The third JournalNG Port Industry Town Hall Meeting, held under the theme “Essence of Automation for a Productive Blue Economy,” took place at Rockview Hotel, Apapa Lagos, on September 7, 2023. The rapporteurs of the event, Roland Ekama Segun Oladipupo Ken Jukpor in unanimously said this event brought together stakeholders from both the public and private sectors of Nigeria’s maritime and trade industries, including government agencies and private sector groups.
Automation: The Key to a Productive Blue Economy
Automation, defined as the technique of making apparatus, processes, or systems operate automatically, was the central theme of the discussions. The consensus was that automation plays a vital role in streamlining port operations, eliminating inefficiencies, and promoting economic growth. It is characterized by the mechanization of processes, reducing the reliance on human labor and, in turn, bolstering trade while minimizing corruption.
Challenges Faced Due to Lack of Automation
The rapporteurs highlighted the detrimental effects of the historical lack of automation in the maritime community. These challenges included time wastage, loss of cargoes, demurrage accumulation, and the need to navigate through multiple offices for document signing. Furthermore, the absence of standardized operating procedures for port operators created ambiguity and hindered trade facilitation.
Observations and Recommendations
The importance of the 2023 JournalNG Port Industry Town Hall Meeting with its theme, “Essence of Automation to Productive Blue Economy,” was lauded as timely and crucial for economic development.
The role of organizations like the Nigeria Customs Service in the success of the Blue Economy was emphasized, even though it falls under the Federal Ministry of Finance. Inter-ministerial coordination was identified as essential.
The Blue Economy encompasses more than just shore operations; it requires harmonization of marine regulatory frameworks and the involvement of all logistics chain players.
The Nigeria Customs Service should use automation to promptly clear overtime cargoes after 28 days at the ports.
It was observed that the Nigerian Shippers Council may not be legally qualified to serve as an economic regulator beyond its current functions of protecting shippers’ interests.
Concerns were raised about potential job losses due to automation, particularly by maritime workers’ unions.
Capacity development and human resource enhancement are critical for achieving a fully automated system.
Some of Nigeria’s automated port initiatives still face challenges due to human interference, such as the VIN Valuation and Truck Call-Up systems.
Automation in Nigeria is underutilized, hindering its full potential.
Vessel waiting times at ports have significantly reduced from six days to just 0.16 days as a result of automation.
The absence of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for port operators leads to ambiguity and hinders trade facilitation.
Foreign direct investment in the Blue Economy will require relevant data to guide investments.
The actions of the Nigeria Customs Service, as a major port stakeholder, will significantly impact Blue Economy automation initiatives.
Automation has enhanced shipping operations with clearer weather forecasts and AIS for vessel surveillance.
Lack of harmonization in automation processes among government agencies could lead to inefficient spending without commensurate value for money.
Legal and regulatory gaps in Nigeria’s maritime sector were identified as challenges, such as the absence of a legal framework for a port economic regulator.
Stakeholders should engage in regular interactions to facilitate trade and optimize the Blue Economy’s potential.
Comprehensive data is needed to guide both indigenous and foreign investments in the Blue Economy.
Port stakeholders should collaborate to develop risk criteria and a unified framework.
Regulatory agencies must be regulated to promote transparency and ease of doing business.
Clear Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) should be developed and published by all port stakeholders.
Proper regulation and monitoring of fishing trawler operations are necessary to improve the nation’s GDP.
The Blue Economy should be viewed as an ecosystem that leverages technology.
Continuous training and retraining are essential for labor to meet international standards and utilize tech-driven equipment and devices for port operations.
Wider arrangements should be explored to harmonize all players in the Blue Economy.
Port, land border, and airport agencies should be integrated into a single accessible platform to overcome existing challenges in current automated systems.
Nigeria should replicate the existing port community system in Benin Republic, which has efficiently integrated seaports, airports, and land borders for enhanced national security, improved revenue collection, and sustainable trade facilitation.
A government agency with a strong presence at entry/exit points—airports, seaports, and land borders—should lead the national single window project, building upon the robust NICIS II platform of the Nigeria Customs Service.
All stakeholders should actively participate in the development of new technological innovations to minimize conflicts during implementation.
According to the rapporteurs of the event, Roland Ekama, Segun Oladipupo and Ken Jukpor’s recommendation saying Automation is pivotal for operational efficiency across all sectors and organizations. They further stated that the maritime industry has witnessed some automation processes over the years but in silos. Therefore, there is a pressing need for a coordinated single platform accessible to all operators to facilitate seamless and harmonized operations. Nigeria’s homegrown Nigeria Integrated Customs Information System (NICIS II) is recognized as the country’s best and should be further developed to address identified gaps in its functionality, they concluded.