Benedict Bengioushuye Ayade
A prominent member of the, Senate Committee on Maritime, Benedict Bengioushuye Ayade, spoke with Francis Ugwoke on a number of maritime issues during a recent visit of some members of the Senate Committee on Maritime and officials of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to Singapor
What is your comment on the state of maritime development in the country?
My assessment of the maritime sector is a very brief one. Because I became interested in maritime only when I assumed membership of this Committee. But being a businessman privately, having been involved in a lot of shipments into Nigeria, I will say that since the concessioning started, there has been reasonable improvement in the turnaround time in terms of goods arriving and clearing in the ports. So, to that extent, there has been marginal improvement in the services.
What was your experience when you were into importation?
Basically, before now, it was a big challenge to get in your boxes in. Even identifying your consignment was a challenge then. And there was the challenge of many agencies in the port making it almost impossible for you to do any clearing. So you see your items are in, two months later, you have not been able to take them because even accessing them was a challenge.
What period are you talking about?
May be four years back or three years back. That was a big challenge.
Looking at terminal operations now in the hands of concessionaires, can you point out some other things you think they have not done well, or areas of improvement?
Let me start by saying that the concessionaires have produced reasonable results in terms of efficiency in the ports. But this is not to say that there are no challenges. Delays are still there. There are still challenges in terms of weakness of regulatory compliances. Also, the maritime space has not achieved its optimal value in terms of revenue generation for government because there are still issues of accountability and visible means of trying to understand all the income streams that come in and are supposed to be accruing to government. Again, it is a dialogue process and in this we are going to see how we can actually oversight detailing on the concessionaires as part of our obligations to the federal government.
On the issue of maximising revenue gains from the sector, what do you think government can do to achieve this?
I think there is a Bill that has gone through the First Reading already in the Senate on Ship and Hrbours Council, the intension of that Bill is actually to get the concesionaires to run as operators while Ships and Harbour Council will now act as regulators . So, when there is effective supervision, and regulation on ground, they will be able to capture more income streams. We are getting to that point and hopefully with the passage of this Bill into law, it will make it very clear that even the Shippers Council now will transmute into a regulatory organ which will help effectively supervise the works of the concessionaires.
Can you talk about the gains of Shippers Council transforming into a regulator?
Basically, the key elements in these things are that there will be more transparency, more efficiency, improved supervision on the concessionaires activities and operations. There is a one-point window where all complaints will be received and addressed. There will be increased security. There will be general improvement because the Shippers and Harbours Council will actually act as a core regulator in the eye of government. Indeed, it will be government organ that will….., because it is a team of professionals, whose core primary background has been shipping. So, they have consumate knowledge of the field and will be able to checkmate, control and regulate the operations of the concessionaires so what we see is that target dream of 24 hour turnaround time in the ports.
Do you see Shippers Council having the capacity for this assignment?
Capacity comes with training, it comes with capacity building, and so definitely once the enabling law is put in place, then capacity building comes along with it. It is a component of the Bill as well
.Importers have been complaining about high charges without anybody checking the shipping companies and terminal operators, while we wait for a regulator to be in place, what do you think government can do to address this problem now?
You know normally, once you do a concessioning, what then happens is that a concessionaire becomes a private businessman, … so, definitely they want to up a little because they want to provide for their own gains. So, that issue is there. I think the pricing on the Nigerian ports is not actually abnormal when you look at it in relationship with global context in terms of rent and fee. One major problem in the ports now is the issue of scanning equipment, freight forwarders complain that it takes so long before their containers are scanned, I want you to react to that?
I think that it is a very big challenge in Nigeria because Destination Inspection is supposed to be a plus for the country, but because of that scanning process and indeed the fact that every single container wants to be scanned, there is a college of thought that says why must you scan everyone, why don’t you just do sample scanning, pick one, pick by chance, pick by random sampling.. But I think that true professional service requires that every single container be scanned. And for me, I think Cotecna is handling that,… I think it should increase the number of scanners or possibly it is wrong to have monopoly where only one company is doing that scanning.
One problem which appears to be affecting the country is the issue of shallow draught and because of this, reports have it that bigger ships are said to be going to neighbouring ports, can you also react to this?
It will soon be a thing of the past. There is a deep seaports coming up in Badagry, there is one coming up in Lekki and there is Ibaka coming up, then the one in Calabar also coming up. In fact, we have a draught of about 16 meters like the one being proposed for Lekki. So, perhaps when they come on board, this will cease to be a challenge because with 16 meters draught, you can take any vessel. So, it is a temporary thing, with this concept of concessioning the ports, and construction of new ports, definitely, this problem will be addressed. As I speak to you the kind of port we operate, the shallow six meters draught, Bacoliner and co. cannot come in.
We know about the bureaucracy in the system, won’t this affect the early completion of these projects?
Well, that brings us to the challenge that we have at hand, for which we are here in Singapore today. For me because the concept of taking responsibility of port building is reasonable but at what cost and what time frame? Since it is Build, Operate and Transfer (BoT) process, I imagine that government must match cost , match time of recovery of investments , calibrate them properly so that the concessionaire is not shortchanged and at the same time, government is not shortchanged. When somebody quotes a fairly tiny investment and has 45 years or more to recover his investment in Nigeria that we know in no distant time, he can make all those recoveries.
Nigeria does not have a national carrier in the shipping sector, how can this problem be addressed?
There is a special maritime fund. .. You will be shocked the amount of money Nigeria spends to export her crude oil for refining.. you will be shocked how much Nigeria spends on foreign vessels that are used to importing refined petroleum products to Nigeria.. because we don’t have a national shipping line. If you look at that amount per annum, that amount in one year can set up a Nigerian national shipping line which we had before. So, for me, I don’t just know how to place this country! We don’t have a national carrier … we don’t have a national shipping line. For me, these are key areas we must do something about. A national shipping line has become an imperative because even our seafarers having been trained overseas don’t have sea time training because we don’t have a national shipping line where these new seafarers can go and train and have a sea time experience for which can qualify them to work with any vessel all over the world. So, a case for the Nigerian shipping line cannot be more urgent than now.