Africa needs competitive seaports
Seaports are areas where there are facilities for berthing or anchoring ships and where there are equipment for the transfer of goods from ships to shore or to ships from shore. Seaports are complex organizations having many parts in which institutions and their functions often intersect at various levels and have traditionally been seen as the interface between land and sea transport.
For many decades, seaports have been considered more as gateways through which maritime trade flows and at the same time as strategic intermediaries in the supply chain. Simply put, a seaport is a maritime infrastructure, and it can only be efficient as the people who work in it daily.
Ports and port terminal operators, freight forwarders and land-based logistics systems are very important components of the global maritime supply chain. Port selection in the writer’s view, is very vital in the maritime supply chain. Different ports often specialize in different types of shipments.
Selecting the wrong port can add miles, time and therefore cost to a shipment not appropriately routed. If a port’s infrastructure is not adequate – the port has not got appropriate facilities, resources or road infrastructure – customer service will be impaired. The implication is that higher costs will be incurred by shipping lines, forcing the shipping line to increase costs, thus, increasing the total cost of the supply chain.
Seaports need to be competitive. A competitive seaport is one which has a strong relationship and proven record of collaboration with industry, regulators and legislators to benefit shippers. The competitive seaport offers alternative services to container transport, such as an ability to handle traditional break – bulk cargo; oversized, over -dimensional project cargo; or roll -on/ roll – off cargo ranging from automobiles and tractors to defense equipment.
Ideally, ports within a given country should compete to be the first choice for shippers’ supply chains by providing a wealth of intermodal connections, capacity, distribution facilities, promising no delays and shorter times spent in ports. Besides, ports should have access to an experienced workforce with a reputation for reliability. Taking adequate steps towards enhancing safe navigation within the channels, expanding terminal capacity, and working on better intermodal options for improved goods movement.
At a time when supply chains and economies are under increasing pressure as a result of Covid -19 pandemic and worldwide inflation, corruption is having a real impact on trade and livelihoods – ashore and afloat. This negative trend is global. After a decade of research by the Maritime Anti -Corruption Network (MACN), findings show that corrupt demands are on the rise in seaports globally. The research led to collection of data through anonymous incident reporting platforms. At the time of writing this article, the reporting system has close to 50,000 (fifty thousand) incidents reported in over 1000 ports across 149 countries with Suez Canal topping the corruption ranks.
Based on the MACN research findings, the most commonly observed actors to demand bribes are ports authorities (20.9 %), pilots (16.5%), customs (12.7%), and port agents (8.2%). With COVID -19 pandemic lockdown, it was observed that these figures have gone down considerably because of reduced contact with port authority staff and increased adoption of electronic systems for vessel clearance.
It was equally reflected in the report that across the world’s ports, corrupt demands are most commonly made for cigarettes, alcohol and cash. While multiple actors are reportedly involved in making corrupt demands, the consequences of rejecting such demands is similar across seaports globally. And what is the main consequence, you may ask? Delay of vessels.
In Africa, a recently published report by the African Development Bank revealed that most of Africa’s 64 seaports are poorly equipped and uneconomically operated resulting in delays and processing time for cargo. So, can one say that it is because of poor infrastructure that cargo sits for a long period in most seaports, particularly those in Africa? It is not just poor infrastructure at seaports but poor incentives of the workforce including immigration, customs and security personnel.
In Nigeria, the federal government has expended a lot of resources reforming seaports in order to have them securely and economically viable. But the congestion of seaports by containers and inadequate infrastructure within the country is of grave concern. Nigerian ports have remained inefficient due to inefficient cargo inspection method, poor means of cargo evacuation, and insecurity on Nigerian waters. The inefficiency in our ports with longer turn around time, low productivity and high traffic handling time has negative impact on the nation’s economy.
For instance, Nigeria is supposed to handle most of the export and import cargoes of Niger Republic which is a landlocked neighbor. Due to inefficiency and bureaucracy at Nigerian ports, the country lost Niger Republic’s cargoes that are expected to transit our ports to Benin Republic, Togo and Ghana. Even cargoes due to Nigeria has been lost to her immediate neighboring countries. It is very unfortunate that Nigerian ports have been categorized by public intellectuals as the least efficient in West Africa.
This is true but the narrative has to change. A few deep seaports are springing up within the country. But will the Lekki Deep Seaport be a game changer by the time it starts functioning? The federal government believes it will be a game changer. The Lekki Deep Seaport will be a game changer if port workers are of positive attitude to work and necessary infrastructural facilities are provided to support port activities.
Although, the management of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) has expressed its commitment to eliminating systemic corruption and other criminal practices at the nation’s seaports. This is the way forward. Most Nigerians are of the view that those in authority should walk the talk by eliminating systemic corruption and other criminal activities in our seaports. As long as our seaports remain inefficient and the business environment is unfriendly for whatever reasons, there is a cost implication to the inefficiency – depriving the maritime industry of necessary contributions to the nation’s economic growth. Thank you