On October 19, 2022, Heads of Port Agencies convened at the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Commission (ICPC) Headquarters, Abuja, for a Tone at the Top Conference. The meeting’s purpose was to discuss the necessity of a Compliance Function within each agency to sustain the positive changes achieved through recent port reform.
Opening the conference, the Honourable Chairman of the ICPC, Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, SAN, invited attendees to actively participate in the conversation on improving maritime service delivery by reducing corruption risk in the sector. Decreased corruption, he reasoned, will contribute positively to the growth of the national economy. As ICPC’s mandate involves identifying and mitigating corruption risks, Professor Owansanoye listed some current challenges the maritime industry is facing: the opacity of rules or sanctions, a lack of due process, and other forms of exploitative inefficiency that fuel traffic, delay, and loss. As a result, Nigeria is losing business to neighboring nations. The Chairman explained that by removing these roadblocks and curbing rent-seeking behaviors that pervade the sector, ICPC is directly improving the ease of business. He explained that ICPC has endeavored to remove such roadblocks through reforms such as the publication of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), the establishment of complaints mechanisms, the harmonization of processes into the Nigerian Port Process Manual (NPPM), and the creation of the Port Standing Task Team (PSTT).
The Chairman credited these reforms to the successful collaboration between Port Agencies (including the Nigerian Shippers’ Council or NSC) and ICPC’s zero-tolerance policy toward corruption. Despite these successes, Professor Owasanoye pushed for more action. Stating that “prevention is better than the cure,” he introduced a harmonized Port Agency Anti-Corruption Policy (ACP). The ACP establishes ethical codes within the maritime sector, strengthening established SOPs and the NPPM through a Consequence Management Framework (CMF) that provides incentives and enforces compliance. The Chairman concluded by acknowledging all port reform activities have been “token efforts” to fulfill the mandate and duty bestowed on officials and that Nigeria is benefiting from an improved reputation internationally simply for doing what is expected. He encouraged attendees to sustain the momentum, warned against inter-agency competition, and enjoined all present to pursue national interests rather than self-gratification or glory.
Honourable Emmanuel Jime, Executive Secretary of Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), spoke on the progress and challenges of the Port Standing Task Team (PSTT) and the need for a stronger buy-in of all Agencies operating at the ports. Honourable Jime began his address with the NPPM, calling it a harmonization of all Port Agency SOPs for effective, efficient coordination of operations. He stated the NPPM was created in response to 2017’s Executive Order 001 on the Ease of Doing business to promote efficiency and transparency in Nigeria’s business environment. He described the NPPM as a ship in need of a “Captain” to sail it and deliver it safely to its intended end; this “Captain” is the PSTT, a multi-agency coalition comprised of the NSC, Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), ICPC, and the Department of State Services, tasked with enforcing adherence to the NPPM.
Honourable Jime observed that there were Immediate changes to the atmosphere of the ports when the PSTT was deployed in 2021, bringing about a new, emerging narrative to Nigeria’s maritime sector. Chief among these changes was a sharp decrease in the amount of time Joint Boarding officials spent onboard vessels before berthing in compliance with port procedures. Yet challenges still remain: field operators do not abide by mandates and commencement times for cargo examinations, and though the correct agencies board ships during the Joint Boarding process, too many departments within these agencies board ships to participate in rummaging. Beyond the ports themselves, checkpoints along the corridors invalidate the positive gains achieved through reforms. These persistent ills have caused Nigeria to lose business opportunities to nations such as Togo and the Benin Republic. Honourable Jime appealed to attendees to take ownership of port reforms and of the NPPM, as it is the document that will help improve Nigeria’s ranking in the Corruption Index. He concluded his address with a call for stronger inter-agency collaboration.
Mrs. Jane Onwunmere, Deputy Director of the Technical Unit on Governance and Anti-Corruption Reforms (TUGAR), gave a brief history of Nigerian Port reforms projects, beginning with a Corruption Risk Assessment (CRA) that took place in 2011. Nearly 70 certified corruption risk assessors from anti-corruption agencies, civil society, and media houses discovered that 6 of Nigeria’s seaports were flashpoints for corruption, publishing their findings and recommendations for improvement in a 2013 report. Mrs. Onwunmere shared the recommendations from the CRA report that have served to guide port reform efforts, including the successful documentation and publishing of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for all port agencies, the development of the Port Service Support Portal housed by the NSC to provide real-time support and complaints handling for port users, the creation of the NPPM as a step-by-step sequenced directory of processes at the port, the launch of the PSTT to encourage adherence to the NPPM, and the ongoing collaboration of the Project Steering Committee – of which TUGAR is a member – which was set up to continue to work towards reducing bureaucratic bottlenecks, improving efficiency, and embedding integrity at the ports.
The Deputy Director then spoke of the latest outcome from the CRA report’s recommendations: the harmonization and creation of a port agency Anti-Corruption Policy (ACP). The ACP seeks to entrench a culture of integrity and compliance among all port stakeholders, and if adopted, it will be a potent tool for corruption prevention and will foster an enabling environment for business. Mrs. Onwunmere stated that she looks forward to a more robust compliance structure that centers around an anti-corruption agenda among port agencies by providing knowledge, tools, opportunities for collaboration, creative problem-solving, and building synergy in Nigeria’s maritime space.
Cutting to the heart of the matter, Mr. Demola Bakare (FSI), COMMISSIONER ICPC, and Member of the Project Steering Committee (PSC) made a powerful case for the institution of a compliance function comprised of designated officers within each agency. He explained that thanks to reforms such as the widespread publication of maritime SOPs and the NPPM, port users are more enlightened and demand greater responsibility by port agencies, necessitating better self-regulation among these agencies. He also noted that while the PSTT is currently the centerpiece for enforcing the NPPM, a commitment to stricter compliance practices is required at the institutional level and is critical for the sustainability of port reforms. The benefit of such a system will be a Nigeria that can leverage the opportunities presented by the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement and fully plugging into the Blue Economy.
Mr. Bakare outlined the objectives of a compliance function: 1) to manage complaints reporting, handling, and resolution, including back-end linking to the PSSP and other pre-existing reporting avenues for data mining and quality decision-making 2) to enable in-house consequence management for violations of the NPPM and other regulatory codes, and 3) to ensure adherence to and measuring of the institutional commitment to the Anti-Corruption Policy and initiative. He then described the requirements of those who would fill the role of compliance officers, stating they must be knowledgeable about port operations and ongoing reforms, have a reasonable level of authority with access to the highest decision-making levels within their agency, display trainability and the capacity for mentoring others, and – if possible – be members of the Anti-Corruption and Transparency Unit (ACTU) or the Service Compact with All Nigerians (SERVICOM). Mr. Bakare closed by re-emphasizing that compliance is key to the sustainability of port reforms and reminding attendees of training support offered by the Convention on Business Integrity (CBi) and the Maritime Anti-Corruption Network (MACN).
Mr. Soji Apampa, CEO of the Convention on Business Integrity (CBi), offered a wide perspective, discussing a compliance framework as a component of anti-corruption. He conjectured that corruption occurs due to a separation of control from responsibility, for “responsibility” rests with agency leaders and decision-makers who seek to govern according to their duties and mandates, while day-to-day control is in the hands of officers or “agents” who are often driven by their self-interests, particularly when there are no consequences (either positive or negative) for pursuing their own ends.
Mr. Apampa stated that this divergence provides the gap in which we seek to operate by using a compliance framework of prevention, detection, response, and evaluation to address the risks defined in the Corruption Risk Assessment. Prevention refers to the “Tone at the Top,” involving the institution and prioritization of a compliance function within each agency that establishes an effective consequence management framework of true incentives to regulate behaviors. Detection entails creating systems to identify occurrences of non-compliance, noting those who consistently fail to adhere to the SOPs, NPPM, and other relevant regulations. After such a system of detection is created, a swift response is needed – whether positive or negative – to immediately implement the consequence management framework to reward outstanding compliance and discourage poor practices. Evaluation is the process of learning from our responses, using metrics and benchmarks to understand the efficacy of our approach and whether corruption risk is truly being reduced. Mr. Apampa closed noting that the international community has taken note of Nigeria’s port reform, and encouraged agencies such as NIMASA, NCS, NIS to be proactive with compliance functions to distribute the weight of responsibility beyond the NSC.
Dr. Bashir Jamoh, the Director General of NIMASA, noted the importance of tackling corruption and mentioned his agency’s efforts at decreasing the activities of pirates in Nigeria’s waters. He then called for increased automation of processes among agencies, and for the private sector to take anti-corruption initiatives more seriously.
Mr. Elton Edorhe, Deputy Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs Service, committed to writing and publishing a circular on compliance, following up on requested tasks, and collaborating with other agencies to bring about the changes needed.
Deputy Comptroller-General Odita Ifechukwu of Nigeria Immigration Service agreed to report the outcome of the meeting to the relevant parties and to obey and cooperate with necessary activities to fight corruption in our ports.
Superintendent Von Jen, a Representative of the Inspector General of the Nigeria Police Force, and Alhaji Malumfashi of the Department of State Services agreed to report the meeting outcome for proper implementation of the SOPs.
Dr. Vincent Isegbeh, Director General of the Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Service, noted that the essence of this meeting is self-regulation and highlighted the need for agencies to:
- Adopt a spirit of self-regulation.
- Acknowledge areas of activity/mandate duplication of MDAs due to obsolete regulation and proactively resolve the issues with the relevant MDAs.
- Prioritize compliance and creative problem-solving within the parameters of the law, particularly in establishing escalation routes, conducting training, and engaging stakeholders.
Dr. Isegbeh is committed to doing “anything good” that will fulfill NAQS’s mandate.
Barrister Samuel Nwakohu, CEO and Registrar of the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding Nigeria, appealed to those present to significantly reduce the checkpoints along port corridors.
The Honourable Chairman of the ICPC, Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, SAN, closed the conference, stating that he agrees with the practical commitments made, and urging attendees to support implementing a compliance function by designating officers for the role and training and automating relevant processes. He encouraged achieving “low-hanging fruit” to improve port efficiency and compliance with the NPPM, such as creating a resumption log to curb the tardiness of officials for container examinations. Finally, he mentioned sharing the outcomes of the meeting and overall initiative with the Ministry of Transportation.