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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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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