How Buhari’s Reforms Impact Corruption in Nigeria’s Maritime Sector

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Illegal demands by Nigerian public officials from ship captains for large cash payments not received as part of the ship clearance process increased from 266 reported incidents in 2019 to 128 in 2020 and 40 in 2021. All issues reported through the Port Services Assistance Portal (PSSP) were, as of 2020, typically resolved during normal ship operations while in port and, at the time of writing, there were only two such issues to be resolved. Behind this major shift in performance is a crop of probably lesser-known officials who have been involved in the port reforms that the Federal Republic of Nigeria has been carrying out since 2012 in collective action with the Maritime Anti-Corruption Network, MACN.

One such courageous and noteworthy officer is Moses Fadipe of Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC). He was honored with the distinction of “Most Outstanding Man of the Year in the Public Sector (Maritime), 2021” by Freight Watch Publications and “Star Boy of 2021” by the NSC. But Moses Fadipe as the Chief of the Permanent Port Task Team (PSTT) which commenced operations on March 3, 2021 in Lagos for Western Ports and September 28, 2021 in Port Harcourt for Eastern Nigeria Ports, did not act alone, he acted in concert with other members of the PSTT from the anti-corruption commission (The Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offenses Commission or ICPC), Department of State Security (DSS) and the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA).

At various times since 2012, when the collaboration between the MACN and the Presidency of the Federal Republic of Nigeria began, the MACN, through its Nigerian partner, the Business Integrity Convention (CBi), gave direct feedback to the government on progress made or lack thereof and the Nigerian government has always responded appropriately with new strategies and tactics where needed to keep reforms on track. An example is “Operation Mark” which emerged in 2019 after the MACN complained that levels of corruption were still unbearable and was the precursor to the Permanent Port Task Force (PSTT). Operation Mark conducted undercover operations to catch and prosecute officials who deliberately flouted the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) put in place in the ports by each agency and terminal operator there.

In December 2020, on World Anti-Corruption Day, the Nigerian Presidency introduced the Nigerian Port Process Handbook (NPPM) which describes the specific steps to be taken to carry out each port process, identifies the stakeholders involved and gives an indication of the deadlines. The PSTT, led by Mr. Fadipe, has been mandated to monitor and enforce compliance by all government agencies and private stakeholders with the provisions of the NPPM and help eliminate opacity in port operations in accordance with international best practices such as enshrined in the Nigerian Ports Process Manual (NPPM). The Port Process Manual aims to foster an enabling environment for domestic and foreign port users, eliminating bottlenecks and illegal requests (such as large cash payments not received).

This approach was taken because Nigeria seeks an effective and successful systemic intervention in the port sector that would quickly change the narrative, perception and ranking of Nigeria in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). The Nigerian Port Processes Manual on Port Operations is also one of the key interventions for the effective implementation of Nigeria’s Executive Order 001, which was aimed at promoting transparency and efficiency in the business environment and designed to facilitate doing business in Nigeria.

Apart from greatly reducing the number of requests for large cash payments not received in the vessel clearance process, the introduction of SOPs and NPPM has increased the level of transparency around the processes to be followed in Nigerian ports. The introduction of the Port Services Assistance Portal has also made complaints and claims handling processes more transparent and efficient. Efficiency is measured by the consistency with which procedures are followed and the resulting predictability in terms of costs and time spent clearing ships through ports. Prior to the launch of the NPPM, a vessel had to wait an average of five hours at anchor after pilot assignment before being laid low. There was a proliferation of various government staffing agencies with no specified number of officers boarding a vessel with an average boarding time of at least 90 minutes by each agency during the customs clearance exercise of the ship. NPPM has streamlined all of that now. A recent article summarizes the specific achievements of the PSTT during its first 9 months of working on the NPPM to correct some of these ills.

Prior to the launch of the NPPM and the constitution of the PSTT, the maritime sector was plagued with infrastructural problems for the port administration, which created circumstances of excessive delays from berthing, receipt of vessels to the processes of import/export, excessive “bureaucracy”, human and automobile congestion in and around ports, and illegal charges leading to high costs of trade operations.

The economic cost of these challenges in light of the losses that accompany the resulting inefficiencies has been estimated at around $7 billion per year. This has enabled the Nigerian government, through the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), the Technical Unit on Government Reforms and Anti-Corruption (TUGAR) and The Independent Corrupt Practices and Related Offenses Commission (CIPC), in collaboration with the Maritime Anti-Corruption Network (MACN) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), are embarking on a process of reforms to meet the challenges of the maritime sector.

According to the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), the SOPs, NPPM and PSSP, when fully implemented, would have far-reaching implications for operations at Nigerian ports and terminals. This is expected to address estimated annual losses of N600 billion in customs revenue, $10 billion in non-oil exports and N2.5 trillion in corporate revenue, including the 38-40% decline in the use of industrial capabilities.

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