By Gboyega Oni
Lack of stable and competitive costs and charges has been the bane of growth in the nation’s shipping industry since the year 2006 when the Nigerian government conceded the operations of the port terminals to private investors. From then till date, it has been a blame game between government and operators over incessant and arbitrary increases in port costs and charges.
To show the way out of the quagmire, speakers at the third edition of Taiwo Afolabi Annual Maritime Conference which held on Friday August 17, 2018 at the University of Lagos, Lagos admitted that the time had come to remedy the situation and save the industry from the throes of multiple tariffs.
Otunba Kunle Folarin, the lead speaker, said high costs and charges were one of the critical issues that have stunted the growth of the industry as manifested through corruption, bureaucratic bottlenecks in documentation process, computed cost of delays and lack of a political will. He added that these have generated a lot of complaints among operators and would continue to be a stain on the achievements of port concession.
Folarin noted that when there is a cordial relationship between cost and service there would be efficiency in ship turnaround time, movements of vessels in and out of berths, ship productivity and cargo dwell time.
For the industry to enjoy stable and competitive costs and charges, he called on the federal government to reduce customs duties and taxes, set up an effective and efficient single window platform, provide infrastructure and encourage public private partnership in port business.
Speaking as one of the panellists, Prince Olayiwola Shittu, a former president of Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) blamed the government for continued increase in cargo costs in the port by encouraging multiplication of its agencies whose intent in the ports is to make money rather than helping to facilitate cargo clearance. He added that terminal operators do not help the situation too as they have refused to encourage dialogue between them and users of their services to know reasons for the increase.
To Mrs. Obiageli Obi, Director General of Nigerian Chamber of Shipping, a lack of collaboration and synergy between operators is responsible for incessant increments in port costs and charges. She noted that the industry operators, both government and private investors, must synergise in operations and be on one platform. Then, according to her, the problem can best be solved.
Earlier in his welcome address, Dr. Taiwo Afolabi, Group Executive Vice Chairman of SIFAX Group, the chief host of the conference, said that the title of the conference for the year: Port Costs and Port Charges: A Recurring Decimal Under Port Reform Regime, was deliberately chosen to help shape necessary policy formulations on port costs and port charges by the regulatory authorities.
He noted that the contributions of the conference shall be compiled and transmitted to appropriate government authorities in the maritime industry.