By RICHARDS ADENIYI
THE Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) conference on reforming the Nigerian ports was an eye-opener as it unveiled the various degrees of corruption mitigating against the growth of the nation’s maritime industry as well as their likely solutions.
The event took a dramatic twist as soon as the panel discussion started with the moderator, Mr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN) asking the Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON) and the National Agency for Food Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), to explain their roles at the port.
In a bid to stress the relevance of SON in the port, the Director of Compliance and Monitoring, SON, Engr. Bede Obayi said, “what we are talking about here is compliance to standards; whether it is for the trucks carrying the goods, the road infrastructure or the goods coming into the country.
“If we don’t appreciate this as number one, it becomes a question of which one comes first the chicken or the egg”
Engr. Bede Obayi also asked rhetorically; “Is it better for somebody to pay the Customs duty and come in with toxic materials that will endanger Nigerians?”
Obayi also lamented that the agency had been facing several challenges as their job isn’t as easy as people think.
“For instance, you pick a bill of lading and you find that the properties of the people i.e. importers, agents, etc are fake. The importer says his office is at XYZ in Apapa but you get there to discover that the address is a restaurant. How do you track him?
Meanwhile, the head of the Agricultural Unit of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Mr. Adeola Elliot accused the lawyers as perpetrators of the corrupt practices in the maritime sector.
According to Adeola, the major problems in the Nigerian maritime sector is with the elites, “I put the major problems of this maritime sector at the doorstep of the lawyers because they are in-charge of everything in this country- business, politics, medicine, economy, even maritime”
“We know that the problem is corruption and everybody is complaining, but the reason we can’t get it right is the lawyers. Lawyers are drawing us back. The Nigerian Bar Association knows that corruption is bad, yet it is treating it with kid’s glove”
He asserted that lawyers especially those who have become Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN) ought to play a key role in transforming things because they sit in crucial presidential committees and meetings but he lamented that these elites have been corroded by corruption.
“Things are so bad that even the foreigners are intelligently keying into our corruption to make money. Let the learned people of this country especially the lawyer’s stand up to fight corruption then maritime, agriculture, aviation and all other sectors will thrive. Lawyers please repent- Help us kill this monster called corruption” he added.
However, the Executive Secretary of Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) called for automation as a means of eliminating the grueling corruption at Nigerian ports.
“If you’re to import Mercedes Benz 2016, you can’t hide it because the name, weight, size and all the documents are all on that International Cargo Declaration System which the Nigerian Shippers’ Council will soon deploy. The more we are technology savvy, the more problems we will solve in this sector” Hassan said.
Similarly the Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Dakuku Peterside noted that corruption at the ports would be reduced with the emergence of a unified Single Window as well as the newly launched Standards Operating Procedures (SOP) for agencies at the ports.