The Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) is the economic regulator of the nation’s seaports. By virtue of this responsibility, any statement on the state of the ports can not be pushed away or dismissed without paying keen attention. Its CEO; Mr Hassan Bello is not a flippant person either. With facts, he speaks truth to issues.
Recently, he affirmed that there is high level of corruption going on in the ports, and that it is perpetuated by officials of government agencies.
Buttressing the heavy allegation, Hassan Bello disclosed that the council had made some arrests and seized money from officers during vessel boarding operations.
Justifying the allegation, Bello disclosed that the Council has had cause to recover a bribe of $14,000 from a government official who had boarded a vessel.
The allegation may sound like a familiar one, especially to those who are familiar with operations at the ports. Yes, it is normal to see officials of government agencies compromise brazenly.
The Nigerian port system comprises of a web of suppliers and users of shipping services on one side and suppliers and users of ancillary services on the other.
Spread across this winding and complex web are players such as: personnel of the Nigerian Ports Authourity, Nigeria Customs Service and its service providers, terminal operators, shipping agents, Standards Organisation of Nigeria, National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control, importers (big and small), licensed customs agents, dockworkers, truck owners, drivers and motor boys.
It is difficult to ascertain the identity of those who perpetuate fraud in the port system, because the chain of importation is long; hence it can only be situated within the chain; that is, from the point an importer opens his ‘Letter of Credit’ to when the goods are actually procured and, packaged and freighted into Nigeria as an import and up to the point at which it is cleared from the port and delivered to the consignee.
In analysing the phenomenon called corruption in the port system, a lot of people tend to pin it down on stakeholders in the Nigerian port system, but that is an incorrect judgement.
Our findings have revealed that corruption is (in most cases) engineered from the point at which a consignment is procured. A situation when an importer defies import guidelines and import prohibition orders of the federal government makes the consignment and its importer susceptible. By implication, the licensed customs agent inherits the liability.
To ensure that the (offending) consignment is cleared out of the port, he (the clearing agent) begins to define ways and this means being at the mercy of officials of government agencies, notably Customs.
The notoriety and high rating which the Nigeria Customs Service enjoys on the corruption scale is not to say that other players are angels; virtually all the actors whom we have identified above are involved at one level or the other in making the port system what it is.
Stakeholders always rush to label customs personnel as the most corrupt, but as much as we do not want to draw a corruption perception table, we will like to look at them one after the other.
The first thing that happens once a ship comes into the harbours is that officials of government agencies; notably, the Nigeria Immigration Service go on board. Curiously, they board empty handed and disembark with loads of goodies including foreign drinks and other assorted items. That is the first act of corruption.
From that point, the terminal operator takes over and moves the consignments to designated storage facilities, while the importer or his licensed customs agents begins the process of taking delivery. From this moment, he is at the mercy of the container handler operator at the terminal, the Customs officer (and sometimes, the dockworker) at the terminal. If he is lucky and the container is not problematic, it may not be necessary to open his container for full examination; if this is so, he moves to the gate and still contends with a horde of agencies including the Police and the Customs who must again, vet the documents before the container exits.
The above is why we agree with the Nigerian Shippers’ Council boss that, there is a pertinent need to digitalise port operations.
As it is being conceptualised, digitalisation will entail full integration with banks, Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), terminals and shipping lines and other stakeholders
Digitalisation and the full implementation and adherence to the Nigerian Port Process Manual (NPPM) is the antidote that is needed to get rid of all corrupt tendencies in the port.