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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The Sunken “NIMASA- BARUGU” Vessel: Matters Arising
On Sunday 3rd April 2022, a video emerged on social media where a patrol vessel with the inscription NIMASA-Barugu on it and belonging to Messers Global West Specialist Vessels Limited sank in Lagos.
The Boat was one of the Vessels owned by GWSVL and deployed for patrol during the implementation of a contractual agreement between the Company and the Agency, NIMASA.
The contract which was entered into in 2012 was for Global West to provide platforms and other equipment for NIMASA to patrol the Nigerian Maritime domain effectively in the quest to attain the status of an efficient Maritime Administration.
However, things went south when in 2015 the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC,), started investigating the contract and instituted criminal cases against Global West Specialist Vessels Limited.
NIMASA Senior Accountants, Auditors and other senior staff who were not charged to court were made to report at the EFCC every other day to answer questions on the PPP transaction involving Global West.
In these circumstances, the Agency had to stop all transactions cum payments to GWVSL.
Eventually, GWVSL escaped in a no-case submission against the criminal trial.
However, this has nothing to do with the cases instituted by GWVSL against the Agency for claims ranging from breach of contract to demands for further damages for deliberately breaching the contract.
If GWVSL wants NIMASA to assist with maintenance and other sundry expenses of their vessels, won’t they withdraw or suspend the cases instituted by it against NIMASA?
But GWVSL prefers to eat their cake and have it. They insisted on going full steam ahead with the cases while applying all sorts of pressure through NGOs, Government Ministries, including the Media amongst others to force NIMASA to resume making payments to them.
If GWVSL were dealing in good faith, once done with the criminal charges, they should have approached the Agency for settlement.
But no, instead they went ahead to obtain an arbitration judgement against their erstwhile partners and co-sufferers of the specter of criminal allegations.
Thereafter, they proceeded to seek an experte court order to enforce the arbitral award and attach the Agency’s accounts, while the Agency was completely unaware of the very doctrines of fairness equity and justice.
At this point, NIMASA had no option but to begin to defend itself.
The agency has done this resolutely, unflinchingly with a single-minded focus ignoring the noisy attempts by GWVSL as mentioned earlier to pressurize NIMASA into paying their bills while they awaited the crystallization of the proceeds of unfairly obtained judicial decisions.
Despite all these obvious challenges, NIMASA Management under this Administration made concerted efforts towards reactivating the few serviceable boats in the fleet of GWSVL, but was constrained by the legal encumbrances due to the nature of the cases in court.
As a law-abiding entity, NIMASA approached the matter under sound legal advisory.
ON THE SUNK “NIMASA-BARUGU” VESSEL
The Vessel is in sole possession of GWVSL, and vessel is also under the technical and economic control of GWVSL.
Therefore GWVSL and no one else takes responsibility for the sinking of the vessel.
Assuming the Vessel sank while trading in Nigerian waters, then the MARAD, in this case, NIMASA could be held liable for issuing safety certification while the vessel was unseaworthy.
NIMASA is not responsible for Vessels kept in anchorage for years without proceeding on any voyage where it may constitute a danger to its crew, other vessels, or the marine environment.
NIMASA can confirm that the crew on board are safe, and preliminary arrangements to mitigate against pollution of the marine environment around the Kirikiri axis is being made, while signing the area as dangerous to warn other users of the channel.
NIMASA as an Agency of Government remains committed to her statutory responsibility of administering safety and regulating the industry within the ambit of every legal framework.
CHUKWUMA MOGHALU is a staff of NIMASA.
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