Stakeholders Back Port Economic Regulatory Agency Bill, Demand Speedy Passage 

Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja

*Speaker Abbas: Proposed law will directly impact efficiency, effectiveness of our port system

Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja

Stakeholders in the maritime industry have thrown their weight behind Nigeria Shipping and Port Economic Regulatory Agency Bill 2024 and called for its speedy passage.

The stakeholders were of the opinion that there was a need for a regulatory body in the industry, saying it was long overdue.

The stakeholders made their views known on Monday in Abuja at the public hearing on the Bill to Repeal the Nigeria Shippers’ Council Act (CAP. N133, LFN., 2004) and enact the Nigeria Shipping and Port Economic Regulatory Agency Bill 2024, sponsored by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Abbas Tajudeen, and other co-sponsors including chairman of the House Committee on Shipping Services, Hon. Abdussamad Dasuki.

Making its contribution to the Bill, the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), noted that post concession era of the ports had stifled the growth of the industry.

Its representative, Kingsley Igwe, said establishment of the regulatory agency would help address economic strangulation and promotes fair competition.

He added that that agency would play a crucial role in regulating the activities of the port concessionaires, ensuring compliance with standards and fostering a conducive environment for economic goods and development within the sector.

Also, the former Executive Secretary of Shippers Council, Malam Abubakar Bello, said there was a regulatory vacuum and gap, saying that was why the port reforms are not making contributions to the GDP of the country.

He maintained that the bill was fundamental, essential and would correct certain anomalies, adding that the bill would be a crowning glory in promoting efficiency and technology in ship operations.

The facilitator of Nigerian Economic Summit Group, Dr. Ikenna Nwosu, said the competitiveness of Nigeria in a borderless economy would be determined by how effective the port management of the country is.
He added that all the landlocked countries in West Africa had moved their cargoes from Nigeria to Benin Republic and Togo because the country’s ports were too expensive.

Earlier, the Speaker noted that the Bill seeks to ensure that the proposed bill establishes an economic regulatory framework for effective and efficient regulation of commercial and related activities in the shipping and port sector.

“Our convening here today is a testament to the dedication of the people’s House towards our economic growth, development and diversification as well as strengthening the new Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy,” the speaker said.

He added that the wide range of stakeholders present at the hearing underscored the gravity with which the house was addressing the proposed bill.

While noting that the bill aims to streamline procedures and eliminate any constraints present in the 2004 Act, Speaker Abbas said it also seeks to ensure that the proposed agency establishes an economic regulatory framework for effective and efficient regulation of commercial and related activities in the shipping and port sector. 

“It also aims to create an enabling environment for private sector participation in the provision and operation of regulated services in Nigeria, amongst others,” Abbas said.

Speaking further, Speaker Abbas said: “It is worthy of note, that the Nigerian Shippers’ Council has evolved significantly from its original role as a protector of shippers’ interests. It has now become the economic regulator of the entire Nigerian port system, a responsibility that extends beyond the Nigerian Ports Authority to include all stakeholders within the port ecosystem. 

“This comprehensive oversight covers the regulation and control of tariffs, rates, charges, and other economic services associated with port operations. 

“To effectively fulfil its expanded mandate as the Port Economic Regulator, it is imperative therefore that the necessary legislative bill is passed. This bill will formally empower the Council, providing it with the authority and tools required to oversee and manage the economic activities within Nigerian ports, ensuring efficiency, fairness, and competitiveness across the sector.”

Abbas stressed that the amended bill encompasses critical provisions addressing several key areas essential for the effective functioning of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council.

“It details the structure and responsibilities of the management and staff, establishing  a clear governance framework that defines roles and qualifications to ensure competent oversight,” he said, adding that the bill also lays out financial provisions, specifying guidelines for the allocation, management and auditing of funds, crucial for maintaining financial integrity and providing the council with the necessary resources to perform its duties.

According to him, the bill addresses offences and penalties, outlining specific non-compliance issues and their corresponding penalties. 

While noting that a public hearing is a crucial platform for collecting public testimony, insights and feedback from all interested stakeholders and the public, Speaker Abbas commended participants saying their presence and contributions are invaluable as the nation works towards finalizing and passing the bill into law.  

“As we engage in discussions today, let us remain aware of the immense responsibility we hold on behalf of all Nigerians. The decisions made in this public hearing will significantly influence the economic future of our nation. The outcomes of our deliberations will directly impact the efficiency and effectiveness of our port system, which in turn affects the broader economy and the livelihoods of countless citizens. It is imperative that we approach our task with diligence, consideration and a commitment to the public good, ensuring that the final legislation serves the best interests of all,” Abbas  added. 

Giving the synopsis of the Bill, the Executive Secretary, Nigerians Shippers council, Pius Akutah, said the Bill was a catalyst that would reposition the Nigeria shipping and port sector.

He said the bill would create an enabling environment for private sector investment in the provision of regulated services in Nigeria and also promote fair trade practices that would ensure the protection of rights and balance of interests of providers and users of regulated services. 

Akutah stressed that the Bill would  promote efficiency in the provision of shipping and port services, while also enhancing ease of doing business, minimise the high cost of doing business at the ports, and prevent its inflationary effects on the Nigerian economy.

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