The recent report that Nigeria loses N5.20 trillion annually to corruption at the nation’s seaports is an indication that the fight against corruption is not being waged effectively in the maritime sector of the economy. A breakdown of the loss incurred through illicit financial flows shows that government and the private sector lost about N1.01 trillion ($1.95billion) and N4.1 trillion ($8.15 billion), respectively annually.
At a time the government has embarked on binge borrowing to fund some of its infrastructure projects, it is pathetic that the nation is losing such a humongous amount of money at the ports. Without doubt, the money lost to corruption at the ports can substantially assist in funding the 2021 national budget. The money can also be used to revamp the health and education sectors. It has also been reported that corruption at the ports has contributed to the steady decline in foreign direct investment. In other words, corruption drives away investors.
Without mincing words, corruption has seriously hampered the ease of doing business in the country and also has contributed to the nation’s poor ranking in the Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. The lack of due process in ports operations must have fueled corruption in the sector. The presence of unscrupulous officials at the ports has not helped matters. Corruption at Nigerian ports was copiously mentioned in the recent World Bank’s report on global corruption index. Past measures put in place to check the menace were not effective. In 2012, the Maritime Anti- Corruption Network (MACN), a network of over 158 global shipping companies and organisations operating in the maritime sector complained about the pervasive corruption at the ports. Although the MACN has been working with the government to curb corruption at the ports, there is need for it to do more. Available statistics indicated that about 264 incidents of corruption were recorded in 2019 and 121 in 2020 at the ports. In 2021, about 27 of such incidents have been recorded. The drop in the corruption incidents is probably due to the enforcement of the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) by government agencies at the ports. The presence of officials of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), Shippers Council, Department of State Services (DSS), the Port Support Service Portal (PSSP) and Nigerian Port Process Manual (NPPM) must have contributed to the reduction in corrupt practices at the ports. However, the battle is not yet over. They should do more. Besides, there is an urgent need for harmonisation of ports operations in line with global best practice. Let the duties of the agencies operating at the ports be streamlined for proper monitoring and evaluation. All ports operations should be fully automated while transactions must be cashless to stem corruption. The Federal Government should work towards making Nigerian ports to operate 24-hour as obtainable in other countries. It will also ensure efficiency in ports operations. Having 24-hour operations at the ports will largely reduce demurrage and other loopholes for corruption in the maritime sector. Tackling corruption at the ports and other sectors requires the cooperation of agencies in charge of the anti-graft war as well as those that work at the ports. All of them must work concertedly to drastically curb corruption in the maritime sector, which generates substantial revenue after oil. In this era of less emphasis on fossil fuel, more attention should be paid to non-oil sectors, including the maritime. Since fighting corruption is one of the campaign promises of President Muhammadu Buhari, we urge him to go ahead and check the reported corruption at Nigerian seaports. Above all, the government needs to reinvigorate the fight against corruption in all its ramifications.
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