By Francis Ugwoke
The target of the various agencies of government and shipping service providers to have far-reaching automation of services at the ports by March 2021 is achievable, the Executive Secretary, Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), Mr Hassan Bello has assured.
Bello while responding to a question on whether the target by the Council to achieve automation at the ports by the first quarter of next year would be possible based on reports that some ports officials were working against automation for personal gains derived from physical examination/operations said he was optimistic of appreciable progress.
Bello in an exclusive chat with SHIPPING DAY said the Council has already carried out survey on areas where automation has taken place at the ports, adding that what the Council would now do was to ensure that other areas where digitalisation has not taken place key into the project.
“Automation is sure to make progress. The Regulation Department (NSC) has already given us a report on areas that are already automated and what is the deficit. So many things are done online. NSC has carried out a survey on levels of automation and clearing processes for containerised goods and RORO cargo at shipping lines”.
He said that the result of the survey revealed that some agencies have achieved over 50 percent, while others recorded 30 percent and below.
He added that with some having recorded over 50 percent in automation, the Council would put up efforts to look at areas where there is low digitalisation and talk to them to key into the project for the purpose of achieving ease of doing business at the ports.
Bello also expressed optimism that with the Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) meeting in the maritime industry, achieving total automation would be faster.
He explained that this was even moreso with the planned setting up of port community system which according to him would aim at solving all problems affecting operations at the ports.
Many industry stakeholders have been callig for automation as very imperative considering the ravaging coronavirus pandemic.
President of National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Chief Increase Uche, had said that automation has become very necessary in all facets of ports operation with the current ravaging of coronavirus pandemic.
He said, “We need to depart from this manual processing of any stage of port operation. This should involve everyone, the banks, the freight forwarders, customs facilitation, shipping companies, cargo delivery from the terminal. There should be comprehensive integration of all the players. All port operations need digital transformation and the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic experience should be a major reason why the single window implementation must be put into motion to promote automation”.
Uche recalled that in 2006 when the ports were concessioned, automation worked for some months with the introduction of ASYCUDA 2.7 by the Customs Service before being scuttled by some unscrupulous customs officials who felt that they were not making personal money as a result of automation.
“As at that time, with scanner once your cargo is on green lane what you require is to go to the terminal and carry your goods to leave. By that nothing is causing you any encumbrance. But at a stage, when the Customs Processing Centre (CPC) discovered that nobody was coming there anymore, and those at the terminals found out nobody recognised their presence any more, they started posting alerts.
“That was what reversed the whole thing. The CPC that was almost deserted became lively again towards 2008 and early 2009. That is how the whole thing was reversed again. So that was how automation under ASYCUDA 2.7 was reversed again”, he said.
Similarly, former President of NAGAFF, Dr. Eugene Nweke, said if Nigeria wants what obtains in other advanced ports, there should be serious commitment on the part of the government to achieve it.
Nweke said an automated port system is expected to, “posses the capacity for unhindered communication via Single Portal which provides for single lodgment process, validation of data, inbuilt security device, prompt business intelligence monitoring and responses, accommodate users templates, minimise efforts for all parties via seamless net-workings.”
He said what Nigerian shippers or port users want is an automated port system with wholesome paperless documentation regime in, “port-shipping operations in which submission of documents and processing are done almost instantaneous, reducing man hours and associated delays.”
Nweke was also of the view that what obtains in Nigeria currently was far from the needed national centrally driven automation process, referring to the multiplicity of automation efforts as represented by different agencies of the government.
He argued, “National automation process is devoid of undue agencies supremacy tussles, it is driven purely on national interests. This is why the World Trade Organization (WTO) is calling signatory member nations to migrate into the National Single Window concept.”
To him, the Nigeria Customs Service has a near national automated system but limited to trade, a robust interface and interaction capacity as required.
“Same goes with the NPA, NIMASA,etc. All of them seem to be driven by core agency objectives which is a negation of whole essence of National e-commerce networking amongst the port/shipping companies. Ordinarily, one should expect that this evolution of national port automation process should be a core focus of the Nigeria Shippers Council,” he said.
He explained that this was because the Ministry of Trade seems to be far from the global realities.
He added, “From all indications, it appears that the trade ministry has surrendered its administrative obligations to the Transport Ministry, perhaps for policy concerns.”
He called on the federal government to as a matter of priority harmonise its policy objectives beyond the individual ministry and agency interests for a common goal.
Arguing that the Presidential Task For on Ease of Doing Business didn’t achieve much in its campaign on account of non-seamless integrated process, Nweke said it is imperative to allow the NSC as the ports economic regulator to sustain its advocacy in this direction.