The growth of the maritime sector in Nigeria has been steady, just as the challenges have been increasing. The Nigerian Shippers Council has however lived up to its statutory role as regulator of the sector. Mr. Hassan Bello told May Agbamuche-Mbu and Tobi Soniyi that despite those challenges, the Council is set to put in place measures to automate the cargo clearing processes and make Nigerian ports more user-friendly
Does the appointment of the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) by the Federal Government of Nigeria as an interim Economic Regulator of the Nigerian Ports give the Council adequate enforcement powers to carry out its functions as an economic regulator?
The Combination of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council’s Extant Law (including its Subsidiary Legislations) and the Presidential approval for the appointment of the NSC is enough an enforcement power, in the meantime, for the NSC to discharge its responsibility as the Interim Economic Regulator for the ports. After all we have been exercising regulatory functions, albeit restrictively and from a weaker platform before the current conferment of the Interim Economic Regulator Status which strengthened the Council to carry out the full complements of Economic Regulation for the ports sector. To further strengthen this legal base, the Federal Ministry of Justice, at the instance of the Federal Ministry of Transport, is currently working to gazette the Presidential Approval as a PESIDENTIAL ORDER as well as a Subsidiary Legislation, in the form of REGULATIONS made by the Hon. Minister of Transport, for public notice. In the long run, it is envisaged that the National Transport Commission Bill will be promulgated into law to provide the legal framework for the economic regulation of Nigerian Ports.
How will the council deal with likely conflicts that may arise while exercising its licensing powers and duties since similar licensing powers and duties are already conferred on or are being exercised by other agencies such as NIMASA, NIWA, NPA and etc.?
There isn’t any likelihood of any such conflict except for those that do not seem to understand. These agencies have distinct roles though, as public institutions within the same industry, we complement one another towards attaining the same Government Policy Objectives. Ours is Economic Regulation which primarily entails providing a level playing field for all stakeholders in the industry and moderating the economic activities of all service providers therein. We do this by means of (i) providing guidelines on tariffs (setting minimum and maximum levels) in order to guard against arbitrariness, reduce high cost of doing business and prevent inflationary effect on the economy; (ii) monitoring and enforcing quality and standard of service delivery, (iii) monitoring entry and exit of service providers into and out of the sector, as well as (iv) ensuring availability, accessibility, affordability, stability, predictability and adequacy of services (v) encouraging competition and guarding against monopoly and abuse of dominant market position; and (vi) Performing mediation role among stakeholders and establishing accessible and modern dispute resolution mechanism.
Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), on the other hand, is the Landlord of the Private Terminal Operators having concessioned the seaport terminals to them. It also provides marine services to Ships. In both capacities it is a service provider to the Terminal Operators and Shipping Companies and therefore subject to the regulatory role of Nigerian Shippers’ Council which must moderate their tariff, quality and standard of service etc., as well as mediate (where necessary) between it and its clients (Seaport Terminals and Shipping Companies). In addition the NPA also provides Technical Regulation in the port in terms of prescribing the quality and standard of equipments to be used in, for example, cargo handling in the seaport terminals and similar other technical matters.
The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) is the nation’s Maritime Administrators. Theirs is purely Technical Regulation, enforcing standards relating to Maritime Safety and Security, Maritime Labour as well as Marine Environment, discharging Nigeria’s International Law obligations in that regard in line with, and under the guidance and supervision of, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and (with respect to labour matters) International Labour Organisation (ILO) However, in the discharge of their statutory responsibilities, just as in the case of NPA, NIMASA also provides some economic marine services to stakeholders for which they charge fees. To the extent of the provision of these economic services, they also necessarily, come under the purview of NSC’s Regulatory Function as the NSC has obligation to ensure that these services are rendered efficiently and cost effectively.
The same thing applies to Nigerian Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) with respect to the nation’s Inland Waterways. That is to say NIWA is the Technical Regulator in that sphere but since they provide economic services to its customers we are interested in how efficient and cost effective are these services.
Therefore, you can see that although NSC will register and license service providers, its registration and licensing will be for a different purpose from those of the other agencies.
Is the NSC seeking a statutory transfer of all these duties to her alone in view of the present appointment as interim Economic Regulator of the Nigerian Ports?
As there isn’t any likelihood of conflict, the issue of seeking to transfer the duties of other sister agencies does not arise.
There seems to be a pervasive impression that the Council lacks the legal and institutional capacity to effectively perform the functions of an Economic Regulator for the ports. What is the Council doing to boost the confidence of stake holders as to its current responsibilities?
This impression is largely wrong. As explained earlier, we have what it takes to take off in our new capacity. The government is working assiduously to publicise the current legal framework by way of a Presidential Order and an additional Subsidiary Legislation, pending the promulgation of a more comprehensive National Transport Commission Act.
In its present position, what is the greatest challenge to the efficacy of NSC as an economic regulator and a mediator at the Ports and what would the NSC require from stake holders in order to actualise the objectives of the FGN?
If there is any challenge it is to get every regulated service provider to accept NSC as an unbiased umpire that may be for you today and against you tomorrow, depending on the issue/matter at hand. As a Regulator we mustn’t have any sacred cow as all stakeholders, including Government, Service Providers and Consumers are entitled to our protection against another until we ensure that we have balanced interests and a level playing field for all.
With the recent appointment as an interim regulator of the Nigerian ports, the NSC is like the beautiful bride that everyone seeks to please, how will you ensure or guarantee the independence of the Council in dealing with stakeholders, both in terms of operations and funding?
We have to be independent, unbiased, transparent and democratic and always seek the buy-in of stakeholders.
What role can the NSC play in the full implementation of the reforms proposed by the FGN and passage of the ports reform bill?
The role of the Economic Regulator for the Ports which the reform has envisaged and provided for in all the Concession Agreements executed by the Federal Government.
Kindly share your thoughts on the development of Truck Transit Parks nationwide and how this may be used to stem the problem of access to the Ports?
We are promoting the Truck Transit Parks (TTP) as a means of promoting safe, efficient and effective truck transportation system in Nigeria;
Despite efforts by the Council, the Cotonou Port remains the top choice for many importers of cars. Why is this so?
The patronage of Neighbouring Ports is informed by the seeming un-competitiveness of our ports which was informed chiefly by the absence of an Economic Regulator. With one on the ground, you will, in no distant future notice improvements in the patronage of Nigerian Ports as the implementation of Economic Regulation will ensure reduction in cost of doing business generally. Our focus is the cost and ease of doing business in Nigeria.
There is an allegation that the high fees charged by cargo handling agencies is responsible for the delay in clearing goods and thus making the Nigerian ports unattractive. What is your organisation doing to stop these anomalies?
Delay in cargo clearance is informed by a number of factors including high charges due to arbitrariness of most service providers. Other factors include noncompliance with required import clearance rules and procedures such as false declaration by some importers and clearing agents, unethical practices by some players. Cumbersome cargo clearance processes is another factor which we are currently trying to address by promoting the introduction of automation through information technology.
What other steps is the Shippers Council considering to make the Nigerian ports the top choice in West Africa?
Efficiency, competitiveness and reasonable comparative cost. Our ports are in competition with other ports. As such we have no choice but to brace up to the challenge posed by competitors. It is our hope that with the implementation of the full complement of Economic Regulation the port environment will be sanitised and port services will be delivered more efficiently and that, in turn, will make our ports more attractive not only to domestic users but also to our neighbouring landlocked countries that may wish to route their cargo through Nigeria as transit cargo.
What measures has the Shippers Council put in place to check the excesses of both shipping companies and terminal operators?
That is the essence of Regulation. To stop arbitrariness, introduce technology, ensure fairness and also streamline clearance processes.
Sometimes agencies operating at the ports often clash. How do you resolve such clashes?
NSC is ombudsman. We are the pivot upon which all agencies revolve. We are the coordinators, the umpire encouraging synergy.
Finally, what is the role of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council in the development of women in the maritime industry?
Internally, NSC thrives on merit and not gender bias. Currently, out of the 6 Directors we have in the Council 3 are women. They built their careers over a span of about 30 years until they reach.