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The Need To Resuscitate Ailing  Eastern Ports For Greater Efficiency

The efforts of  Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to revive the ailing ports in the Eastern flank of the country have been consistent and persistent  but with little success.

Apart from the Lagos ports which remain the flagship of the port industry that account for over 60 percent of shipping activities in the country, there are other ports in the Eastern Zone of the NPA which include Port Harcourt port, Onne port,  Warri port, Koko port and Calabar port.

The Ibom Deep Seaport at Ibaka, Akwa Ibom State is still at the gestation stage.

However, apart from Onne port which due to its strategic location at oil services area that made it marginally productive, the rest of the ports in that axis are virtually idle.

The situation has gotten to a stage that they have become  big drain on the resources of the NPA that has failed to get returns on its huge investments it has consistently sunk into these ports over the years.

Over the years, the Port Authority had made several efforts to stimulate activities at these ports but to no avail.

Prior to the 2006 port concession programme, a 30 percent reduction on all NPA tariff was granted to lure importers and shipping companies to patronise the ports in the Eastern axis but with little results before the gesture was withdrawn.

Under the present NPA management, another concessionary discount of 10 percent on harbour dues was also granted to bring back the fleeing importers and their agents but to no avail.

This effort was complemented with the multi-billion naira  dredging of Warri ports, deployment of equipment said to worth over $30million to the ports in that axis.

Curiously, importers, shipping companies and other merchants in related shipping activities still  prefer Lagos ports with their  malignant traffic gridlock and over stretched infrastructural facilities.

There is no gainsaying the imperative need to make the Eastern ports attractive to ports users.

The Lagos ports are congested and have reached a breaking point and the urgent need to attract some of the users of the over-stretched Lagos ports to the Eastern ports cannot be overemphasized.

More importantly, some of the owners of the cargoes that are destined  for the East, South -South and Eastern parts of the North who ordinarily should have preferred the Eastern ports due to their proximity to the destination of their cargos, curiously still patronise the Lagos Ports.

We believe that the problems of the Eastern ports which have made them pariah among the shipping community are not insurmountable.

These problems are mostly man-made and self-inflicted, apart from the natural disadvantage of Calabar port with its characteristic high siltation level that has continually made its long channel shallow and unable to accommodate bigger vessels.

These are oft-repeated problems known to all stakeholders and government which include the insecurity such as youths restiveness in the Niger-Delta, piracy, sea-robberies, dilapidated and decayed infrastructure at some of these ports as well as deplorable roads.

While we blame the Federal government for its failure or lack-lustre efforts to tackle the issue of insecurity,  especially the restiveness of the youth in the Niger-Delta which was allowed to linger and fester at the time the agitation of South-South region of the country for resource control was at its feverish pitch, we equally frown at the successive NPA managements’ timidity in tackling the issue of infrastructural development of the ports in that axis.

Though we commend the  remedial efforts of the present management of the authority to fix the infrastructural decay,  we however dare say the problems have accumulated far too long for this present efforts to have immediate visible impart.

One of the potent problems of the Eastern ports that has posed a formidable challenge to their viability is the issue of insecurity.

This has made the freight rates of the shipping companies to be more than triple the ones they impose on Lagos ports.

For instance,  due to the real or imaginary fears of insecurity of their vessels and crew members, the shipping companies have increased  the freight rates of cargoes  to the Eastern ports by almost 300 percent.

In addition, insurance premium has increased while special rates called war surcharges  are most of the times slammed on importers  by vessels that agree to go to that region as most of them decline offer to make voyage to the ports in that axis .

This development has expectedly made the use of the ports in the Eastern Zone very uneconomical for importers, hence their preference for the Lagos ports despite their own challenges.

Given this scenario and the fact that government cannot claim ignorance of this development , we consider the current public hearing on the challenges of the Eastern ports being conducted by an  Ad-Hoc committee of the House of Representatives as a mere academic exercise if the Federal government does not muster the necessary political will to tackle this problem headlong.

In as much as we appreciate the concerns of members of the National Assembly over the parlous state of the Eastern ports, their efforts in conducting the public hearing into this matter will be a mere circus show where all the stakeholders, including the government agencies, engage in what we consider high sounding rhetorical  exercise if they fail to compel the relevant authorities to resolve the multi-faceted problems facing these ports.

Resolving the insecurity issues, especially piracy attacks, sea robberies, kidnappings and armed banditry in that part of the country holds the key to the resuscitation of shipping  activities and viability of the Eastern ports.

As much as the remedial efforts of NPA to fix the infrastructural decay at the ports and the fixing of the roads by the federal ministry of works are desirable and necessary, we consider them as complementary efforts to tackling the main menace of insecurity.

No amount of persuasion or concessionary discounts by the NPA will make importers go back to the Eastern ports if the issue of insecurity is not resolved.

We believe that resolving the insecurity in the region will win back the confidence of foreign ship owners to patronise the ports and make them normalise their outrageous freight charges that will make the patronage by importers economical.

This, we hope will rescue the Eastern ports from the throes of death as importers will start to patronise them, thus relieving the Lagos ports of its cargo and human traffic that have stretched their facilities to a breaking point

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Now that Tinubu has confirmed Adeniyi as CGC

Wale Adeniyi, CGC
The Eyewitness Editorial
On October 20th, 2023, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, through the office of the Secretary to the  Government of Federation (SGF), announced the confirmation of the appointment of Wale Adeniyi as the substantive Comptroller General of Customs.
The confirmation of Adeniyi generated as much excitement and widespread endorsement of the people as when he was appointed the Acting CGC on June 26th, 2023.
The confirmation of Adeniyi as the Customs boss four months after he was tapped on the shoulder by Tinubu to lead the Customs came to no one as a surprise, given his blistering performance as the Acting CGC.
Within the four months he spent in an acting capacity before his eventual confirmation, Adeniyi had changed the face of customs operations and administration.
His commitment, passion, and zeal for a new Nigeria Customs service resonated throughout the country and beyond.
His innovative leadership and reformative policies have set the service on the path of irredeemable growth and development.
No wonder President Tinubu didn’t delay the confirmation of his appointment.
If he could do so much in an acting capacity within such a short time of four months, what he can do within his first tenure of four years as the CGC is better left to be imagined.
However, the confirmation of the appointment of Adeniyi as the CGC has only placed more burden of responsibility and leadership on the Modakeke-born customs boss.
This is because to whom much is given, much is expected.
This is the time Adeniyi has to scale up his game much higher than he performed while he was in an acting capacity.
His leadership as the acting Customs boss received accolades from appreciative industry stakeholders who see him as a change agent.
As a substantive CGC, he can’t afford to do less.
As a full-fledged Customs helmsman, Adeniyi would come across many challenges but given his track record, those challenges should be his stepping stones to achieving more success.
Now that he has been confirmed, his critics would wish to see if his performance index would drop so they could giggle that the sparkling performance he posted as the acting CGG which eventually earned him substantive CGG, was a fluke.
Therefore, he can’t afford to rest on his oars as he carries the hope and aspirations of the teaming customs officers who are yearning and already basking in the euphoria of the refreshing change he has so far brought into the service.
Adeniyi can’t afford to fail as he carries the huge expectations of industry operators who have started to heave a sigh of relief on his appointment.
Adeniyi can’t afford to fail as he carries the confidence that the Federal government reposed in him to change the past ugly narratives of the service.
So it is no mean task ahead of the new CGC as he has the onerous responsibility to make customs operations seamless and customs administration top-notch.
There is no gainsaying that Adeniyi knows the task ahead and we believe he is well equipped to confront the challenges and surmount them.
We believe that his passion, commitment, managerial dexterity, and deep knowledge of customs operations coupled with the huge goodwill of the industry stakeholders will propel him to take the service to the greater height we all crave for.
History beacons on Wale Adeniyi as he takes on this difficult but eventful journey of rebuilding the Nigeria Customs Service into a world-class government agency.
He should know all eyes are on him.
Now that he has secured the full mandate of Mr. President, Adeniyi has the golden opportunity to write his name in gold and etch his achievements in indelible ink on the memory of people as one of the greatest and most admired Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs Service.
Instructively, his task is made a lot easier as President Tinubu has also secured a final judicial victory that has eventually secured his presidency and Adeniyi’s headship of the Customs.
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Editorial! The incursion of Chinese into Nigeria’s revenue vault. 

Chinese company, Huawei Technologies

The ubiquitous Chinese is gradually getting a foothold in the nation’s economy.

Apart, from giving a huge financial lifeline in form of loans to Nigeria, the Chinese are the ones building the country’s railways, among several other critical infrastructural projects they are involved in across the country.
The latest catch of the Asian country is the Nigeria Customs Service, the cash cow of the Federal Government.

On May 30th, 2022,  the controversial concession of the Nigeria Customs Service was consummated at the national headquarters of the service in Abuja.

Despite the outcry of stakeholders against the concession of the operations of the Nigeria Customs Service, the Federal Government signed a tripartite concession agreement with a Chinese company, Huawei Technologies, and their Nigerian counterparts, Trade Modernisation Project Limited with Africa Finance Corporation as the lead financiers.

The agreement was facilitated and midwifed by the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission(ICRC).

The concessionaires, under the agreement, will drive the modernisation project for 20 years.

The concessionaires are expected to invest the sum of $3.2 billion dollars with an estimated income of $176 billion generated for the Federal Government in 20 years.

Last Monday’s  consummation of the concession agreement was preceded by the approval granted by the Federal Government in September 2020 to concede the operations of the customs to concessionaires

The concession agreement, which spans a period of 20 years, will involve the modernisation of the processes and procedures of the Nigeria Customs Service, including its revenue generation which the concessionaires will take over through which they are to recoup their $3.2 billion investments.

Expectedly, the decision of the Federal government, which was clinically executed in the mould of a coup d’é tat, caught many industry stakeholders pants down.

It also generated animated discussion as the approval and eventual concession was granted in defiance to the popular wish of the operators.

Since 2019, when the industry got wind of this concession deal before the 2020 approval, there has been concerted opposition mounted by the aghast operators who felt the move was an attempt to give away our common patrimony to the foreign interests.

Then,   Hon. Jerry Alagbaso, a former Customs chief and erstwhile member of the House of Representatives, rallied the National Assembly against the move.

But to the chagrin of everyone, the Federal government pulled a fast one on all the antagonists of the project.

We are less disconcerted over this concession deal which we believe was willing away the nation’s cash cow for 20 years to the foreign imperialists and their local collaborators.

We are at a loss on which powerful forces could have forced the hands of the Federal government to enter into this type of deal against the popular counsel of knowledgeable stakeholders.

Modernisation of Customs, they said.

What is there to modernise in the processes and procedures of the Nigeria Customs Service?

At the risk of being controverted, we dare say the Nigeria Customs has the most advanced form of automation process among the government agencies in the industry and one of the most automated in Africa.

The Secretary-General of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA),  Wamkele Mene said as much when he visited Apapa Customs command last week.

Mr. Mene said Nigeria Customs has the most advanced and comprehensive automation programme among its peers in Africa.

The only challenge which the service has is human.

Some of the men and officers of the service are clearly aversed to full automation due to their selfish and pecuniary interests.

The automation process will eliminate human contacts which is the avenue for extortion and exploitation.

Since 2003, Nigeria Customs has gone through a series of automation processes that have made its processes and procedures seamless.

The Automated System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA) and its advanced form of ASYCUDA+, ASYCUDA++, the Nigeria Customs Integrated System (NCIS1 &11), and Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR) are some of the automation platforms created by the customs management over the years to make customs operations seamless.

Even, in 2013,  the Service developed a web-based application to provide information and guidelines for international trade business processors, export and transit trade which is called Nigeria trade Portal which is interactive.

To our mind, what the service needs is to upgrade these automated platforms, and integrate them with other players in the cargo documentation and clearance chains under the neglected single window project.

With adequate capital outlay, we believe Nigeria Customs can achieve full automation status without the involvement of foreign economic imperialists, aided and abetted by their avaricious local collaborators.

The anti- automation officers, who are averred to technology due to their selfish interests, could be reformed.

If they are adamant, they could be shipped out.

Cargo scanning could be emphasised while physical examination of cargoes could be sparingly used.

With these and all other automation platforms well integrated into the single-window under the supervision of a willing Customs administration, the Nigeria Customs will be a world-class agency.

We are however least surprised at the tenacity of these economic vultures in their quest to lay hands on the Nigeria Customs Service, which is gradually emerging as the cash cow of the nation.

Apart from oil, maritime is the second-highest revenue earner for the country and Nigeria Customs plays a key role in this regard.

With the yearly earnings in the excess of a conservative estimate of trillions of naira and the capacity to do more, as well as the dwindling earnings from oil due to the global crisis in the oil market, the maritime industry nay Nigeria Customs is understandably the preferred bride for these economic speculators.

Various attempts have been made in the past to dip their hands in the Customs’ till without success.

The proposed invitation of Crown agents of London to take over the revenue generation of the customs as was muted by the then Minister of Finance but now the Director-General of World Trade Organization (WTO), Dr  Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, under Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, was promptly shot down.

In 2011, the illegal concession of Customs key functions between the ministry of finance and a company called Single Window System and Technologies was shot down.

In 2017, another move for Customs modernisation was made by the technical committee on the Comprehensive Import Supervision Scheme(CISS) which was pretentiously acting on behalf of the Federal government, with a  technical partner called Adani system Nigeria limited.

The attempt, which sought to concession the Customs then for 25 years,  was frustrated.

However, in a blatant disregard for popular opinion, the Federal government, after several failed attempts,   eventually forced down the throat of the unwilling stakeholders, the concession of the agency.

However, the deeds have been done.

Any further lamentation by the stakeholders on the issue is crying over spilled milk.

Now that the government has had its way, we can only hope that its aspirations for the concession will be realised.

The Minister of Finance, Budget, and Planning, Zainab Ahmed, has said the government stands to realise $176 billion from the project without spending a Kobo.

The question is how much will the concessionaires realise within the 20- year period of the deal beyond the $3.2billion investments they are expected to sink into the project?

What would be the fate of the customs officers whose jobs will be affected by the take-over of the revenue functions of the agency?
Even though the Comptroller General of the service, Col. Hameed Ali, has allayed the fear of job loss, the redundancy of some categories of officers could not be totally ruled out.

It is instructive to note that one of the two core functions of the customs, which is revenue generation, has now been concessioned under the guise of this new modernisation project, leaving them with the anti-smuggling function.

We hope rather than render some crop of officers reductant which may lead to possible right-sizing of staff, they could be redeployed to beef up the anti-smuggling function of the service.

We are worried about the involvement of the Chinese in the project as represented by Huawei which serves as a technical partner.

The ubiquitous Chinese have gradually become a leech on Nigeria, sucking on the economy of the nation.

We can only hope that the modernisation project will leave the Nigeria Customs service better than it met it.

We equally hope the project will not be sabotaged by disgruntled insiders whose means of livelihood is being threatened.

The misadventure of the  Professional Import Duty Administrators (PIDA) between 1996 and 2000 in the Nigeria Customs Service is still poignant in the memory of those who were in the know.

At that period, a firm of an accounting/consultant was engaged as professional Import Duty Administrators to complement the Nigeria Customs Service in the task of revenue generation.

They left the service worst off than they met it.

We appeal to the Federal government to ensure that this project transforms the service into a technologically-driven agency whose operations are seamless and paperless.

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Editorial! Chairmanship of CRFFN: Mortgaging the Freight Forwarding industry

Alhaji Tsanni Abubakar, Chairman CRFFN
For the second consecutive terms(2018 and 2022), a non-professional has emerged as the chairman of the Council of Regulation of Freight Forwarding Practice in Nigeria (CRFFN), sitting atop the regulatory body that is statutorily charged with directing and deciding the fate of the teeming freight forwarders in the country.
To put it more succinctly,  Alhaji Tsanni Abubakar, a retired army Colonel who is not a practising freight forwarder, has for two terms, emerged as the number one regulator of an industry he knows little or nothing about.
Ironically,  there are 15 hard-core professional freight forwarders, elected by their constituents in the industry to represent and take care of their interests on the Board and who are also on the same board as Alhaji Tsanni Abubakar.
We could not comprehend this act of absurdity and oddity where a retired soldier will be allowed to be the chief regulator of a freight forwarding industry.
The same oddity and absurdity playing out in the Nigeria Customs Service where another retired army Colonel is the Comptroller General.
While we may excuse the career customs officers for allowing this oddity due to the fact that the retired soldier was appointed and foisted on them, giving them no option but to obey as a paramilitary agency, the same thing cannot be said of the CRFFN where there is an option of voting.
We are puzzled why the 15 full-fledged professionals on the board of CRFFN would keep mute while a non-professional was made the industry’s chief regulator.
What makes it more confusing is that the same Act which the present board of CRFFN is operating and used to produce a retired soldier to govern the industry was the same Act that produced the first two chairmen of the board who are practising freight forwarders.
The first governing board was chaired by Tony Iju Nwabunike, the present National President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) while the second governing board was equally chaired by another crack professional freight forwarder, Alhaji Akeem Olanrewaju who was ironically the Vice-Chairman to Nwabunike in the first governing board in 2008.
Those first two boards have the same membership composition as the present board: 17  government-appointed members and 15 elected freight forwarders as members, making 32-  member governing board.
What then has gone wrong?
If the first two boards could produce freight forwarders as their chairmen and deputy despite being in the minority (15  as against 17), why should the freight forwarders in the third and fourth governing boards become so docile and timid as to concede this vital position to an outsider, a retired soldier?
Informed commentators have hazarded a guess.
They said that the elected freight forwarders in the third and fourth governing council were too frightened to stand up against the barefaced impunity of the now – resigned Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, who brow-beat them into silence while carrying out this absurdity.
Another set of commentators claimed, though not verified, that the frightened freight forwarders may have been compromised to accept this oddity.
Events that played out in 2018 and 2022 when the principal officers of the council were elected or selected lent credence to these insinuations.
At the 2018 inauguration of the board by Ameachi, he practically imposed Alhaji Tsanni Abubakar as the Chairman as he didn’t allow an election to take place to the chagrin of the elected freight forwarders.
He brushed aside a muffled protest put up by Increase Uche, who was then the National President of NAGAFF and a member of the third governming board.
He bullied and browbeaten them to silence when he said he already knew the chairman while giving them the opportunity to produce the Vice-Chairman.
That was the only position put to vote that produced Chief Henry Njoku as the Vice-Chairman in 2018.
The same scenario played out in the 2022 inauguration or meeting? of the 32- member governing body with Amaechi in Abuja recently.
Prior to that date, Ameachi was said to have told those who were elected that he has gotten his chairman.
So when he met them, he used the same gimmick which returned Alhaji Tsanni Abubakar as the chairman without a voting process.
He was said to have sauntered into the meeting and glared at them before he asked them if they wanted the status quo to remain as he has just only one minute to spend with them.
Obviously, he didn’t want to brood any protest or entertain any long process of voting so they all chorused in affirmation.
Which electoral process could be conducted and concluded within a minute,  anyway.
So it was another imposition.
But we are perplexed when some members of the elected freight forwarders, who are supposed to oppose this obnoxious method by the outgone Minister are now justifying and defending the oddity by dressing it as a consensus arrangement.
If there was going to be a consensus arrangement, why not take an elected member of the council, who is a freight forwarder, as a consensus chairman?
How could all the 15 freight forwarders agree to a consensus arrangement that returned a retired soldier as the chief regulator of your industry?
That is why the second postulation by some informed commentators looks credible and tenable to us.
It is even more curious to know that members of  NAGAFF who are in the majority among the elected members ( about eight of them) will look on while this oddity in the name of consensus arrangement was shoved down their throats.
It is sad that they tacitly endorsed this impunity that produced this oddity given the stance of the association’s high command on the absurdity in 2018.
Hear what Dr. Boniface Aniebonam, the Founder of NAGAFF said when Alhaji Tsanni Abubakar emerged as the chairman of the CRFFN board in 2018.
On October 31st, 2018, Aniebonam described as a “black day” the day Alhaji Tsanni Abubakar was made the chairman of CRFFN.
 “A black day in freight forwarding profession in Nigeria. A day rule of law and constitutional provisions may have been thrown overboard by Hon. Minister of Transportation”,
“Hon. Rotimi Amaechi, the Transport Minister, maybe a man with impunity and gut as he set aside CRFFN Act electoral provisions to appoint the chairman of the Council Board 2018 in mafia circumstances”.
Another  chieftain of NAGAFF, Freight Forwarder, Simeon Nwonu,  declared in 2018 thus:

 “Following Chibuike Amaechi’s imposition of one Alhaji Tsanni as chairman of the governing council, Amaechi’s action, contrary to the legal provisions of the CRFFN Act as regards the position of chairman and vice-chairman, has automatically placed the Council on the precipice.”

“It is absolute disregard of the rule of law. It’s not even healthy for the political future of Mr. President (Buhari).

“In fact CRFFN, and by extension, the entire freight forwarding family in Nigeria may not survive this second coming of Armageddon if President Buhari fails to redress the matter.”
If the NAGAFF High Command could rail and rake against the emergence of Alhaji Tsanni Abubakar as the chairman of CRFFN in 2018 which they described as an imposition, why then changed the nomenclature and coated as a “consensus arrangement” the same process that returned the retired soldier as the chairman.
We sympathize with the teeming freight forwarders who are daily groaning under the heavy jackboot of industry service providers who have taken the comatose state of the CRFFN to subject them to multiple charges and mindless extortions.
That the same CRFFN headed by Alhaji Tsanni Abubakar in 2018 which the freight forwarders unanimously condemned as inefficient, inactive, and self-serving, is now returned with the same principal officers, leaves a sour taste in the mouth.
The freight forwarders would do well not to expect a miracle from the fourth governing council of CRFFN as it is a new wine in the old bottle.
We wonder how a non -professional freight forwarder as the chairman could empathize with the freight forwarders and address their welfare issues and other matters that impinge on their professional well-being.
It is only who wears the shoes that knows where it pinches.
If none of the 15 thorough-bred professional and practising freight Forwarders on the board couldn’t find themselves qualified to be the chairman of the body that is statutorily charged with regulating their industry, then the freight forwarders should brace themselves up to accept what comes to them in the next two years of this council since they found it expedient to mortgage the future of the industry and its teeming players by putting its regulation in the hands of a retired soldier.
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