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How Safe Are Nigerian Ports Amidst Rising Insecurity

In recent times, the security architecture of the country has come under ceaseless bombardment by insurgents and militants, stretching its security personnel and their expertise to their limit. Daily attacks by militants, kidnappers, armed bandits and all shades of criminals have become the order of the day.

The whole nation seems to be under siege while the people are in morbid fear of these marauders whose activities and scope of operations defy any geographical restriction.

At first, it seemed their activities were concentrated to one section of the country, but recent happenings have shown that their heinous acts are now permeating through the geographical boundaries.

Though we acknowledge the relentless efforts of our security agents and the unfettered support of government to curtail the menace but we are worried about how secured our port facilities are.

Are the Nigerian ports immune to the sweeping wave of insurgency and armed banditry?

Our worries may seem ridiculous and far-fetched to some industry stakeholders given the huge, multi-layers security architecture at the ports.

We recognize  the special security arrangement at the port as a security zone which is well fortified through  compliance with various security protocols as espoused by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), especially the International Ships and ports security (ISPS) Code.

The combined efforts of relevant government agencies at the ports such as Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) which is the Designated Authority (DA) of the ISPS Code, Marine Police and Navy seem to make the port environment almost a fortress.

But sadly, this fortress is not impregnable.

Despite the array of security arrangements, the Nigerian Ports have their fair share of security challenges, especially insecurity at sea such as piracy and sea robberies.

The year 2020 and 2021 have witnessed a spike in pirate attacks in the Gulf of Guinea while there have been pockets of attacks on the Nigerian waters.

Few years ago, specifically in 2018, vessels were attacked on the anchorage before the concerted efforts of security agents with the active support of relevant government agencies eventually helped to stem the tide.
However, our concern is not on insecurity on waters because we are encouraged by the synergy and concerted efforts of all the port security agencies to arrest the ugly trend.
But our fear is insecurity on land, especially access to the ports.
How secured are our port infrastructure from attacks?

How vulnerable to attacks are port users who daily throng the ports and mill around the ports environment?

How secured are the access to our ports, especially the Lagos ports which are the heart of the Nigerian ports system?

What crowd control measures do the relevant authorities put in place to check or discourage the unrestricted movement of unauthorized persons into the ports which are supposed to be restricted and security zones?
Recently, one of the core stakeholders in the Port industry,  Ascano Russo, the Managing Director of PTML Terminal, raised alarm about the unrestricted influx of unauthorized persons loitering around the port area and asked the management of the Nigerian Ports Authority to check the menace.
He said there was an urgent need to beef up security in the port, especially at this time, to guide against any future attacks on the port.

He was speaking against the backdrop of the recent Endsars mayhem unleashed on most parts of the country, especially the Port City of Lagos.

He warned that the situation at Tin Can Island was still very precarious.

“There are far too many people walking around the port and it is not clear what they are doing”

We share the fears of Russo and other concerned stakeholders who are miffed at the numbers of people milling around the ports daily.

We are no less worried about the insecurity on waters but we are convinced of the abilities and capabilities of the designated authority with the support of other relevant security agencies to curtail the menace.
We are equally certain that any possible attack may not come through the sea, which is the exclusive preserve of the dare-devil pirates because the attackers know the almost impregnable security arrangement from that axis.

At the risk of being labeled alarmists, we call on government to give equal attention to security on access to the ports as it gives to the waterways.

Nigerian ports, especially the Lagos ports to us, are vulnerable to attacks due to the topography of the place.

Unlike most of the ports in the world which are far removed from residential areas, Lagos ports have a unique attribute.

The ports are located within residential areas which have abridged their further expansion.

This location, to our mind, exposes the Lagos ports to security challenges, especially the type the country is currently battling with.

The location, which places the ports in constant clashes and competition for survival with the host community, has made the ports vulnerable to possible attacks, especially from the type ravaging the country.

The malignant traffic gridlock at the Lagos ports which has made the place a theatre of confusion and disorderliness further accentuates the problem.

People of malicious intentions could easily slip through the daily bedlam playing out on the access roads, unnoticed, into the ports.

Their entry will be a lot easier as the security agents pay more attention on how much money they could extort from the hapless truckers than to bother with the type of people gaining entry into the ports.

In as much as we do not want to sound as prophets of doom, we urge the government to be proactive and take pre-emptive measures to stave off any possible attack from the land.

As greater attention is on security on waters which is not out of place, it would be unwise not to put up an impregnable security system in and around our ports.

With all these reports of kidnapping, suicide bombing, wanton killings, armed banditry,  relevant government agencies should begin to think on how to monitor movements in and around the ports.

Nigerian Ports have no monitoring and surveillance system nor technologically advanced means or gadgets that can help detect attacks before they are unleashed.

How impenetrable are the ports with the crop of security operatives wielding batons and who can compromise to allow anyone an entry?

Insecurity has grown to a height that has almost dwarfed government efforts at curtailing it.

Just when you think it is being curtailed,  it comes in another dimension, with much ferocity.

Though insecurity is a global challenge, governments of other nations are working so hard to be ahead of the perpetrators.

Can the same be said of Nigeria?

As the insecurity festers, especially now that it is spreading like harmattan fire, government should be proactive in putting necessary security apparatus in place to forestall any unfortunate development.

We call on the Federal Government not to lose sight of the remote chances of the ports being attacked, if left unguarded, by these insurgents who usually look for soft targets where they can record maximum effects.

We are not prophets of doom but merely asking government to be alive to its responsibilities of securing the nation and its people, including the port environment against the new wave of attacks in the country.

It would be stretching lethargy to its breaking point to assume that our worries are misplaced and unfounded.

It would be height of lackadaisical response to dismiss our fears and say they only exist in our imagination as such cannot happen in Nigeria.

American government never, in its wildest imagination, believed 9/11 attacks by terrorists could happen when the terrorists struck at the heart of American security fortress, the Pentagon.

The attacks in France should serve as enough lessons for Nigeria to safeguard the seaports which serve as the gateway to the economy.

An attack on the seaports is an attack on Nigeria’s underbelly.

Even though our position is far-fetched but in security architecture, nothing is and should be left to chance, especially during this tempestuous time.

A comprehensive monitoring and surveillance system should be put in place at our ports to forestall any unforeseen circumstances and send a strong warning to individuals or groups with sinister motives.

In line with this, we urge the NPA to provide Close Circuit Television (CCTV) at the port gates for close monitoring of people coming in and going out.

In addition, the NPA should introduce electronic access card system similar to the one being operated by the Port and Terminal Multi-Services Limited (PTML) as a means of crowd control.

We are aware that each terminal operator has stringent crowd control mechanism into their facilities; it would not be out of place for NPA to complement such efforts.

The government is also advised to mandate all security agents manning the entrance of all ports, especially the Ports Facility Security Officers (PFSOs), not to compromise their sensitive position that could inadvertently allow enemies of the nation into the ports to unleash mayhem.

The government is advised to deploy well trained and equipped security personnel who are versed in the use of modern security gadgets to monitor movement of people and vehicles in and around the port.

Only then could we be convinced that our ports are fortress which is impregnable to attacks from air, land and sea

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Nigeria’s Loss of IMO Seat: One Defeat Too Many

Rotimi Amaechi, Minister of Transportation

Last week Friday, Nigeria once again lost its bid to regain the Category C seat of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in a keenly contested election in London Headquarters of the world body.

Last weekend’s loss makes it the sixth consecutive failed attempt which Nigeria made to recapture the global crown it lost in 2011.

The latest loss was particularly painful and dramatic as the country lost against high expectations and hope for a better outing.

Disappointed stakeholders have since then been making wild guesses as to why Nigeria has consistently become a serial loser at the IMO Council seat elections.

While some believed that the maritime administration in Nigeria has not done enough to make the country merit a seat to dine with serious maritime nations in the world, others believed the loss was an unfair reflection of efforts of the present management of NIMASA to shore up our maritime fortunes.

Not a few stakeholders gave Nigeria a chance to clinch the coveted position which it narrowly lost to Kenya by one vote in 2019.

Nonetheless, we are saddened by this latest loss given the level of improvements we thought our maritime administration has recorded in recent times.

Before this time, the previous losses have mainly been attributed to the notoriety of Nigeria’s waters for pirate attacks as well as the shambled state of our ship registry.

Our Search and Rescue operations were also blamed while the poor level of compliance of port infrastructures to the ISPS code was not spared.

But in recent times, the present management of NIMASA led by Dr Bashir Jamoh has shown uncommon commitment and courage to tackle these challenges.

We can recall that incidents of pirate attacks on our waters drastically reduced early this year due to the collaborative efforts of NIMASA with the Navy.

The notorious Gulf of Guinea was calmer in recent times due to the conscious collaborative efforts and strategic partnership which Nigeria had with foreign Navies whose presence has helped to reduce the incidence of piracy in the region.

The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) even acknowledged this feat in its quarterly assessment reports.

Incidents of piracy in the first nine months of 2021 are the lowest reported in 17 years.

This represents 77 percent decrease in incidents between 2021 and 2020 and 95 percent reduction from 2018. “The IMB also reported a 39 percent reduction in piracy and armed robbery incidents in the Gulf of Guinea (GoG),” said Jimoh.

To complement its security efforts on Nigerian waters, NIMASA launched an operation of a modern and sophisticated security architecture known as Command, Control Computer Communication and Information System(C4i).

This is to create maximum security, strong surveillance as well as low freight costs that will boost the confidence of investors and port users.

Also, the NIMASA management took a bold step to revamp the ship registry which has for some years been a disincentive for ships to fly Nigeria’s flag.

On the ISPS code compliance level of Nigerian Ports facilities, the United States Coast Guards (USCG) commended NIMASA as the Designated Authority (DA) over the improved compliance level attained by the country which was rated at 90 percent.

The Search and Rescue operations of the agency have recorded significant milestones in recent times with its rescue operations to salvage distressed ships, passengers, and crew members.

To put the icing on the cake, the Federal Government, early this year, launched the multi-billion dollars security apparatus called deep blue project which was a revolutionary security architecture to sweep our waters of criminal elements.

The project, being driven by NIMASA, involves all other security agencies whose personnel are equipped with the sophisticated hardware and assets acquired under the project to engage criminals on our waters and keep our waters safe.

The international community even commended this security initiative which it confessed has considerable calming effects on the raging Gulf of Guinea.

With all these efforts to improve maritime security and Safety on our waters, which is the core function of any maritime administration in the world and for which Nigeria through NIMASA has acquitted itself, what more does the world want?

The efforts of the incumbent NIMASA management in maritime security have even been acknowledged by the IMO when the body described Nigeria as the most improved maritime nation in the sub-region.

Why then are all these efforts by Nigeria not rewarded with a victory at the IMO elections?

As far as we are concerned, Nigeria lost the elections to grand international conspiracy and criminal gang-up by her jealous and ingrate neighbours.

We are not by any means suggesting that our challenges in the maritime industry are over.

On the contrary, we still need to firm up on some other key areas of administration and operations to put the industry on a sound footing, especially the grey areas identified in the audit exercise by the IMO.

But our position is that, unlike the previous defeats which Nigeria has suffered since 2011, the current loss is most unjustified and unkindest cut given the sincerity of purpose of Jamoh- led management in its reformation agenda in the industry aimed at correcting some of the administrative and operational lapses that had hitherto caused our failures at the IMO Council elections.

Despite this loss, however, we would like to commend Nigeria nay NIMASA for fighting a good battle.

They have put up a good show.

To us Nigeria didn’t lose as a result of administrative ineptitude and operational laxity as some critics may want us to believe but instead, we lost to bad international politics heavily steeped in “bad belle”.

We want to encourage Jamoh and his team not to be despondent nor allow their fighting spirit to be dampened as a result of this defeat which to us, was “against the run of play”.

Rather, the management should go back to the drawing board and commence immediate preparations for the next IMO council elections in 2023.

The defeat should also spur NIMASA to improve on its current drive to reform the maritime industry that will make us break the chains of defeat in subsequent elections.

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The Gradual Decapitation of Shippers’ Council under Jime.

Arguably, the Nigeria Shippers’ Council is gradually losing its bite.
The council, which was bequeathed to the present Executive Secretary of the agency,  Emmanuel Jime, by the vibrant and energetic Hassan Bello, its immediate past  CEO, is becoming a lame duck, a toothless bulldog that is gradually losing the sting, ferocity, and vibrancy it acquired under the immediate past helmsman.
Unfortunately, Jime, a politician, who took over the mantle of leadership when his predecessor honourably bowed out of service, is presiding over a whimper of a council, which is gradually becoming colourless in character and hollow in value.
The current face-off between the freight forwarders and the shipping companies has exposed the extent to which the council has lost respect, character and bite within the short period that Jime took over, and these are the vital attributes that the retired Bello has built into the agency.
Before Bello took over the council and shortly after it transmuted into the industry economic regulator, Shippers Council was greatly incapacitated with a voice not more than that of a whimpering child: muffled, shaky, devoid of life and confidence.
But immediately Bello, widely regarded as one of the best and finest technocrats to have passed through the industry, took over the whimpering child, he polished the colourless agency into a formidable, respectable and effective regulator whose words were order to which the powerful but arrogant shipping companies have come to defer and hold in reverence.
But after the exit of  Bello, the Shippers’Council she bequeathed is gradually losing its taste and value for which it was known.
The face-off between the shipping companies and customs brokers has brought this unfortunate reality to the fore.
In October this year, angry freight forwarders issued a two-week ultimatum to the predominantly foreign shipping companies in the country over their unbridled and mindless extortion perpetrated through numerous illegal charges.
They listed their grievances which they wanted to be addressed without which they will ground port operations.
Even though the contending matters are within the sphere of influence of the Shippers’Council, it was the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding Practices in Nigeria(CRFFN) that took the initiative to broker peace between the two feuding parties when it convened a peace meeting.
The Shippers Council, the economic regulator, was only coopted into the peace meeting when it became glaringly clear that it has lost the initiative to be proactive.
Notwithstanding the presence of the Council which is their regulator, the arrogant shipping companies snubbed the peace meeting when they refused to attend.
Undaunted though, the CRFFN, which has clearly seized the initiative from the laid-back and lacklustre Shippers’ Council, reconvened the peace meeting last week Friday with the Council tagging along with other agencies like a lame duck.
Once again, the shipping companies, even though reluctantly sent representatives, didn’t accord much respect to the conveners of the meeting.
With annoying arrogance, the service providers partially conceded to one out of the numerous demands of the aggrieved freight forwarders when they agreed to give them six days period of grace for demurrage instead of the 14 days grace the freight forwarders asked for.
Even, the six days grace period was not clearly defined but dumped on them with you- can- go- to- hell -if- you- don’t want- it – attitude.
Expectedly, neither the Shippers’Council nor the CRFFN could do anything as the meeting was deadlocked.
The outcome of this issue has clearly defined the present state of the Shippers’Council.
It has clearly exposed the council under the present leadership as one which lacks the capacity to protect the interests of shippers it was created for.
It has shown a council that has lost the initiative to act and one which is not proactive.
It has lost the verve, glamour and the springy movement it was known for under the past leadership.
The freight forwarders themselves have expressed their lack of confidence in the ability of the  Council to resolve the lingering issues and stave off the impending strike which the customs brokers have vowed to embark on at the expiration of the new ultimatum, given the deadlocked peace meeting.
Although the shipping companies are not better in character and temperament under the past leadership of the council, Bello was still able to rein them in with his high level of interaction, engagement, consultations and high wire diplomacy that made the  Council achieve a considerable level of compliance and cooperation among the service providers.
Though the battle was tough and long-drawn as the recalcitrant shipping companies resorted to litigation to entrench their operational impunity, they however found the sheer determination, resilience, passion and uncompromising attitude of Barrister Hassan Bello too strong to break.
Does the present ES possess such attributes that helped his predecessor to succeed?
Only time will tell.
But the signal of lethargy, despondency, and lack of direction exhibited by the council so far in handing its core mandate in the early days of the current leadership, gives no reason to cheer and the situation was compounded by the equally visionless public affairs department of the council which is headed by a person of similar professional incompetent genes.
It clearly shows that Jime has inherited an oversized shoe.
The highly exploitative shipping companies may want to take advantage of the lack of will of the present leadership of the council to renew their onslaught on the users of their services.
They may want to exploit lack of experience in the workings of the industry of the present helmsman at the Shippers’ Council to unleash operational terror on the weary freight forwarders.
The present face-off between them and the freight forwarders is a test case.
If the Shippers’Council and the CRFFN fail to broker a truce between the two warring parties and stave off the impending service disruption, then Jime would have failed his first assignment as the Chief Executive officer of an economic regulator which has failed to tame one of its constituents.
Then and unfortunately too, that will signal the beginning of the descent of the council into the pre-Bello era when the agency was a toothless bulldog, which could only bark but shy to bite.
The reason for the sudden dip in the fortune of the council may not be far-fetched if we look at the antecedents of all the agencies of government where top appointments were used as political patronage to rehabilitate politicians, especially those who suffered political setbacks.
Unlike his predecessor, Barrister Hassan Bello, who is an industry man that rose through the ranks in the Shippers Council,  Hon. Emmanuel Jime is a thoroughbred politician and former APC governorship candidate in Benue State whose passion for ruling the state may still have an overring place in his mind.
That has always been the fate of government parastatals which are headed by active politicians as all other assignments will take a back seat in the pursuit of their political goals and ambition.
The same scenario is playing out at the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) where an active politician heads the agency whose 2022 budget proposal was recently dismissed by members of the Senate committee who described the presentation of NIWA’s  Chief Executive as incoherent and inconsistent with the figures presented.
Contrast this with the cheering performance and runaway achievements being recorded at the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) whose Chief Executive, just like Barrister Bello, is a  ”home boy”, a home-grown, thoroughbred professional.
Or better still juxtapose that with the impressive runs of the helmsman at MAN, Oron who is also not a politician but professional.
You can call them a tale of two cities. One headed by politician and the other by professional.
The success of the present ES in his onerous task of steering the ship of the Council will however depend on the willpower, cooperation and commitment of the Directors he inherited who were part of Bello’s roaring success.
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POF: An instrument of oppression, impoverishment

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