Stakeholders in the maritime industry have hailed the appointment of the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) as the interim economic regulator of the port sector.
They also called on the government to ensure that the NSC is transform into the proposed National Transport Commission (NTC) presently before the National Assembly.
The Federal Government had in 2014 appointed NSC as the interim economic regulator for the port sector in order to fill the vacuum created following the economic reforms that led to the concession of the nation’s seaports to private operators. The concession which was midwife by the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) during Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration divested the management of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) from the day-to-day running of the nation’s seaports.
The NSC was mandated to act as an arbiter as the vacuum was already making it difficult for the nation to enjoy the gains of the ports reform programmes, which in summary is to ensure efficiency in the procedure and operations of agencies and service providers, besides reducing the cost of doing business within the port environment.
Those who spoke to THISDAY stated that it is on record that the NSC as a regulator has over the years ensured the competent management of the complex interaction with regulated firms, consumers, the media and a range of other interests at play in the maritime industry.
According to Otunba Kayode Owoeye, the council has provided a level playing ground for competing interests in the port sector, manage transition to a competitive market and it has been fair to all parties through procedural transparency, lack of arbitrary decision making, and balancing the needs of stakeholders.
Owoeye who is Lagos based freight forwarder stated that the NSC has attracted legitimacy and public acceptability to it activities in the port sector through involvement of stakeholders in its decision making procedures.
“The cumulative effect of all these have been the protection of investments in the sector due to undue interference and this alone had led to guaranteed returns on investment and increased profitability amongst operators in the sector. The NSC has ensured predictability in the port process and procedures, improve revenue generation, improved infrastructural development, creation of efficient market, reduction in the cost of doing business and improvement of the nation’s global competitive index and consequent attraction in foreign direct investment (FDI)”, he said.
Also speaking, Mr. Christopher Anyanwu stated that there has been improved delivery on marine and terminal handling services leading to reduce turn-around time for vessels, and reduced cost of vessel operations; improved image of Nigeria due to increased customer confidence and strengthening level of complaint and arbitration mechanisms by the council.
His words: “The Nigerian Shippers Council has also ensured professionalization of freight forwarding practice by elimination touting, to a great extent, sanitization of port environment and promotion of global linkages; the harmonization of clearing process and procedures and the consequent reduction of clearing charges, above all, the enforcement of clear standard operating procedures derived from international law and practices.
“The council has also made an impact as economic regulator in the trucking system at the nation’s ports. Its effect has manifested in the decongestion of ports’ access roads leading to improved truck transit time, reflecting of rickety trucks, but putting a time limit on truck drivers to be licensed and guaranteed loading opportunity for truckers”.
Maritime lawyer and businessman, Mr. Emeka Akabogu, who applauded the appointment described NSC as a welcome development, but added that because of its enabling law, the council might not be able to sanction any operator, service provider or consumer of port service.
“How effective they can sanction is going to be called to question because the primary essence of the economic regulator will lay in its bite in terms of sanctions. It will be a challenge enforcing sanctions in the absence of a statutory backing. My thinking is that since the intention is to get statutory backing but in the interim, to generally put in place, broad frame works for the regulatory function which is expected of an economic regulator; I think it is a step in the right direction,” he said.
However, the Executive Secretary of NSC, Mr. Hassan Bello said recently that the role of the NSC as an economic regulator for Nigerian ports yielded so much dividends for Nigeria and Nigerians but there is still room for improvements.
He maintained that there was need to harness better potential areas of the port sector with a view of bringing down further the cost of doing business in the country, especially in the nation’s seaports besides enthroning a system of greater efficiency and profitability for all stakeholders.