In 2016, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) took stock of the 10th anniversary of Port reforms in Nigeria amid assurances by the Minister of Transport, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, that a comprehensive audit of the concessionaires’ operations would soon be carried out to know whether to review their agreement with NPA, especially those whose tenure expires this year.
The Nigerian economy accounts for about 70% of all seaborne trade in the West African sub-region and yet, the system of seaports, established in 1921, had not undergone any systematic process of re-development until the concession programme of port reforms, which commenced in 2000 and was concluded in 2006.
The concessioning programme with concession terms ranging from 10-25 years brought into existence the current system of private port operators in Nigeria, namely Lagos Port with 7 concessionaires, Lagos Tin Can Island Port with 4 concessionaires, Rivers Port (Port Harcourt) with 2 concessionaires, Delta Port Complex with 5 concessionaires, Onne Ports (Federal Lighter Terminal & Federal Ocean Terminal) with 4 concessionaires, Calabar Port with 3 concessionaires.
The concession system has resulted in compliance with international standards, particularly the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS Code). Security compliance bench-marking to international regulations and elimination of a multiplicity of poorly coordinated federal law enforcement and security operatives, has also served to curb the incursions of unauthorised personnel within the port; along with the several vices long associated with the Nigerian ports, namely, pilferage, bribery and unscrupulous labour and stevedoring practices (including excessive charging). Additionally, plant and equipment inefficiencies and inadequacies have been minimized.
Significant gains have been made as a result of the concessioning such as: shortened turn-around time for ships; significant reduction of costs, seaport congestion, demurrage, overtime cargo and complaints of untraceable or missing cargoes; the rehabilitation/replacement of cargo-handling plants and equipment owned by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) which were hitherto mostly unserviceable.
Nevertheless, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing, with concessionaires, who spoke under the aegis of the Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN) in commemoration of 8 years of port reforms in 2014, cited ills affecting the effective and efficient running of the nation’s seaports to include inadequate power supply and incessant removal of management of government agencies. Others are arbitrary arrest of vessels at berth and attendant consequences, friction among maritime statutory agencies due to overlapping functions and lack of national carrier capacity for the United Nation Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) 40:40:20 liner code.
STOAN have also recently cited, further challenges in need of attention, namely, inadequate provision of pilotage facilities, which reduces berth occupancy and utility rate; irregular sweeping of the Harbour bed, thus reducing draft and endangering vessels berthing; insecurity of vessels at the anchorage and water front of the Harbours and inconsistent cargo reception and release processes in the terminal together with associated delays.