ShareTweetEmail0sharesThere are strong indications that the Nigerian seaports is set to be  as competitive as their counterparts in developed economies  following the digitalization measures... A Digital Boss for an Authority in Need of Digitalization
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Bala Usman, MD, NPA

There are strong indications that the Nigerian seaports is set to be  as competitive as their counterparts in developed economies  following the digitalization measures being adopted  by the current management of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA)  led by its Managing Director, Ms Hadiza Bala Usman , says SHOLA FADEYI  in this write up.

The Nigerian Ports will soon become much more efficient and technologically transformed to offer improved services to their customers and as such emerge as the first choice of destinations for seaports in West and Central Africa or clinch the much sought after Transshipment base for countries in the sub- region.

This is sequel to the resolve of the youthful NPA Managing Director, Hadiza Bala Usman   to further modernize the organization’s operations and the speed at which it is deploying the instrument of digitalization in all its ramifications towards the development of the ports to enable them conform to global standard.

Background

Though, Usman is not a digitalization, automation or an information computer technology (ICT) expert, however the fact that her first and second degrees were in Business Administration and developmental studies respectively, disciplines which have to do with the progress and advancement of any work place be it private or public have contributed in shaping her direction on how she can enhance the performance of NPA.

Additionally, the experience she has garnered in the public sector, the Non- Governmental organization and the global body where she has worked which were places where digitalization was prevalent and had made things to work coupled with her educational background have combined   to undoubtedly make her a digital boss fired by the quest to digitalize NPA’s operations.

For the benefit of hindsight , the MD of NPA is just 41 years old , while she  worked as an Enterprise Officer for the Bureau of Public Enterprises(BPE)  from  2000 to 2004 and hired by the United Nations Development Fund(UNDP) as a Special Assistant to the Minister for the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) for four years  on Project Implementation  apart from working in other three key and internationally recognized NGOs .

Meaning

Perhaps one may be tempted to ask what is digitalization .The term has been defined as ‘ the integration of digital technologies into everyday life by the digitization of everything that can be digitized’. The literal meaning gives an apparent idea of development and a technology dependent world, meaning also a process of computerization of systems and jobs.

In other words, digitalization refers to the process of automation, and the application of  information technology(IT) or information Telecommunication Technology(ICT)  to the operations of a workplace or any organization  for that matter to fast rack the development of that entity  and eliminate every encumbrances  that will stalemate its growth.

Zeal

Consequently, it is for the fact that so many aspects of the life of the NPA and the Nigerian ports generally are still yearning for the presence and deployment of digitalization that has made the current management led by Usman  who is said to be very impatient to accelerate the development of the authority and the ports,  to be taking measures to ensure that  the process of digitalization is all encompassing.

Additionally, the consensus in the maritime sector is that inadequate digitalization of the processes of the NPA has been largely responsible for the myriads of bottlenecks that have plagued the activities of the ports in the past years and has thus made it impossible for them to become the load Centre in West Africa despite the advantage of population and location that Nigeria has over its neighboring countries.

Goal

Indeed, the goal of every country worldwide is to make its ports to be efficient and this is one of the key platforms which made the Nigerian government to concession the ports to the private sector in 2006, but the efficiency factor has not been fully achieved while the dire need to also make concession to reduce the cost of doing business at the ports has also been a mirage because of the inadequate digitalization of the operations of the ports.

Thus, it is also because of the need to enhance the performance of the Nigerian seaports that made the government to give the Nigerian Customs Service the mandate of achieving clearing of goods in 48 hours as well as the reduction of the security agencies at the ports to seven from more than 20 among other measures it has taken over the years, but it is generally believed.

Significance

However, various studies have revealed that there is a significant relationship between digitalization of operations and enhancement of performance of all aspects seaports, customer satisfaction, and quality service delivery, easy payment of cargo by customers, elimination of corruption and the strengthening of security at the ports.

Little wonder that the current management of the NPA has taken it as a duty to ensure that the digitalization of all aspects of the seaport operations is implemented to the letter to ensure that the ports play their adequate role of contributing to economic development as they should as well as operate to international standard.

Advantages

One thing that is clear is that Usman and its entire management has imbibed NPA’s vision which is to be the leading ports in Africa and to make this possible, it must lead in modernization of equipment and infrastructure to respond to global trends in shipping business, thus making the upgrades of existing port infrastructure, as well as improvements in port performance a must.

To get the full advantage of digitalization and for cost effectiveness, Usman, apart from ensuring that all the ICTs that will be deployed cuts across all the gamuts of the operations of the NPA, be it personnel, accounts, security, harbour, finance, infrastructure among others  has also directed all the concessionaires to make sure that all the equipment they are purchasing  are modern  and are  of the state of the art technology.

According to the NPA Managing Director, the order on the terminal operators for the deployment of automated equipment and facilities will be in keeping with their developmental plan as contained in the concession agreement they signed with the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) and NPA on behalf of the Federal Government.

Success

Undoubtedly, the need to ensure that the concessionaires incorporate ICT in their operations as well as procure highly technologically driven equipment as being canvassed by Usman is borne out of the fact that they constitute the heartbeat of the ports since   they are now in charge of operations, while they require the support of the NPA, through its marine and technical regulatory role to ensure the overall success of the ports.

However, 16 years to the commencement and the implementation of the port concession scheme, the terminal operators indeed still have a long way to go in terms of the use of modern day equipment and the adoption of digitalization in their operations in such a way as to facilitate handling and delivery of containers and thus enhance their efficiency and that of the ports.

Agreement

It is the need to correct this anomaly that has also informed the decision of the NPA management on behalf of the Federal Government to be planning to review the concession agreement it signed with the terminal operators, with a view to making it more mandatory for the concessionaires to be more committed to the programme of modernization and digitalization of their operations.

Also knowing full well the extent to which NPA’s operations must complement those of the concessionaires for an overall performance of the Ports, the Managing Director since assumption of office and in all its tours of the Western and Eastern Port formations including her other assignments has emphasized the need for the digitalization of the Authority’s activities apart from those of the terminal operators.

Equipment/ Call- Up System

This is why her management has identified the needs of the organization in terms of IT , ICT and the deployment of globally accepted equipment and facilities such as the pilot cutters  and the tug boats  among others which it has ensured has been captured by this year’s budget and are to be procured to  improve on the performance of the authority in the discharge of its marine functions  under the concession programme.

Already, as part of the digitalization and automation process, the management is planning to embrace an electronic call up system for trucks doing business at the ports which would entail that it is only when they have containers to pick at the ports that they would be on the access road or rather be at their parks or the holding bays.

Apart from the truck standardization project which is already ongoing at the Western Ports in Lagos and meant to partly raise the standard of trailers patronizing the ports and check accidents they cause on the roads, the current management worried about these challenges is also planning to adopt the internationally recommended height of trucks for trailers in West Africa.

CCCIS

To lend credence to the commitment of Usman to use ICT to boost NPA’s performance, one of her first and major assignments in office was the commissioning of the Command Control Communication and Intelligence System (CCCIS) at the NPA headquarters in July 2016.

The  facility  is developed to cover maritime activities in the six ports and four pilotage districts of NPA and  has been providing seamless communications between the ports and the headquarters ,  enhancing  security and safety at the ports , track  the movement of vessels and the activities in the channels  as well as  plug loopholes in revenue generation.

Devices

It is expected to incorporate other port automotive devices like Vessel Traffic System (VTS) pursuant to the international convention for safety of life at sea (SOLAS) and integrated port community Information system (IPCIS) with the ultimate goal to have other stakeholders in the shipping sector hook on to it ,   upgrade it to an automated single window system for the maritime industry.,

Thus with the launch of the facility ,  over 800 watch-keepers has been deployed by the NPA  to survey various locations of the Nigerian maritime terrain and report strange incidences that threaten the security of the ports , the crew the vessels and that of Nigeria generally.

However for purpose of having value for money, Usman has directed that the facility should also be upgraded to cover every aspect of the operations of the NPA.

 

In fact the Trade Facilitation Centre (TFC) put in place at the Sterling Towers on Lagos Island in 2013 can be said to be a precursor of the CCCIS which can be described as NPA’s own kind of Single Window technology. So the current platform can be said to be a vast improvement on the TFC.

Transparency/ Corruption

For the fact that digitalization is also meant to promote transparency  and openness , Usman has  ensured that NPA’ s budget  subscribes  to the internationally acceptable Transparency that will make it possible  for the authority’s 2017 budget  which she has dubbed the infrastructure strengthening budget    to be viewed and read globally when ready.

Also, following the abuse of the port pass system through which stakeholders gain access to the port, the new management has also concluded arrangements on a new accreditation system which is automated and which is bound to reduce human traffic and unnecessary crowd at the ports gates.

When the Managing Director visited the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) recently, among the issues with which she was tasked by the National President of the body , Prince Olayiwola Shittu were those of the abuse of Port Pass, corruption and congestion of the ports by people who have no business there.

Apart from the fact that she told them that being a member of the Presidential Advisory Committee on corruption, a factor which   would not make her to allow corruption to thrive in her back yard, she assured that the vice is being frontally confronted at the ports while the   challenges of human traffic and port pass abuse were being solved by the new automated approach to the issues.

Platforms

To demonstrate the fact that digitalization has  always been a continuous process that requires upgrading , NPA before now has launched  various electronic platforms including the e-payment, electronic ship entry notice (e-SEN), Revenue Invoicing Management System (RIMS) and Self Service Customer Portal as necessary steps towards  automation of processes at Nigerian ports, but the issue is that it has been inadequate.

The electronic ship entry notice was adopted to provide shipping companies with an electronic platform to fulfill the mandatory requirements of the Federal Government for the issuance of entry permits to all ships coming into the country while the e-payment platform was launched to save NPA customers the unnecessary time wasted in making payments for services rendered by the Authority.The RIMS has been launched to complement both the e-payment and e-SEN.

Single Window

While the Transport Minister, Mr Rotimi Amaechi  has been pursuing the establishment of a  National Single Window (NSW)  a platform designed to integrate all agencies involved in the clearance of cargoes at the ports with a view to simplifying the inspection, calculation and payment of all import duties, levies and other charges on line, the Managing Director of NPA has also nonetheless been committed to the   project due to its benefits .

The importance of the NSW has made the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), which is the economic regulator of seaports sector   to budget in its medium term economic programme  for this year  about  N1billion for system automation, which is part of the NSW  being proposed to ease operations at the  seaports .

Complement

It is also noteworthy that the Shippers’ Council Executive Secretary / Chief Executive Officer, Barrister Hassan Bello has lauded the NPA for its efforts to automate its processes and develop its own Single Window with a view to integrating it to the NSW   and thus be connected to other agencies at the seaports and as such  ease transactions  between the  stakeholders and port users.

This definitely is to corroborate the complements which  the former Managing Director  of NPA , Chief Adebayo Sarumi  , the ANLCA President  as well as other operators in the maritime sector have paid Usman  for her  efforts at  fully digitalizing  the operations of the maritime sector and thus markedly transform their operations and attract more patronage for them  within and outside Nigeria .

Conclusion

Considering the fact that some land locked countries which surround Nigeria like Niger, Lake Chad among others were formerly making use of the Nigeria’ seaports but had to stop due to various bottlenecks, it is expected that the current efforts to fully digitalise port operations processes will draw such nations and many more back to the use of  the nation’s ports.

 

 

 

 

 

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