‘Nigeria has a very Robust Court System’

Hassan Bello
Executive Secretary, Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), Hassan Bello

The Executive Secretary of Nigerian Shippers’ Council, Mr. Hassan Bello, a Lawyer, tells Akinwale Akintunde that, Nigeria has a very robust court system, which must be appreciated by her citizens. He also shares his new vision for the Council, and how the National Transport Commission Bill just passed by the National Assembly, will impact the economy, when the President assents to the bill

Section 12 of the 1999 Constitution as amended says that..”No treaty between the Federation and any other country shall have the force of law, except to the extent to which such treaty has been enacted into law by the General Assembly”. How far has the National Assembly co-operated in this direction, especially as it affects domestication of admiralty treaties and conventions?

Nigeria emphasises the nature of domestication, of international conventions. There are two ways, the mornarchstic way and the dual way. Mornarchstic in some countries once the treaty has been signed, comes into effect. But, the dual method is what we have in Nigeria. Despite ratification, we still have to domesticate it through municipal law, which will be enacted by the National Assembly. However, there have been some arguments about this. If you look at Section 12 of the Constitution, it says no treaty between the Federation and any other country, and some Lawyers have interpreted that to mean unilateral, not multilateral. One country. The Constitution would have said ‘and other countries’.

However, we have recognised the dual mandate, and we have worked with that. As a matter of fact, Nigeria has domesticated many conventions, especially the Hamburg Rules, United Nation’s Carriage of Goods by Sea Act, which was done by the National Assembly. I think the approach the Shippers’ Council has taken is very important; we are now trying to domesticate Rotterdam Laws. But, as far back as 1989, the Legislature was aware of this. We invited them and they have taken part in colloquium and conferences. The idea is to involve them in the first instance, and I don’t think the dual mandate will be accelerated.

The recent quagmire between FIFA and Nigeria over non-domestication of FIFA treaties in Nigeria, signals a bomb waiting to explode. In the maritime industry, Hamburg Rules, Rotterdam laws are international laws not yet domesticated in Nigeria. Where does this take us?

It is surprising for us, that the Rotterdam Rules, up till now, has not achieved the necessary signatures for it to be an international convention, because the Rotterdam Rules, which is carriage of goods by sea and other modes, is a modern convention. It is modern in the sense that, it seeks to codify the development of laws like electronic bill of lading, like door to door delivery of cargo, and expand the ability to use different modes including the sea, road, rail and others, as long as it came by sea. So, this is a modern convention. It is also the synthesis, between the extreme Hague Rules and the extreme Hamburg Rules. Hague Rules, is for the ship owners, Hamburg Rules, is for cargo owners. So, we needed to develop a modern convention, that will take care of the two interests. It will bring equilibrium and balance, and it will provide a level playing field. So, we thought this would be embraced and Nigeria negotiated, in fact, Nigeria led Africa to this negotiation. I was a member of that committee, and we actually won a lot of concessions. But, up till now, it’s not a convention yet. We hope that we will be able to adopt it, in our respective countries.

The 2018 Maritime Seminar for Judges has been adjudged as the best in the series, especially the turn out of key industry players in the judiciary, transport sector, maritime, IMO, UNCTAD and other global players in the industry. How do you implement some of the recommendations, that can improve and impact on our admiralty law development?

We now have communiqué committee, which we set up in the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, and right now they have written letters, meeting with different institutions that this communiqué relates to. That’s how we do it. And by the next seminar, we will bring a report of what those resolutions have achieved.

There is a subsisting litigation in the Supreme Court, by some Shipping companies and terminal operators. Have you ever tried the Conflict Arbitration Resolution mechanism, given that you have always insisted that we need each other to grow the maritime industry?

This is a very interesting question. Of course, I cannot answer all, because it’s subsisting. However, I’ve always said that in shipping matters, in fact, in commercial matters, things should be subjected to mediation. And I think, right now, the Shippers’ Council and those shipping companies, are mediating in those areas. Substantive progress has been made, and I think in no time, you will see the withdrawal of those cases, at least with the shipping companies.

There is a perception about not following the rule of law in Nigeria. As a Lawyer, what is your take on this?

Nigeria is a country of laws, and one of the things that has been restored now is the sanctity of laws. Before now, you saw a lot of institutions, agencies, just terminating contracts. Now, we cannot do that. One has to go through the obligations, the rights as provided for in the contract. Nigeria also has a very, very robust court system, and it is a nation that is extremely jurisprudential, in the sense that we have a hierarchy of laws, we have the issue of presumption of innocence until proven guilty, we have the right to be heard. We have classical issues of the rule of law, which are still going on in the country. So, when some people say we don’t follow rule of law, I am really surprised. The Nigerian Judiciary is extremely robust, the Bar is also very fantastic. You have seen what the Bar has been doing. Sometimes we don’t value what we have until we lose it, or we go to other countries and make some comparative analysis. But Nigeria as a commonwealth nation, as common law nation, has all the ingredients of the rule of law.

Lawyers have being proving their worth, when given the opportunity to lead an institution or agency. One quick example of such is yourself, because ever since you took over the leadership at Shippers’ Council, the agency has witnessed a series of developments. Also, the likes of Babatunde Fashola as Lagos State Governor did well, Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, a Lawyer, is also doing well in his State. What would you attribute to Lawyers being able to deliver whenever given the chance to do something?

Law is a social engineering, we belong to the Roscoe Pound School of social engineering. Law as it ought to be not as it is. So, a Lawyer is constantly on the path of research and development. A Lawyer is never static, a Lawyer wants to see the improvement of the society. There must be a link between the society and law, otherwise, it will be abstract. So, law is a weapon to better the society, and nothing else. We have ancient laws, now we should have laws that will protect the weak and the poor, against the powerful and the rich. There is equality before the law, and law is a constant probe of finding out what there is to be done. So, law is not just to dress up and go to court, it is as we have been taught by Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, Femi Falana, SAN now and others. Law is a tool of progress of a nation.

The National Assembly has passed the National Transport Commission Bill (NTC). If the President assents to the bill, how would it impact on the economy?

The Bill will correct the distortion, as far as transportation is concerned because when this government came, the first thing it was confronted with, was distortion. Distortion is created deliberately, so that chaos will arise, and when this happens, people will benefit from it. But this administration has set itself on the path of correcting the distortion.

One of the ways to correcting the distortion is to have a multi-sector economic regulator. We have to look at the deficiency of the port or other transport providers. Is it rail, aviation or inland waterways? I’m talking about what people call technical regulation, I’m talking about efficiency. One has to gauge the efficiency, one has to gauge the competition, because lack of competition is a death trap for any sector. Look at communication, you know what it cost to buy a sim card initially, about thirty or fourty thousand Naira. But, now how much is a sim card? So, that’s what we want to do with transport, we want competition so that appropriate cost will be done. Now, we are operating an opaque and murky transport system, but there is hope in the sense that, cargo tracking is going to be instituted. The national single window, is going to be instituted and look at the rail revolution, it has never happened before. And this rail revolution will bring about significant changes in Nigeria’s economy. Even the way we separate ourselves by tribe, do you know the reason? Because there was no rail, so, there was no integration of people. Before there was rail, but suddenly it stopped. Look at what is happening in Apapa, it’s a tragedy, and everybody has been blamed because we don’t plan. This was our population in 1980s; we ought to have planned that growth in population, it should have been taken care of. We need to project. But that’s why government is building the Lekki Sea Port, but Nigerian Shippers’ Council has cautioned that we cannot use the existing road system to service that port, because it will be Apapa all over again. And we cannot afford to make that mistake, so Nigeria Shippers’ Council will continue to cry, so that Lekki will be connected to the rail system, and other forms of transportation like inland waters or pipelines, so that we have access to the port.

Do you think the lack of uniformity in International Laws, is not part of the problem in domestication of some of these treaties and conventions in the annals of our laws?

Lack of uniformity in international laws, not only in shipping, but all other aspects, is extremely dangerous. Imagine international trade, you have to trade with other partners, if all these partners have different codes, different laws then there won’t be smooth process. There will be a lot of wastages. But, if we have uniformity of laws, then there will be good flow, good understanding, process and procedures will be in interdem with international trade. So, uniformity of international maritime law, supports international trade. Lack of uniformity, is a hindrance to international trade.

As the Chief Executive Officer of Nigerian Shippers’ Council, what is your new vision for the Council?

My new vision is that, the Council will have a say when the NTC is assented by the President. It will not be only Shippers’ Council, but Shippers’ Council will certainly form a kind of nucleus. But, I want Nigerian Ports to be the preferred destination of cargos in the West Central African region. That means I want efficient ports, I don’t want a port where I will see containers stacked 7 high, 6 wide. I don’t want in fact, to see goods examiners at the port, goods should be examined off port. And I want this collaboration, because that is what we don’t have now. The synergy between agents of government. I want to have a port community system, where everybody is involved. The whole aim is that, we have to protect the investments of people who have invested in Nigeria, we have to guarantee their investments. If they don’t make profit, it is the fault of the regulator. We have to make sure that more investments come to Nigeria, so we have to create an enabling environment.