‘Nigeria Needs National Carrier to Break Wet Cargo Carriage Monopoly’

19 May 2013

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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.

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