The digitalisation of Nigerian ports, deployment of e-Customs, investment of over $300 million in inland dry ports and the overhaul of transportation logistics will position Nigeria to take maximum advantage of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which will be operational January 1, 2021, the Executive Secretary/CEO of the Nigerian Shippers council (NSC), Mr Hassan Bello has said.

Bello stated this when the head of the transport section of the Presidential Action Committee on AfCFTA, Ms. Funmi Folorunso paid him a working visit in Lagos.

Trading under the AfCFTA Agreement was due to commence on 1 July 2020, but as a result of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the date was been postponed. It has been indicated that the new date for operationalisation is January 1, 2021.

According to him, “I am not a despondent person I am very optimistic person that is why I want to believe that by early next year, the gridlock in Apapa will disappear. This is because we are having to approach it from the scientific angle. First, we have to make our port digital and contactless, no need for anybody to go to the port to look for arrival time of vessels or to make payments.

“All these can be done online. I always give example of the banking halls years back where we used to have long queues to transact business. But all that is gone now, you make your transactions through the telephone.

“That is what we want our ports to be like, it must be contactless and transactions must be online. Another problem we have is that we rely on the roads for the delivery and evacuation of cargo, which is totally wrong. To deliver and evacuate 75 per cent of our cargo through the roads is totally unacceptable. Now the federal government is introducing the rail, which will be cheaper and will give the truckers a run for their money.”

Nigeria, he stated, has started using barges through the inland water ways to take cargo in out of the ports.

“So we will not depend on the roads again. I think by November this year the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) will deploy electronic call up system. That again is traffic management and that will make our ports more competitive. The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) is deploying E-Customs in accordance with World Customs Organisation (WCO) rules, so scanners will be there and 10 per cent physical examination will be a thing of the past.

“We will also soon have the Lekki Deep sea port, which will have a draft of 18 metres and will have 250, 000 direct employment. It is situated at the Lekki Free Trade Zone (LFTZ) and will attract large vessels. The economy of scale will suggest that Nigeria will no longer be a transshipment destination. Nigeria is conscious of our natural position as a country in the centre of the world, “he said.

He added, “The national fleet that will soon come on board is very important for Nigeria to have ownership of the means of transportation, especially, we have to operate and run the ships and to carry our crude oil. We have to look at our trade terms; there are laws that we have to harvest. The NSC is already running with the carriage of goods by rail and roads, to guide transactions in Africa.”

He called on all stakeholders in the maritime industry not to give up on their effort to salvage the industry as continues advocacy will turn things around for the better.

“We have to continue our advocacy, our economy must be export driven because we have 66 items that Nigeria can export and earn huge foreign exchange. Of the 66 agricultural products that we can export, Nigeria has 33 that no country can rival us in. However, the logistics chain must be efficient otherwise we are going nowhere. The rail capacity, predictability and rates must be made public to enable investors’ come in,” he said.

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