To say Mr. Hassan Bello the Executive Secretary/CEO of Nigerian Shippers’ Council and his amiable team have taken the Nigerian Shippers’ Council to limelight and the next level is like stating the obvious. The Shippers’ Council which was recently appointed by the federal government as interim regulator in the maritime industry has also not been found wanting in the discharge of its duties. Recently National WAVES’s Publisher, JIMMY ENYEH and Photo Editor, WALE YUSUF presented the Most Outstanding Parastatal won by the Nigerian Shippers’ Council to the hardworking ES and also had an exclusive interview with him. The eloquent ES was at his vantage best as he fielded question from the duo. He reeled out the achievements and functions of the NSC during the chat.
What have you been able to put in place in terms of achievements since you came on board as the Executive Secretary and CEO of Nigerian Shippers Council?
The Nigerian Shippers’ Council is focused on the cost and ease of doing business in Nigeria. We want to be efficient, competitive and ensuring we gets to international standard thereby attracting cargo into the country’s port and maximizing the revenue of the federal government. Basically, that’s is what the Nigerian Shippers’ Council has been doing and as you will agree with me, setting up, executing and regulating a frame work is not an easy task. However, back to your question as regards our achievements since we came on board. My team and I have been able ensure we are recognized. Recognition, amongs the crucial or critical stakeholders. Secondly, there have been interaction and sensitization. Before now, everybody was operating without any supervision and coordination but the coming of the Shippers’ Council has brought out the need for cooperation between stakeholders. We have discussion and monthly meetings with Nigeria Customs Service. We meet regularly with the service providers including the terminal operators and the shipping companies. We meet regularly with the freight forwarders, road haulages and many other critical stakeholders including other government parastatals like Nigeria Port Authority and NIMASA. So what we have been able to do to is to bring critical stakeholders together, so that there will be synergy, equilibrium and level playing field for everybody. Nigerian Shippers’ Council is essentially a referee that will organize and see that the game is played according to the rules.
It is no longer news that the federal government recently appointed the Nigerian Shippers’ Council as Interim Commercial Regulator in the maritime industry, What is the Nigerian Shippers’ Council doing to ensure the bill to legalize this function is passed?
Yes, the establishment of a proper regulatory legal frame work is essential for the conduct of regulation itself. Since NSC was appointed, it has been to look at the regulatory framework. But the federal government wants to cloth this regulatory appointment with a good regulatory legal framework. So thereby have been some meetings and retreat organized by the Federal Ministry of Justice, the Bureau for Public Enterprise, where the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, Nigeria Ports Authority, NIMASA, Nigeria Customs Service and all other stakeholders were there. A regulation was drafted so as to help Shippers’ Council administer legally its assignment. I am sure work is being carried out by the Ministry of Justice. We have tremendous support from our parent Ministry, Ministry of Transport. Soon, you will see the regulations to make us stronger. However, there is a regulation, the Nigerian Shippers’ Council local shipping service regulation which was made and gave us the right or legal permissibility to carry out regulation. It is this regulation that we are using. It is cogent and effective but the one we are working on is wider taking into consideration the new development.
In carrying out these functions, you must have been faced with different challenges. How have you been able to surmount these challenges?
There are challenges in everything one does. The challenges are lack of cooperation. All stakeholders are working toward the realization of one thing and that is maximization of profit, guarantee of investment and increase in revenue. What is challenging is that the port is a representative of various interests. Some are conflicting but mostly are geared toward the same target. However, what is needed is somebody to supervise and coordinate these interests and the challenges of people to accept that there is a regulator. These we have been to do. Now, you cannot increase fee or any cost in the port without recourse to the Shipper’ Council. Before, these things were done arbitrarily and unilaterally without any authorization but now everybody has to consult with Shippers’ Council. They now know that if you want to increase, you have to negotiate and agree with Nigerian Shippers’ Council. There are also the challenges of reform. If you want to institute a reform into a system, it is a herculean task because people are not use to changes easily. But we need these changes because what we found out in the Nigerian port system is very chaotic, lawless and Nigerian Shippers’ Council has to establish and enforce the rules and that is what we are doing. The moment the benefits are understood by all the stakeholders, then you will see that everything will have the cooperation of all.
I am happy to note that now we have more work that we are doing than before. Many people are beginning to recognize us. Many people have brought their complaint to Shipper’ Council. We have mediated in so many disputes concerning billions of dollars. We are working with Central Bank of Nigeria to stem capital flight through confirming reasonableness of freight charges and we are working with many other organizations as I told you earlier, Customs on National Single window and also our sister parastatals, the Nigeria Ports Authority and NIMASA.
This now brings us to the issue of congestion. You and I know that the Nigerian port is congested. What is the Shippers’ Council doing to checkmate this?
The congestion is also an indication of inefficiency. We are concerned with service delivery. When the ports were concessioned, it is expected that these ports will be efficient. How are they efficient? They are efficient in the management of men and resources. We need to know the investment that is made, how many cranes have you put into a ship. What are the key performance indicator, what is time needed for you to position containers for examination, what are the equipments or tools or kits that you have put in place? All these are the key performance indicator that Nigerian Shippers’ Council will from now on examine and determine and also encourage the port to be efficient. There are so many other things that are we are doing as I said. The sea sides have been very clear. We have quarantine for ship which has improved tremendously. Nigeria Ports Authority has embraced technology. Payments that used to take time say four days is done in a matter of second. The customs has embraced technology. They have all improved tremendously. Although, there are still hiccups with some of them. But then, we are in the part of automation. Automation, information and Communication technology will solve more than 70% of the problems at the port.
Nigerian Shippers’ Council has the complement of three internationally acknowledged consultants working with us to see that we attract the cost of doing business in competition with neighboring ports and the cost of doing business must be reasonable. They must not be exploitative so as not to drive cargo to other neighbouring ports. The ease of doing business must also be there because if you have to go through rigorous stress like putting 53 stamps and in other neighbouring ports it is just one or two, they will prefer doing business in the other ports. One would like to import through the port that is stress free and focused. You will not like to go through the tedious port. That is our focus and when we do that there will be maximization of benefits. We have more cargo, more turnovers, more profits, more guaranty on investment, more revenue from the customs to government, for NPA, for NIMASA, for the freight forwarders, for the truckers, for everybody and for the generality of the Nigeria’s economy.
Most countries endowed with oil are diversifying into other sectors. What is the maritime industry doing to ensure it serves as alternative to oil in Nigeria?
That is a very important question. Your question cannot be more relevant than now. With the volatility, unpredictability and instability of oil prices which we are currently facing. I think the maritime industry to step up to be a source of revenue. You know to diversify the economy as it is done other climes. In other countries, 60% of their revenue comes from the maritime industry of the country. We have to put the infrastructure right. We have to put the mechanism of simplifying clearance procedure. We have to fix our infrastructure to have access to the port through the rail. We have to have more than port system. Development in sea port, modernize our transport system so that the economy will be boosted. The transport system is the oxygen to translate what the government is doing in other sectors. No matter what revolution you have in Agriculture, mining or other industry. It is the transport that you will use and transport reflects the seriousness of a nation economy.
The World Shipping Council estimated an average of 350 containers lost at sea each year and Nigeria is no exception. What is the Shippers’ Council doing to reduce this?
This is also within the purview of our regulation. It is not only lost but also delayed. Sometime delay is more deadly than lost but they are inherent contract signed by the shipper with the receiver of cargo and the carrier that will give succor to event of damage, lost or delay. There are also valid insurance that is compulsory or it is appropriate for a receiver of cargo. Through that the loss suffered will be compensated. The NSC has been handling this problem. We have a very vibrant cargo/shippers complaint unit which handles many complaints of either delay, loss, charges or other unwholesome practice. We are trying to as much as possible address these problems.
One of the functions of the Shippers Council is to provide alternative dispute resolution. How far has the NSC gone with this?
We are doing that, we have recently come back from International Chambers of Commerce in Paris. We have attended the meeting of IMO and we are in consultation with other international agencies and organization because it is appropriate for the kind of complaints we have received in Nigeria and we have settled many. I am sure the Director of Public Relations will give you letters of commendation that we have received from so many people. These are large corporations. We have settled disputes for Niger Delta Holding Company, we have settled disputes on behalf of the Bi Courteny, the concessioner of the airport on MM2 and many other large corporations and this runs into billions. We have been able to mediate. We are always looking for a way out. In fact, we want to build an arbitration centre here. You know, Maritime Arbitration Centre in collaboration with ICC, so that people will come and settle their disputes.
Mediation, reconciliation or arbitration as they call it is better than litigation.
The border information centre was recently commissioned in Badagry. For us in the media we are conversant with its function but for the benefit of our readers. Could you tell us the motive behind this?
It is all about information. Information is knowledge. It is used by traders to access the market, you know to either import or export. For example, if you do not have information about prohibited cargoes in some countries, then you are running at a loss. You want to know where your market is. You want to know the standardization. What is the grade or quality of the goods you are taking out? And so many other information that are available.