As Nigeria continues to carry out manual inspection of containers and other imports at the nation’s seaports, Meridian Ports Services (MPS), operator of the newly built Terminal 3 of Ghana’s Tema Port, has invested over $24 million in acquisition of Customs inspection infrastructure and superstructure, popularly known as scanning machines.
With this development, Ghana’s port has overtaken Nigeria in running of a digitalised port system as Nigeria Customs currently carries out 100 percent physical and manual examination of containers, six years after the expiration of the Destination Inspection (DI) contract formerly handled by private companies that provided scanning services at the ports.
By implication, over 500,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of containers and about 71,535,636 million metric tonnes of general cargo, dry and bulk cargoes that come to Nigerian ports annually are manually inspected by the officers of the Nigeria Customs.
Meanwhile, the newly launched MPS Terminal 3 at Tema Port has the latest scanning technology installed in the port terminal, which is expected to facilitate the smooth movement of trade in and out of the port.
Dorothy Arhin, head of Ghanaian Customs Unit, said building of import scanner has transformed and added value to the role of Customs in cargo handling at Tema Port.
She described the new technology as a game changer to the Customs processes and cargo clearing procedure, which she said would bring better transparency.
Recall that in line with the port reform agenda of 2006, the Federal Government entered into contract with Scanning Service Providers (SSPs) including Cotecna, SGS and Global Scan, responsible for approving Form M, issuing Risk Assessment Report (RAR) and scanning goods imported into Nigeria.
The contract, which was based on build, operate, own and transfer (BOOT) regime, allowed the DI agents to acquire multi-billion dollar mobile and fixed scanners for electronic examination of imports at the ports and border stations allocated to them.
Six years after the DI agents handed over the equipment to Customs to manage, cargoes now dwell between one and two months in Nigerian ports and the importers pay demurrage and storage charges for the delay.
“Today, scanning machines are no longer functional in Nigerian ports and border stations. Congestion is building in the ports because the goods are not being cleared as they should,” said Tony Anakebe, managing director, Gold Link Investment Ltd, a Lagos-based clearing and forwarding company, in an interview with BusinessDay.
Anakebe said the importer pays demurrage and storage charges to shipping companies and terminal operators, which adds to the cost of doing business, and ends up shifting the cost to the end consumers by raising the market prices of commodities.
He said Nigeria Customs needs to learn from the digital transformation that recently took place in Tema Port of Ghana to change the nation’s manual cargo inspection procedure and ameliorate the plight of Nigerian importers.
Meanwhile, Mohamed Samara, chief executive officer of MPS Terminal 3, said recently that the new technology is expected to eliminate Customs’ revenue leakages and supplement domestic revenue.
“The new setup provides Authorities with audit trail of all receipt and delivery movements in the port,” Samara said.
This means Nigeria can generate more money from Customs through blocking leakages and creating businesses for firms that import goods.
MPS Terminal 3 also has connected gate technologies comprising Licence Plate Recognition (LPR) for reading vehicle’s number plate, Optical Character Recognition (OCR) for recognising container numbers, integrated weighbridges, and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) which identifies trucks that use the terminal.
“Driver access to the terminal is controlled using Biometric Access Control and drive-through Smiths Detection scanning portals that automatically inspect trucks, containers and other vehicles, for explosives, drugs and weapons,” Samara said.
BusinessDay understands that in Nigerian ports, vehicles especially trucks are still being inspected manually as the government is yet to introduce the electronic gate (e-gate) inspection machine.
“Inspection of trucks manually in our ports sometimes creates long queue at the port gate which, at peak periods, creates serious congestion and delay for truckers and the cargo owners,” said Jonathan Nicol, president, Shippers Association of Lagos State.
MPS Terminal also uses a Truck Appointment System (TAS) and call-up system that allow freight forwarders to pre-book appointments before accessing the port, a system Nigeria is currently struggling to install in Apapa and Tin-Can Ports.
This is fully integrated with the Terminal Operating System (TOS) to provide process automation for drivers, eliminate congestion and maximise efficiency levels without compromising security at the port.
Findings have shown that absence of call-up system has been the major reason Apapa gridlock has persisted over the last seven years as truckers indiscriminately queue on the roads leading to the port in a quest to access the port to either drop empty containers or pick laden goods.
Remi Ogungbemi, chairman, Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMARTO), told BusinessDay that congestion on Apapa roads could be addressed using effective call-up system that gives truckers appointment on when to come to the port to do business.
“Though the NPA has tried to introduce a manual call-up system, we need to have an electronic call-up, which the authority promised to set up in August, to help organised truck movement within the port environs,” he said.