The Ease of Doing Business (EODB) is an index published by the World Bank. It is an aggregate figure that includes different parameters which define the ease of doing business in a country. One of these critical elements for ranking EODB Index around the world is the availability of seaports. This includes efficient cargo clearance, quick turn-around time of vessels and cargo dwell time. In the same vein, the Federal Government of Nigeria has identified hindrances against achieving EODB at the port as including difficult clearing processes and numerous government agencies involved in the clearing process.
Consequently, Nigeria has ranked lower in the World Bank index. To ensure seaports efficiency, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo signed an executive order in 2017 cutting down the number of agencies at the country’s seaports from 11 to 7. Seaports are one of the key measurements of EODB in the world because 80 percent of trade are seaborne. This means that ports are enablers of national when well managed by the government. To improve Nigeria’s ranking on the index, the Vice President launched the second National Action Plan on Ease of Doing Business as part of the administration’s medium-term Economic Growth and Recovery Plan (EGRP) to build a competitive economy.
Some agencies were sacked from the ports, but SON is lobbying to return.
In order to implement this plan, the Federal Government reformed the ports and sacked several agencies from there. The affected agencies were: Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON); Port Quarantine Services; National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC); Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS); National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA); and the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA), among others. Of all these agencies, SON has been lobbying stakeholders, lawmakers, and even the executives for a return to the ports.
According to the Director-General of the agency, Mallam Farouq Salim said that the Customs Service only do random checks of 10 out of 100 containers coming to the ports and border stations and this has resulted in the high influx of substandard products into the country. But stakeholders have disagreed with this claim. They said that SON’s returning to the ports will further reduce Nigeria’s ranking in the World Bank EODB Index, which is not something Nigeria needs right now.
Stakeholders ask the agency to strike a balance.
Those who have refused the return of SON to seaports in the country, have urged the agency to strike a balance between core quality standard, regulatory obligations and revenue collection, rather than seeking to return to the seaport. A former president of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Dr Eugene Nweke, said that SON’s absence in Nigeria’s seaports has no correlation with the high influx of substandard goods being brought into the country through the seaport. Instead, he said that it is about revenue generation, which no Nigerian agency rivals the Nigerian Customs Service.
Nweke urged Nigerians to inquire why substandard goods are only dumped in Nigeria’s shores and not those of the neighboring countries’ ports. He explained that the reason substandard cargoes were not shipped to neighboring countries were because shipping companies are penalized for bringing substandard cargo into those countries. He added that Nigeria must have a national shipping policy which foreign shipping lines must obeyed if they are operating or wishing to operate in the shores of the country.
Dr Segun Musa lamented clearing agents calling for SON’s return.
The managing director of Wildscope International Logistics Limited, Dr Segun Musa, lamented about clearing agents who were calling for the return of SON to seaports. He said that they may have been compromised. He argued that SON and some other agencies were sacked from the seaports for frustrating cargo clearance procedures. He said that in the 21st century, cargo clearance is digitized and automated worldwide, but he wondered why people have decided to drag the industry backwards over personal interest.