Amid uncertainty caused by coronavirus, stakeholders have said there will be limitations to a quick rebound in maritime industry this year, BAYO AKOMOLAFE reports
The third-quarter volume growth in the global containerised trade had raised the expectation of maritime stakeholders that this year would mark a startling turnaround in the shipping industry despite the presence of coronavirus pandemic. For instance, in its global shipping sector outlook, Fitch Ratings said that there would be partial rebound in demand across freight categories in 2021 based on current expectations for a global economic recovery. Also, the Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Bashir Jamoh, said that the nation’s maritime domain would witness significant progress in security, safety and shipping in 2021 as technological developments would increase efficiency and growth and further give an extremely competitive edge to those that embrace technology. However, ship owners fear that the smaller liners that could not keep up with this new trend would lose their competitive edge. To achieve success in shipping, manufacturers, who engage in export business, have stressed the need to step up engaging neighbours meaningfully in order to improve trade balance, curb smuggling and stop the trend where other countries are having free lunch at the expense of the Nigerian economy.
However, a former President, Ship Owners Association of Nigeria (SOAN), Greg Ogbeifun, while analysing the sector for this year, said that the future was bleak due to lack of required human resource to drive the industry. He said that the country could not be talking about the maritime industry when so much import and export of dry, liquid and specialised cargo are being carried by foreign ships. Apart from NLNG vessels, Ogbeifun explained that Nigeria had one single ship involved in international trade for business, adding that NLNG vessels were even registered outside of this country.
Customs agents have resolved to interface stronger with the Federal Ministry of Finance, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Bank of Industry (BoI) this year on the need for a special loan scheme to help logistics firms in expanding and maintaining fleet of heavy duty and lighter vehicles required beyond coverage of train services. According to the National President of Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Mr. Iju Tony Nwabunike, the impact of customs agents activities on Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and many others will reinforce their strategic role in government economic diversification agenda and increasing its non-oil revenue base.
Both importers and customs agent are expecting more borders to be opened this year to help Nigeria consolidate on economic growth on the projection that it would reverse the decline of the trade sector, one of the largest employers of labour in the country. However, the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) warned the Federal Government of impending economic and security challenges if the country’s land borders were not secured. For instance, the Director-General of MAN, Segun Ajayi-Kadir, said that necessary framework must be in place to monitor the borders effectively, else the issues that led to the closure of the borders would manifest. He said that the manufacturing sector was under siege as manufacturers are now victims of increasing incidence of smuggling, especially smuggling of counterfeited versions of established local brands; illegal importation of unregistered products, under-invoicing and considerable evasion of duty payments.
As part of efforts to boost cargo transshipment and ease traffic congestion, the Federal Government said that it would institute an electronic call-up system to ease traffic congestion at the port. Also, it said that rail would be linked to the seaport terminals by March 2021 in order to decongest the road of gridlock.
Similarly, the Federal Government is targeting early delivery and commissioning date of the Ibadan Inland Dry Port. It was learnt that with digitalisation of Nigerian ports, deployment of e-Customs, investment of over $300 million in inland dry ports and the overhaul of transportation, logistics would position Nigeria to take maximum advantage of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement, which took off this January.
Also, there are expectations that cargo clearing processes and all other port transactions would be carried out online by first quarter of 2021. According to the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC)’s Executive Secretary, Hassan Bello, most of the terminals and shipping companies are already doing 85 per cent of their transactions online. He said: “We are meeting with shipping companies, terminal operators and the banks to harmonise and integrate the cargo clearing processes at ports. We need to make our port efficient that is why we believe that an importer can stay in the comfort of his or her office to exit his cargo without having to be physically present at the port.” Besides, he said that the electronic transactions would reduce corruption among port officials and make the port more efficient, cheaper and more competitive.
he National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) has proposed N6.6 billion for capital project in 2021 budget to upscale development of jetties, dredging and maintenance in the inland water transportation in the country. As part of efforts to consolidate this, the National Assembly has resolved to enact necessary legislations to help the authority develop and increase inland waterways in the country in the New Year.
Nigerian Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) said that it would no longer be business as usual for unscrupulous shipping operators in 2021. The agency said that it would commence the issuance of a more secure certificate to Nigerian flagged vessels by the first quarter of the year as part of efforts to check the menace of certificate forgery which have painted its registry in bad light. The agency’s Director General, Dr Bashir Jamoh, also advised Nigerians to be involved in cargo freight to promote indigenous participation in the maritime space, stressing the need for full implementation of the relevant local content strategy by ensuring that Nigerian cargoes are freighted by nationals to promote indigenous participation in maritime space, diversification and increase in international shipping trade. In addition, the agency said that there would be more collaboration with Navy and other security agencies in order to combat piracy on Nigerian waters.
This year, as the cost of moving containers from the port terminal within Lagos has gone up by 85.7 per cent, the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Hadiza Bala Usman, said that the authority would introduce electronic call-up system in January 2021. With the call up system, she explained that there would not be indiscriminate parking of vehicles on the roads. Under the plan, the managing director said that there would be designated truck parks where vehicles would remain until when called into the port, adding that the Lagos State Government would provide the designated park at Orile to accommodate the trucks.
The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) will still battle with lots of cargoes that are abandoned at ports in order to free various terminals of overtime cargoes. Absence of scanners would still affect its clearance procedures and revenue generation at the port and borders.
It has become imperative for government to interface stronger with relevant stakeholders in order to boost maritime economy.