Emeka Chukwu, said that ensuring security both inside and outside Nigerian ports is paramount for the successful operation of ports 24 hours a day. He said adequate measures must be taken to safeguard port officials working during nighttime and truckers navigating the access roads at odd hours as persistent security challenges faced by truckers along the ports access roads, such as attacks by hoodlums and street urchins at illegal checkpoints, underscore the urgency of addressing this issue.An importer, Johnson Oke, said effective illumination is crucial for achieving a 24-hour port operation.
He said, ‘‘Some port terminals and the roads leading to the nation’s ports currently lack adequate lighting. To facilitate cargo examination processes, all port terminals need proper illumination, as this is particularly essential during nighttime activities.’’
A banker in Apapa, Lagos, Clement Oni, said the banking hours limitation during weekdays has led many port users to rely on electronic payment methods for cargo clearance. He revealed that, however, some port terminals, like those at Tin-Can Island Port, still operate physical payment desks for certain steps in the cargo clearance process. He advocated for consistency in accepting online payments for all aspects of cargo clearance to streamline and modernise the payment system.