Transport Minister, Idris Umar
The uncertainty over what the Federal Government actually wants to do about a commercial regulator for the nation’s seaports has come to the fore again, with the conversion of one of the departments in the Federal Ministry of Transport as a commercial regulator.
The move was sequel to the Ministry of Transport’s desire to assume the status of a commercial regulator of the nation’s seaports. Already, there are strong indications that the Federal Ministry of Transport may be considering transmuting one of its departments into becoming a commercial regulator.
This is coming on the heels of speculations in some quarters that the federal government considering a total scrapping of the regulatory agency presently clamouring for the responsibility, the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC).
National President, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Prince Olayiwola Shittu, dropped the hint at a one-day stakeholders’ clinic on arbitrary shipping charges in Lagos. The event was hosted by NSC in collaboration with a Lagos based legal firm, Akabogu and Associates.
Shittu, who is also a member of the Presidential Monitoring Committee on Port Reforms, revealed that at a top-brass meeting he had attended in Abuja, there were plans of the ministry of transport bringing one of its departments to act as a commercial regulator for the ports because the Nigerian Shippers Council was presently perceived as a toothless bulldog.
His words: “The problem of the port is defying solutions as a result of the ministry of transport interfering in the processes that will solve the problems of the port. This also came to the fore when we discovered in a meeting in Abuja that all efforts to make the shippers council a commercial regulator in the industry today is being thwarted by the civil servants in the ministry of transport.
“The ministry also came with a decision that a department in the ministry will serve as the regulator for the industry. Imagine them seating in Abuja and regulating charges paid in Lagos. It is the government itself that is making it difficult for us to get to where we are going to.
“All the laws made have always made sure that shippers’ council does not have the teeth to bite and the icing on the cake is the recommendation that it should be scrapped,” Shittu added.
Veteran dockworker and maritime consultant, Otunba Kunle Folarin, chaired the occasion, which was declared open by the Executive Secretary of NSC, Captain Adamu Biu. Stakeholders, including freight forwarders, maritime lawyers, importers and exporters attended the event, which was shunned by shipping companies and terminal operators.
They took turns to condemn the arbitrary and duplicated charges that are being levied on them at the port by the terminal operators and shipping companies, even as they also called on the federal government to empower NSC to become the commercial regulator of the ports.
NSC Director of Commercial Services, Mrs. Dabney Shall-Holma, said that the council is set to take the bull by the horn in terms of checkmating arbitrary charges by shipping companies and terminal operators as enshrined in the Act setting up the agency.
She confirmed that the organisation has already benchmarked all charges that ought to be collected by all shipping companies and terminal operators at the ports and that this was carried out with the knowledge of all the parties concerned. “This time I think something is going to be done” she assured
She charged Nigerian shippers and their representatives to come to the council with any information on Cargo Data Declarations (CDD) as all shippers in Africa are seating together to criminalise the use of the tool by shipping companies.
National President of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Mr. Eugene Nweke, in his presentation
identified some of the arbitrary charges that are currently being collected at the port.
“The continuous paying of the 7 per cent port charge is arbitrary, paying of VAT is a duplication and is exploitative, Terminal Handling charges, which was formally N35,000, is now N60”, he said.
According to him, “the transfer charge, which is as a result of the transferring of containers, is an imposition and a criminal act committed by terminal operators and shipping companies. We even pay for their lack of holding bays and system breakdowns.”
As a way out, stakeholders resolved to synergise and speak in one voice through the Council for the Regulations of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN), even as they enjoined the federal government to empower NSC to be a commercial regulator of the nation’s seaports.