To many in the maritime sector, the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) has been able to attain its high level of contributions to the development of the economy, in recent times, due to its possession of the relevant personnel, with expertise and a capable leader-its Executive Secretary/Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Barrister Hassan Bello, who has steered the ship of the organisation effectively since 2013.
Just as its activities have covered all stakeholders in the seaport sector, the providers and consumers of shipping services, it has also been able to fulfill its Economic Regulator purpose of achieving international standard, in port service delivery as well, as an affordable cost of doing business at the nation’s seaports .
According to Bello, the role the NSC has been discharging on behalf of the federal government is that of co-coordinating the various interests that make s up the Port sector, ensuring a level playing field and fair trade practices among the various stakeholders with a view to facilitating trade in the maritime industry.
Experts are of the view that the activities of the NSC, particularly as a regulator have led to improved revenue generation for the stakeholders and enhanced infrastructural development at the seaports, reduction of cost of doing business, improvement of the nation’s global competitive index as well as consequent attraction of foreign direct investment for those in the transport and logistics chain.
Thus, the consensus is that the council has been able to positively affect the cross section of stakeholders in the Seaport sector differently, in many ways, namely in the areas of improved delivery of marine and terminal handling services , reduced turnaround time of vessels as well as lower cost of vessel operations, for the shipping companies .
On the part of the Customs, the notion is that it has led to improvement in the level of transparency , efficiency, effectiveness and a boost in its image while for NPA it has translated to enthronement of clearer standard operating procedure derived from international law and practice.
Little wonder, that revered maritime lawyer and former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Olisa Agbakoba has always been of the view that the role of the council ought to have been upgraded to that of the economic regulation of the maritime sector instead of just the port industry because of its achievements so far.
The feat it has recorded is also believed to have influenced its being considered for the position of the National Transport Commission (NTC), which Bill has already been passed by the Eight National Assembly through which it is expected to affect the transport sector positively.
Lending credence to the positive activities of the Council, the Chairman of the Nigerian Port Consultative Council (NPCC), Otunba Kunle Folarin has said that that the NSC had added tremendous value to the operations of the seaport sector including its stakeholders .
For instance, through the above platforms, it has been ameliorating the financial losses of shippers and others through its Cargo Defense Fund while it has been providing a source of veritable information for stakeholders, through its Maritime Resource Library and its maintenance of a Data Base.
Also due to its capability, the council has been representing stakeholders’ interest in local and international shipping and trade related fora and organizations, such as International Maritime Organisation (IMO), World Trade Organisation (WTO), Maritime Organisations of West and Central Africa (MOWCA), Union of African Shippers’ Councils (UASC) and United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD); International Chamber of Commerce (ICC); Global Shippers Forum (GSF) among others.
It has achieved in the area of checking the skyrocketing haulage rates of goods and thus reduce the high cost of doing business at the seaports, as it has just completed the negotiations of a uniform rates for truckers, the new list of charges which It would soon publish, once it is approval by the Transportation Ministry. It is also working at securing loan facilities for truckers, to enable them purchase new trucks as well as discussing ways to reduce the tariff in the seaport sector ,to between 30 and 40 Per cent through its proposed introduction of a standard tariff System .
The council has likewise been attracting patronage to Nigeria Ports, through the various reforms it has undertaken, which has made the seaports to perform better and contribute more positively to economic development.
The NSC, began the process of checking arbitrary charges in the seaport sector in the exercise of its power as an Economic Regulator in October29, 2014, when it reversed the progressive storage charges of the terminal operators and also directed shipping companies to reduce their shipping line agency charges from N26, 500 to N23, 850 per TEU (20-foot containers) and from N48, 000 to N40, 000 per FEU (40-foot containers).
It has also reduced the various charges of the shipping companies from 16 to five, while it has likewise been reviewing downwards, the sub headings of their tariff as the need arises .This is why the Council’s CEO, has said that imposition of arbitrary charges no longer exist and that some of the complaints to that effect are not actually true , from the investigation and activities of the Council.
To buttress Bello’s view, the current President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Tony Nwabunike and his Vice, Mr. Kayode Farinto were in agreement that the council has discharged its functions in a professional and very efficient manner while it has thus checked arbitrary and illegal increase in charges and sanitized the seaport sector.
It is also trying to ensure transparency in the activities of stakeholders in the sector through the institutionalisation and entrenchment of a Port Order principle on which it has almost concluded work.
In recognition of its expertise, the immediate past President of ANLCA, Mr. Olayiwola Shittu has also lauded the council, for having acted the role of an expert, creditably, by offering useful suggestions towards a permanent solution to the persistent gridlock on the access road to the Lagos seaports as well as providing technical advice for government, the Ministry of Transportation and representing it locally and globally on maritime functions .For instance , the Council functioned efficiently as a member of the Presidential Task Team on Port Decongestion
The council has also contributed greatly at ensuring that agencies and stakeholders in the sector such as Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), the National Agency for Food Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC), providers and consumers of shipping services embrace automation and fast clearing of cargoes.
In its move to put an end to the hardship the shippers have been experiencing in the area of container deposit, it is thus working relentlessly to abolish the deposits paid to shipping companies while in the long run it wants the containers to be owned by the shippers themselves.
Also, by virtue of the fact that the council is now involved in the cargo examination and clearing process, its activities have led to efficiency of the ports system, and faster clearing of cargo as its monitoring role has made it possible for the different stakeholders, namely, Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) and others to be present and prompt at the inspection points at the ports.
The council has also moved to give legal protection to those carrying goods by land as it sets to embark on a very serious legislation which has to do with Carriage of goods by land while it has engaged with stakeholders on this, with a view to providing a kind of insurance for those transporting cargoes on land.
The council has consistently been handling complaints from stakeholders on issues that have effectively minimised freight, tariff and other related shipping charges as well as play the umpire/advisory role in commercial shipping. The Council has been playing mediatory role in many of these cases to ensure recovery, remedy or indemnification as the case may be.
For instance , in the first nine months of last year, statistics collated from the Council , showed that it received and entertained about 108 complaints between January and September last year and saved millions for the relevant stakeholders ,in naira and hard currency while it has continued to do so, thus checking unnecessary losses which would have led to increase in the cost of goods and services in the economy.
The NSC has been building transport infrastructure for the economy, providing employment decongesting the seaports in the country, making them more user friendly and checking gridlock on ports Access roads by acting as enabler or facilitator of the construction of Inland Dry Ports or Inland Container Depots (ICDs) or Container Freight Stations(CFSs) and Truck Transit Parks across the country.
While the Kaduna ICD has since been inaugurated and train has started to move every week from Lagos Ports to Kaduna with containers, as well as carry empties and laden container of exports back to Lagos, Jos ICD is expected to commence operations by December this year .
This is even as the Council has ensured that an agreement for the construction of a fresh Dry Port in Ibadan that will cost $500 million is signed in August this year, while the ICD is to be ready in 18 months with capacity to employ thousands of Nigerians just like others. This is in addition to the one that is being promoted in Erunmu in the same Ibadan by Catamaran Nigeria Limited even as others in Isiala Ngwa, Aba, Zawachiki, Kano, Jauri, Maiduguri etc, are expected to come on stream.
For the TTPs which are to be located in strategic parts of the country, as well , the Council has appointed transaction advisers for them while before the end August it is expected to have advertised the two to be located in Obollo-Afor, Enugu State and Lokoja In Kogo State with strong assurance that international investors would invest in them.
The council also provides information and education for shippers and other stakeholders as well as facilitate international trade through its services whereby it gives information on import guidelines, procedures and documentation; freight and haulage rates; Port Tariff,; Prohibition List; Industry Operators’ Standard Operating Procedure(SOP) , Daily Shipping Position and Regulated Service Providers Registration Guidelines.
According to the Founder of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Chief Boniface Aniebonam, the current management of the NSC has been able to facilitate trade through its various activities, created a high level of awareness as it concerns the rights of stakeholders while it has done so much in the area of capacity building and education.
It is also a plus for the council that it has been able to coordinate inter modal transportation, standardised service delivery in the Port sector, harmonized clearing processes and procedures as well as achieved some level of reduction in cargo dwell time.
While lauding the impact which the NSC has made on the seaports in its various activities, many in the maritime sector, such as Mr. Adeniyi Ajayi, the Vice President of the National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA) and others have however advised it, to still focus more on enforcement of its roles to enhance its achievements for the economy.
Fadeyi is a Lagos-based journalist.