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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SON’s despicable desperation to return to port.
On October 26th, 2011, there was a Presidential directive that pruned down the mushroom government agencies at the ports to only eight.
The directive issued by Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the erstwhile Minister of Finance, was consequent upon the multiplicity of agencies whose operations made clearance procedures at the ports painfully slow, cumbersome, and unwieldy.
During this period, there were government agencies in excess of 14 in number whose operations made the Nigerian ports the most expensive and inefficient on the African Continent.
So, the 2011 presidential order recognised the following government agencies to domicile at the ports. The Nigerian Ports Authority(NPA), Nigeria Customs Service, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency(NIMASA), Nigeria Police, Department of State Security((DSS), Port Health, Nigerian Drugs Law Enforcement Agency(NDLEA) and Nigerian Immigration Service.
While others not mentioned on the list were consigned outside the ports, those whose services are still required among them in the course of port processes such as the Standards Organization of Nigeria(SON) and National Food and Drugs Administration Control(NAFDAC) are to be called in whenever the need arises.
However, this Presidential directive was obeyed in the breach as those evicted agencies stayed put at the ports.
In February 2018, as a result of its desire to ease the cumbersome nature of doing business at the ports, the Federal government, through its committee charged with sanitising the operations at the ports, the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) headed by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, gave the Nigerian Ports Authority(NPA) the matching order to enforce the 2011 Presidential Directives.
So all the outlawed government agencies were effectively weeded out of the ports.
But because of the allure of the filthy lucre at the ports, the evicted agencies launched aggressive lobbying, using instruments of blackmail, half-truths and outright lies to get the sympathy of the government in their bid to return to the ports.
This development has therefore emboldened the SON to step up its own campaign to return to the port.The agency, in recent times, has tried all the tricks in the book to gain the sympathy of stakeholders and the government to regain its entry into the ports.
As it were, those numbers of agencies permitted to be at the ports are still unwieldy as the processes at the ports have not significantly improved to the point all stakeholders would have wanted them to be.
The agency claimed that their absence at the ports has allowed fake and sub-standard products to gain access to the ports and same cleared into the market.
SONCAP is a pre-shipment verification of conformity to standards process used to verify that products to be imported into Nigeria are in conformity with the applicable NIS or approved equivalents, and technical regulations before shipment.
Under the SONCAP regime, imports are required to undergo verification and testing at the country of supply (Exporting) and a SONCAP Certificate (SC) issued demonstrating that the products meet the applicable standards and regulations or a Non-Conformity Report (NCR) where the goods do not comply.
The conformity assessment elements undertaken in SONCAP include but are not limited to physical inspection prior to shipment, sampling, testing and analysis in accredited laboratories, audit of production processes and systems, and documentary check of conformity with regulations and overall assessment of conformity to standards.
Having gone to this extent to profile all imports at the points of supply to make sure that fake and sub-standard products are not even shipped into the country, this extensive procedure has nullified any need for SON to come back to the ports.
We can safely conclude that their passion to come back despite the stringent conditions of SONCAP is simply to engage in other uncharitable activities such as extortion.
We also want to believe that the deluge of the Nigerian markets with fake and sub-standard products is a screaming testimony that the SONCAP regime of the SON has failed.
It, unfortunately, gives credence to the widespread belief that the SONCAP Certificates are not necessarily issued to importers on merit but given to the highest bidders.
We advise SON to shelve its ambition of coming back to the ports but instead concentrate on performing its statutory duties at the ports on demand.
The agency should also insist on strict enforcement of the SONCAP regime to stem the high tide of the influx of harmful products into the country.
Government should make it mandatory for customs to call operatives of SON whenever regulated products are being examined and also to ensure that they have the exclusive right to determine the genuineness of any SONCAP Certificates submitted by importers.
This is imperative because it is not within the competence of customs officers to detect fake or genuine SONCAP Certificates.
The Director-General of SON, Mallam Farouk Salim, had at the forum, accused the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) single-window portal of blocking SON from registering alerts on suspicious imported items.
Salim had claimed that the inability of SON to trigger alerts through the Nigeria Customs Integrated System (NICIS II) portal to stop a suspected cargo has exacerbated the influx of fake and substandard products into the Nigerian market.
Dr. Salim declared that the only solution to the problem is for the agency to return back to to the Port.
Curiously, all the stakeholders in the forum, including the two leading freight forwarding associations, the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) and the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), all chorused the banal reasons why SON should return to the port.
We are aware that NAGAFF has been the campaigner- in Chief of SON’s desperate bid to stage a comeback.
But in recent times, the agency has recruited more stakeholders into its large army of lobbyists.
The latest is the ANLCA which has joined in the fray to railroad SON back to the port.
Curiously, these same associations have accused SON in the past of its unwholesome practice of illegal taking product samples for examination.
“Other agencies and parastatals of government in the ports like Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) among others, operate outside their mandates as stipulated in the various acts establishing them. In fact, it has been a whole lot of confusion in the ports and their environment.
“This ensuing confusion over the years has been capitalised on, to rip off port users, consequently, this makes Nigerian ports most expensive and unfriendly in sub-Saharan Africa,” NAGAFF once said of the activities of SON
Rather than allow SON to come back through the back door to further muddle up the already complicated processes at the ports, it won’t be out of place if the government finds a way of removing any resident agency whose functions could be carried out from outside the port.
It is through this that Nigerian ports will become more efficient, cost-effective, competitive and gain ascendancy on the World Bank Ease of Doing Business index.
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