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NPA digitalizes  Port Operations for Increased Efficiency, Revenue Generation

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UGO AMADI

As the global economy continues to undergo several challenges, one Nigerian agency that has continued to ensure sustenance of the nation’s economy with good investment is  the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA ) which has planned to digitalize Nigeria’s port system for greater efficiency while also boosting nation’s economic diversification drive.

As at today the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) is currently undertaking several strategic actions and investment moves to establish a completely digital ecosystem at all the port sites in the country. According to the NPA, this would help to promote smart port transformation with a focus on creating a paperless, time and cost-saving port operations. Needless to say, the benefits of digitalizing the nation’s port system cannot be overemphasised.

Ports and terminals are an integral part of the logistics value chain. Digitalization offers ports and terminals the opportunity to add value to its customers through innovation, enhanced productivity, greater efficiency, improved safety and security. For ocean freighters, it helps with real time communication with the port, ensures greater traffic and cargo control, faster, more efficient cargo tracking and inspection and provides accurate digital documentation, accessible from anywhere while for port operators, digitalization helps to achieve a streamlined, automated unloading and loading operations, improves greater control of containers, crane and cargo identification and improved on-the-ground operations. It can also facilitate logistic operations by ensuring complete monitoring and supervision of ground operations, improving real-time collection and dispatch management, always-on multi-site communication and flexible accurate digital documentation.

Nigeria currently has six seaports: Apapa and Tin Can in Lagos State, Onne and Port-Harcourts in Rivers State, the Warri Port and the Calabar Port, but despite boasting of these ports, only the Lagos ports are operating near full capacity. The Apapa and Tin Can Ports account for 70 per cent of imports on average as NPA data shows that the Onne port handled 80 per cent of Nigeria’s export cargoes between 2012 and 2017. Presently, cumbersome clearing processes as a result of the opaque methods employed by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has made Nigeria lose trans-shipment and transit cargoes to neighboring countries displacing Nigeria as the maritime hub in West Africa as majority of importers divert Nigeria-bound cargoes to neighboring countries due to the nation’s ineffective port system with the diversion resulting in a huge loss to Nigeria. Port operators have continued to express concerns over factors contributing to the high cost of doing business at the ports to include gridlock on the port access roads, Custom’s insistence on 100 per cent physical examination of cargo due to instead of scanners. Approximately 99 per cent of Nigeria’s trade goes through its sea borders, meaning that the gate of the country’s trade with other countries rests on port efficiency hence, the move by the federal government through the NPA to fast track its digitalization process to get Nigeria’s port systems effective.

Opportunities in Port Process Digitalization

Despite the pockets of challenges hindering the nation’s port sector, the NPA is optimistic that given the measures it has put in place and massive investments in port infrastructure, investors and stakeholders will have a swell time soon.

The Managing Director, NPA, Mohammed Bello-Koko in his presentation at the World Ports conference held in Vancouver, Canada from May 16-18, 2022 highlighted the vistas of investment in infrastructure such as rehabilitation and renovation of port facilities and renovation of moribund port facilities, pointing out that there are opportunities for investment in Deep Seaports with facilities such as deeper draughts to accommodate larger modern vessels in line with global trends.

“For instance, the Lekki deep Sea Port which is set to be operational by the end of 2022 has a Dredging Depth of 16.5m Quay Length of 680m Breakwater of 1.909 metres, two Container Berths and one Marine Services Jetty and it is poised to handle containers, liquid and dry bulk. It is expected to commence operations in September 2022. There is also the Ibom deep sea port where work is ongoing and which is designed for very large vessels and would be a trans-shipment port as smaller vessel would also re-distribute cargo from the mother vessels lo smaller river ports closer to consignees within Nigeria and outside the shores of the country.

“For the Bonny deep sea ports with a natural draft of 17 metres 500,000 TEUS, land size 275.22 hectares, Quay Length of 2,206 metres and turning circle of 640 diameters the Bonny Deep Sea project is a Greenfield development project located at the southwest tip of the Bonny Island about 1.4km from the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) site. This project is to be developed in two phases with an estimated total cost of $2 billion. The phase one development project which will be on a 1.5km land area competes of two 8,000 TEUS container berths, 100.000 WT General Purpose Berth 50 000 WT Oil Service Berth, Breakwater, Harbour Dredging and Aids to navigation amongst other distinctive features, “Bello-Koko stated.

The NPA boss added that the Badagry deep seaport, which is located along the 55km long Lagos Badagry Expressway is being developed through Public Private Partnership (PPP) and has a Quay length of 2 490 metres, natural draft of 16.5 metres, 149 hectares land area and is expected to have an annual throughput of 1.8 million TEUS at completion.

“The Full Business Case Compliance Certificate on the Badagry deep sea port and the modular floating dockyard was received in April 2022 and once Federal Executive Council approval is obtained, it would be ready for expression of investment interest with construction expected to commence by the fourth quarter of 2022, “he revealed.

He added that the NPA is open to partnerships capable of enhancing the nation’s efficiencies in the different areas of port process digitalization which include Revenue Invoice Management System Automation of all port access points (E-call up Electronic analysis of manifests, Truck traffic management systems, digitalization of documentation process: for better customer service delivery Access to Lloyds Register & Vessel and Cargo Tracking and an Integrated Port Community System.

On the investment climate, the Bello-Koko said Nigeria has been recording steady progress in the global index of doing business under the auspices of the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC), saying that NPA has continued to receive technical assistance from the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to drive its automation port community system.

He also added that the NPA is promoting clear procedure and timelines with the port ecosystem through the development and launch of the Nigerian Port Process Manual, which is a detailed and graphic presentation of the harmonized Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) of agencies involved with vessel arrival, boarding in the ports aimed at fostering enabling environment for domestic and foreign Port users while also adopting Public Private Partnerships as a veritable option for the provision of sustainable port infrastructure towards the achievement of Nigeria’s vision for economic renewal.

He said investment opportunities exists and are ready to be explored in Deep Sea ports/River Ports and Greenfield projects across the country with port support services which include Vessel Traffic Services (VTS), Integrated port community system, Independent Power Project (IPP) and haulage services and barge operation.

“We specially invite you to leverage on the comparative advantage of large cargo that our huge has bestowed by partnering with the NPA and the good people of Nigeria in developing the maritime logistics hub for sustainable port services in Africa, “he said.

Digital infrastructure comprises the physical and virtual technologies that are necessary to enable the use of data, computerized devices, methods, systems and processes. It includes digital communication and network infrastructure (mobile technology, IOT, 5G, Optical Network, Fibre Network, Virtual Private Network (VPN), computing power and data storage Data centers and cloud services which helps to enable business agility, efficiency driven productivity, cost reduction, improve user experiences that drive customer engagement and loyalty while providing end to end data related activities including data collection, real time transmission and distribution of data, data analysis and decision making

Given that the port is a complex system, which consists of large number of companies and organizations, Bello-Koko believe the adoption and innovative deployment of digital infrastructure and technologies is essential to achieve seamless integration and information sharing in the port.

NPA’s digital infrastructure deployment strategy

In a bid to drive its digitalization port operation drive, Bello-Koko said the NPA digital infrastructure deployment strategy is out to ensure that the ICT deployment is aligned to the immediate and future business plan / strategy of NPA.

“This is because we strongly believe in the idea that “digital technology is a means and not an end.” You need to redesign, re-engineer, simplify, harmonize and standardize its business processes, strengthen and streamline the Internal Business Processes (IBP) to support ICT deployment, phase ICT deployment geared towards achieving a fully integrated system with support for integration and to foster relationship with all internal and external stakeholders, deploy fit-for- purpose, reliable, secured and redundant software, network and hardware infrastructure.

 

“The strategy would also focus on ensuring the ICT deployment support and guarantee disaster recovery and business continuity, taking advantage of emerging technologies like cloud technology, Internet of Things (IOT) and Software Defined Network (SDN), ensure that NPA team (technical and functional users) are continuously trained to acquire the skills required to provide support to digital infrastructure deployments and strengthen ICT governance and project implementation practices, “Bello-Koko stated.

Stakeholders integration

He added that the adoption and innovative deployment of digital infrastructure and technologies is essential to achieve seamless integration and information sharing in the port.

“In line with this, the Authority is spearheading the implementation of a Ports Community System that would facilitate this and integrate with the digital infrastructure installed by other major stakeholders. The IMO is consulting for the Authority, the first phase has been concluded, and the next phase of on-the-spot assessment by consultants nominated and paid by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) will commence 1st week of June with the visit of the consultants to Nigeria.

 

“Considerations for the connection are the digital innovation affect the entire port community, each member is encouraged to prepare to take advantage of the digital innovation, evaluate the digital infrastructure installation by all stakeholders to ensure they can integrate, take advantage of improvement in internet connectivity in the country to facilitate the integration, work with Customs services, Other Government Agencies (OGA) and other stakeholders so that their existing system can be integrated to foster required inter agency collaboration, “the NPA boss said.

 

He pointed out that some of the challenges of connecting digital infrastructure include the multiplicity of digital installations by the stakeholders, budgetary constraints of port stakeholders, resistance to change and fear of the unknown, lack of trust in data storage and data sharing, unwillingness to re-engineer processes, the legal implication of digitalisation, the fear of breach of data security and skill development and capacity building.

 

Daunting as the this may seem, observation of goings on in the maritime regulatory agency even at quickest glance signals a ray of hope that merits a benefit of the doubt from the general public.

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