As evidenced by the Nigerian port systems, corruption often arises from inefficient systems. Inter-agency coordination and process modernization can curb corruption to a significant extent.
There are key indications that poor policy directives and procedures impede the ease of doing business at ports, thereby making it difficult to combat corruption. As a Nigeria-based compliance professional, I know this firsthand – and the example of Nigerian ports can inform others monitoring global supply chains. Corruption often occurs alongside a failure to bring transparency to the system. This failure has become a notorious gateway that facilitates the giving and taking of bribes by public officials and other individuals working within the Nigerian ports. Corruption is a self-serving cash cow for those raking in millions of naira from port operations.
But new strategies and methods to prevent corruption, including introducing technology into the mix, are expected to make a huge difference in reducing corruption and increasing efficiency at Nigeria‘s busiest ports.
A Robust Corruption Strategy
Many inefficiencies exist in service delivery within the ports that offer opportunities for public officers to engage in illegitimate transactions for monetary gain. For example, public officials of government agencies working and operating within the ports prefer to physically examine cargo instead of using scanners. To circumvent this inefficient approach, bribes are offered to public officers enforcing these tedious processes.
Another conduit for corruption is the mode of cargo inspection. Public officials are mandated to routinely board vessels that berth at the ports. However, for years, multiple agencies have carried out inspections in an unplanned manner. Each agency determines when to carry out an inspection process rather than collaborate with other agencies to undertake one inspection process. So, a ship undergoes several inspection checks by different agencies inspecting cargo at their own time and pace. This inefficient procedure causes inordinate delays. Many ship captains prefer to offer bribes or other forms of gifts to public officials to circumvent this cumbersome and inefficient process.
These examples illustrate how poor policy directives create lucrative avenues for the giving and taking of bribes. One may, therefore, suggest that a new policy directive will bolster better service delivery, as well as improve efforts to tackle corruption in the ports. A 2014 corruption risk assessment at the Nigerian ports of Onne, Warri, Port Harcourt, Calabar, Apapa and Tin Can, it was discovered that a lack of awareness of operating procedures by users (agents, exporters, importers) was a driving force in corruption.
Visitors to the ports do not always know the official timelines for services offered by port operators, so it is often impossible to know the actual waiting time before receiving the service, or even the relevant documents to be submitted to obtain a service. Most port users rely heavily on public officials, oftentimes unscrupulous ones, to transact business within the ports. The result is that various countries, companies and state authorities become active participants in acts of bribery.
A Purposeful Rein on Corruption
In a bid to bridge the knowledge gap, a single process card, the Nigerian Port Process Manual (NPPM), was funded and developed by the Nigerian Ports Authority. This manual was launched for use December 9, 2020 with the Nigerian Shippers Council as the lead implementation agency. The manual describes the services offered by port operators so that anyone visiting the ports can follow effortlessly.
It outlines and guides users by highlighting all required documentation, procedural steps, payments, timelines and the responsible agencies for each process in the port. This manual boosts public awareness and understanding of port procedures, thereby encouraging efficiency and accountability. It should also reduce incidents of bribery, as port users know the various agencies charge of specific services, eliminating the middlemen in the system. (Access the NPPM online here.)
Key benefits of the NPPM include:
1. It facilitates a mechanized approach in conducting business at the ports in line with global best practices rather than the inefficient analog procedures in use. Key stakeholders in the ports, including the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), reached an agreement to implement measures that will minimize direct human contact onboard vessels calling at the Nigerian ports in line with the provisions of the NPPM.
2. It ensures coordination and cooperation between government agencies at the ports. Before the launch of the NPPM, foreign ships and the international community calling at the ports complained of delays and huge costs incurred because of separate boarding and inspection by ports authorities. To address the complaints and utilize the NPPM effectively, the NSC, NPA, Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), Port Health and the Department of State Security Service (DSS) all agreed to collaborate and jointly inspect vessels calling on Nigeria.
3. The manual supports the introduction of new technology at the ports to curb illegal activities and rid the ports of corruption, including an electronic call-up system to reduce traffic congestion at the ports. Especially in ports and off-dock terminals with heavy vehicular and human traffic, Apapa and Tin Can, the two busiest ports in Nigeria, this will be a big improvement.
For years, a manual truck scheduling arrangement has been in use. However, in February 2021, the NPA came up with an electronic truck call-up system to deal with the recurrent traffic gridlock responsible for delays along the access roads leading to these ports. The truck call-up system, also known as Eto, which means “to schedule” in the Yoruba language, is now used for access to the port for cargo trucks and by shipping companies to transfer empty containers.
It is important to note that the Nigerian Port Process Manual will help reduce corruption as it pushes for greater cooperation and collaboration between the various government agencies working in the country’s ports. These collaborative efforts can drive down the rates of giving and taking bribes significantly with the integration of technology alongside other policy directives to improve service delivery. It will attract more business to the ports as compliance boosts efficiency, transparency and accountability.