Stakeholders in the maritime industry have called for a review of the federal government’s protectionist policies, especially the prohibition list on imported goods not produced in sufficient quantities in the country.
This is even as a university don, Charles Okorefe have recommended the urgent unbundling of the Federal Ministry of Transportation into the Ministry of Maritime Transportation and Ministry of Roads and Railways respectively, arguing the unbundling will accelerate purposeful development and speedy growth of the transportation sub sectors.
The stakeholders who spoke at the 2022 Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the League of Maritime Editors and Publishers (LOMEP), in Badagry Lagos on Thursday, argued that protectionist measures by the government, which restricts imports have not only inhibited international trade but encourage smuggling.
Chairman of the Nigerian Ports Consultative Council, NPCC, Otunba Kunle Folarin who doubled as the chairman of the occasion said apart from making smugglers out of Nigerians, the protectionist policies subject citizens to unwarranted hardship and hunger.
He said, “Why do we have such a protectionist policy of government that protects and inhibits indirectly international trade? When we closed the borders about two years ago, what were the gains? Did it serve as a deterrent against smuggling?
“Protectionist measures always limit the growth potential of a country because people who are manufacturing can throw around substandard products saying nothing will be allowed to come in, so we can have any standard. Protectionist policies also encourage smuggling and discourage people in the country from improving their standard and production.
“If we get a policy that encourages quality production, then our trade will go up. We can apply the use of high tariffs as a deterrent or we start a manufacturing regime in the country so that those things that are being smuggled are domiciled in our country. It will not only develop our economy but also give jobs to our young people and create revenue for the government instead of having a long list of prohibited items,” he said.
Also, Charles Okorefe while delivering the lead paper at the event themed “The role of Technology in Trade Facilitation and Smuggling Suppression” condemned the economic policy noting that the regime of prohibitions is more political than economic.
“As at last year, we had 41 items on the prohibition list, this year milk was also added to make it 42. We prohibit all these items yet we are not producing them in commercial quantities. So, what do we expect?
“Protectionism is to ensure that what we are protecting is produced in enough quantities locally so that the ones that are being brought in will become unattractive. But we are not producing these items in sufficient quantities, for example, the government banned rice importation but we are not producing enough rice to feed ourselves,” he said.
While Okorefe commended the Nigeria Customs Service cargo clearance procedures, which he said has evolved over the years through deployment of technology, he however condemned regular interception of cargoes by the service’s multiple units of checks outside the port, despite 100 percent manual examination and incessant alerts on cargoes; saying the operational culture impedes trade facilitation.
“I don’t understand why after examination of cargoes at the terminal, a Customs Deputy Comptroller will release, the same cargo will get to the gate and another officer will find reason to detain the cargo and when the cargo eventually leaves the port, we have the FOU, and the Strike Force that will intercept the cargo.
“All units of Customs should make themselves present for cargo examination so the release will be seamless otherwise the problem will continue,” he said.
He also advocated the use of drones and body cameras along border areas to fight and suppress smuggling activities.
In his own intervention, the Controller of Federal Operations Unit Zone A Ikeja, Hussein K. Ejibunu noted that technological innovations such as the use of drones will help to reduce the menace of smuggling.
The FOU boss who was represented by Deputy Comptroller Isiaku B.A, however said the application of drones, body cameras and CCTV has not received sufficient attention.
“The procurement and deployment of drones as well as Close Circuit Television (CCTVs) along the border areas will monitor the activities of smuggling and smugglers without necessarily deploying the field officers.
“A central monitoring center will identify spots where offending items are stockpiled and with just one stop operation, the items will be evacuated under heavy detachment of officers. This will avert regular confrontations between officers and smugglers.
“Technologically equipped patrol vans and the use of body cameras by patrol officers will reduce to the barest minimum most allegations of extortions leveled against officers while on patrol. The communication gadgets installed in patrol vans will also ease communication gaps between different patrol teams at different points. Should there be any crisis in any given location, reinforcement will not suffer hiccups.”
Okerefe who is a lecturer at the Nigeria Maritime University (NMU) Okerenkoko, Delta State, lamented that the major reason for the slow development of the nation’s maritime capacities has to do with the unwieldy size of ministerial supervision, bureaucratic bottlenecks and manifest conflicts and challenges that attends poor choice making and lateness of decisions.
He argued that given the nation’s huge maritime domain and resources, a ministry of maritime will be self sustaining and decisive for growing it’s potential, which will ultimately drive the national economy once freed from its current state of apparent political imprisonment.
Tagged MY BADAGRY DECLARATION, Okorefe said:
“The Federal Government of Nigeria should without much delay and prevarications, collapse the Federal Ministry of Transport and create a stand alone Ministry for Maritime Transport (The Rail and Road modes can function as Ministry of Land Transport).
“This measure would have the following effects: a. Create sharper focus on the development of the nation’s ports, shipping and maritime sector in general. b. Maximize the utility of the nation’s Coastal and Inland Waterways for the nation’s Cabotage trade, c. Adequate positioning of the nation for effective participation in the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).”
Asked why his recommendation in view of concerns that there are too many ministries gulping scarce resources in maintaining them without commensurate benefits, the maritime university teacher said:
“The unbundling of the ministry of transportation will be self sustaining, it will not be parasitic like some of the existing ones. This country’s maritime domain and resources is very huge, once it is freed to function optimally it can contribute significantly to impact our gross domestic product.
“So my recommendation is for the establishment of a maritime ministry, separate from the ministry of roads and railways. Each emerging ministries are strong and can get better and improved supervision, the ministry of transportation as we currently have is not growing the economy, decisions are often slow.
“Breaking the transportation ministry down will create competition and efficiencies” Okorefe noted.
He lamented that the railway doesn’t move up to one percent of cargoes from the nation’s ports, and stressed that logistics connection remains a huge burden to the ports which according to him should be addressed expeditiously.
He also warned of grave implication if Nigeria engages in needless border closures having signed and ratified the AfCFTA.
Relatedly, Okorefe noted that blockchain could serve as an immense catalyst to efficient trade facilitation and suppression of smuggling, noting the innovations have been gainfully deployed in managing cryptocurrencies which produced evident real time, online trading efficiencies and transactional integrity in parts of Europe, America and Asian.
He said the adoption and application of blockchain technology, artificial intelligence (AI) and drones amongst other applications will enhance the efficient operations of the Nigeria Customs Service; especially in the area of anti-smuggling activities.