Ultimate magazine theme for WordPress.

Interview: National Single Window will prompt greater productivity in Nigeria’s port services—Nigerian Shippers’ Council

Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, Hassan Bello
The Executive Secretary of the
Nigerian Shippers’ Council, Barrister Hassan Bello, in this interview, talks on
the importance of a National Single Window Regime to promoting a more effective
and transparent port services in Nigeria.
He also talks on the economic benefits
of developing dry ports in the various geo-political regions of Nigeria, which
will decrease shipping cost and enhance easy movement of cargos to their final
destination, as well as servicing neighbouring landlocked countries.
Bello highlights the role of the Council
in protecting both the shippers and the terminal operators, in a bid to create
a balance that can make Nigerian ports attractive, in addition to other sundry

What’s your assessment of the just- concluded 14th edition of the
Maritime Seminar for Judges?  What outcome do you expect?
There was active participation from the judges, interactive sessions,
and you could see from the contributions of judges that we have guessed right
because we always see the issues in admiralty law that they are facing or that
is giving them challenges. So I think the issue of cybercrime, the issue of the
responsibilities of organisations at the ports really stimulated a whole lot of
discussions and practical scenarios were discussed. That goes to the heart of
why the seminar is, that is to educate the judges on contemporary issues that
they have no experience or knowledge on. So I think that the seminar was
extremely lively, there was huge participation, not only in numbers but also in
discussions. And if you read the communiqué, it is so rich and I think that
judges now will be able to handle issues that were raised efficiency.
On the appointment of Nigeria Shippers’ Council (NSC) as economic
regulator in the sector, would the Nigeria Ports Authority have to relinquish
its place as the regulator of terminal operators as mentioned in the port
concession agreement?
It is not relinquishing as such, but conditions always dictate what
happens in the society and there are economic phases or stages and the world
economy now dictates what an institution becomes. I will give you the scenario
with the aviation sector. The Nigerian Airways was public monopoly, there was
no other private airline, but if they are to come now and operate, they will be
regulated by one of the regulatory authorities in the aviation sector. What I
am saying is that an institution cannot operate and regulate itself. They are
all service providers. The Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) provides marine
services. It also charges. It has its tariff. So, somebody has to measure its
efficiency. It cannot do that itself.
Things have changed with Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA). It is not
public monopoly. It is a provider of service and you have to gauge and assess
and rate how efficiently they provide the services. The Nigerian Ports
Authority itself knows, that is why we have Port and Habour bill. And that Port
and Habour bill cannot say the authorities should fix their charges. Somebody
must do that. That’s all. And I think there’s no contention about that. Really,
there is no contention.
Terminal Operators have argued that the integrity of the Council as an
economic regulator could be compromised since its core assignment prior to now ,was
to protect the interest of shippers. They believe the appointment of the
Council as regulator is erroneous as it allegedly stands against the interest
of terminal operators. What is your reaction to this?
We have been protecting the interest of terminal operators. There is
what is called Guaranteed Minimum Tonnage (GMT) payment that they have to make
and we have said that some of them should not make such payment because
Government has not fulfilled its obligation. We have made the Authorities
provide certain things for the terminal operators. 

Like in Port Harcourt, we
have made cases for the provision of the road leading to terminals operators.
We have made cases for the review of the concession agreement. The auto policy
affected the RORO Terminals and we have made a representation to the government
that they should not do that even if you want to change policies, what happens
to the RORO terminals now that they are starved of cargo, they should be
So, Nigerian Shippers’ Council is not biased. Nigerian Shippers’ Council
is doing everything to bring balance because if we have balance, then the
economy will thrive.  Nigerian Shippers’ Council has scolded the Federal
Government about its attitude to the provision of power at the terminals, and
the roads leading to the ports or the terminals. 
We have always said government
should bring a marshal plan for the development of the ports. Some of the
problems you see is because government has not fulfilled its obligation, it
should provide conducive atmosphere.
 Whether we like it or not, the terminal operators, the shipping
companies have changed the way we do shipping in Nigeria. Nigerian ports are on
the ascendancy now. They are going to be efficient and we are going to have
cargo returning. We have done that, we have brought them cargo from Niger and
Chad. We have done so many meetings travelling to Niger to bring them cargo so
that they will profit from that. So, it is not true because we are having
cooperation, we are working with the terminal operators.
The problem is for them to come together because some terminals are
good, some are not. That should not be the case. What happened was that there
was brigandage, there was a laissez–faire attitude for eight years and nobody
was regulating them. I have always given the example of kicking foot ball in
the park where there is no referee. Suddenly, the referee will appear, blow the
whistle and say these are the rules. You know you are not going to be popular;
we are not looking for popularity. 

We are looking for…You are in this country,
do the right thing. Do you go to other countries and do what you are doing here
in Nigeria? You cannot be above the law of this country, that we will never
compromise and we have a duty to perform, the Federal Government has  give
us that charge and it is not for them to say that this is how we are going to
do it. Never! It will never happen.
A number of port users are of the opinion that Nigerian ports are more
expensive than their counterparts in the region. What is the Council’s
assessment of the situation as the port economic regulation and what are your
efforts at ensuring that the market here remains attractive?
We want the port to be attractive. What we are trying to do is to make
Nigeria the destination for cargo. The more cargo we get, the more it is
profitable. The more it is profitable for terminal operators, for shipping lines,
for the freight forwarders, for NPA, for NIMASA and the economy in general.
That means the transportation sector will have a boost, the warehouse sector
will have a boost; that means more employment and contributions to the GDP.
What people do not know is and I think so many things are married to it is that
we are in competition.

Before a shipper will want his goods to come to your ports, he will
consider a lot of issues. How many documents will I sign before I bring my
goods out of the port? Is that port automated? Can I track my cargo? What is
the dwell time for cargo? How many free days do I have? What is the tariff? How
much am I going to pay? It is a matter of economics. It is not a matter of us
decreeing that Nigeria is hub. 

You can’t decree that! It is a matter of
efficiency and competitive pricing and that is what we are urging the terminal
operators to do. Look at what has happened in other ports and copy it. Because
if they are competitive, if their prices are fair, reasonable, then, they will
have more profit than they are having now. And why should we be having problems
because we say that? So, it is a matter of moral persuasion or moral suasion.
It is a matter of economics and also one of obeying the laws of Nigeria.
The concession agreement allows terminal operators to review their
prices upwards in line with inflation or high cost of operations?
Yes, they could review but it is not unilateral or arbitrary. Even the
Nigerian Shippers’ Council Local Shipping Charges Act says nobody can increase
without consultation or negotiation with Nigerian Shippers’ Council; neither
will NPA do that nor any terminal operator. The reason is obvious. If you allow
anybody to raise charges as they will, everybody will just leave. Does it make
sense for an operator to raise his cost just like that?
What I want to say is that the tariff and their cost can never be fixed.
There are many reasons they may have for reviewing upwards these tariffs, and
they are genuinely there basically but bring these things for consideration and
approval. That is what is done in civilized countries. That is what is done in
every civilization. Nobody is saying, this is one naira and it is going to be
like that for 20 years. No! But there are processes; there are mechanisms of
bringing about such a review. We have done that…we (the Council) benchmarked
NIMASA 3% levy. We have done that with NARTO when they wanted to fix the price
of haulage from Lagos to Kano. They came and said please the tyre of the
trailer was X, not it is Y. And we sat down with them and we put a rate- the
lower and the upper. There is a gap in between because of competition.
 They may not all have the same fixed rate.
Another issue is competition. People see STOAN (Seaport Terminal
Operators Association of Nigeria) as a cartel. They cannot come together and
fix prices. That is anti- competition. It is anti-trust. There should be
competition. Have you ever seen advertisement of a terminal? That’s because
they don’t care. But if you have competition, that means there is no distortion
in the market and you can say no regulation. Because some industries are not
regulated, they regulate themselves because of the level of competition.
The consumer is king. He should have options. He should have choices.
That is what the shipper should be able to do. But as it is now, we have
efficiency on the sea side of it. We have NPA also fulfilling its obligation
because they have introduced a lot of things now that are helping Nigerian
ports become more competitive- electronic Ship Entry Notice, even the
electronic payment. Before, it was six days before you pay but now, it takes
seconds. That is what we want our ports to be. We want our ports to be
automated. We want to have trade facilitation mechanisms that will increase the
efficiency of our ports and have us rank high in ease of the cost of doing
business. That’s what Shippers’ Council is interested in.
And you have to guard against and check. For example, there was one time
Shippers’ Council and other organisations were called to review the concession
agreement and we said no. We said you cannot review the concession agreement
without the terminal operators because they know where the shoe pinches; we
will be doing it unilaterally. So, we are fair. It is just that some people are
above the law and that cannot happen. What that want is for Shippers’ Council
to go and lie down. We have been given assignment and we go to bed? And allow
anything to happen? That is not going to happen! It is impossible.
Let’s move away from terminal operators to what the Council has done to
protect the interest of shippers in recent times. Is your quest for the
adoption of a simplified single payment document that encompasses payments to
Customs, NIMASA, NPA, and all other agencies really achievable?
We will attain that. We have a minister who is so passionate and has
quick understanding as regards trade facilitation because he has basis for
comparison. Shippers’ Council started out protecting cargo but what it is doing
now is protecting shipping on both sides.
Single window is a one stop shop, an electronic interface. It is going
to reflect what all the agencies are doing and it is open and transparent. With this,
you know if an agency is not doing what it is supposed to do, you can see that
and you from the comfort of your bedroom, you can track your container up to
the time it comes to you, you can make payments to the ports, do everything and
clear your things. So, it is fast track, electronic, open and transparent. 
implication of this is that Nigeria is moving up.  The implication is that
there are no hidden charges. Government revenue will boost. It is just like the
Cargo Tracking Note (CTN) which somebody described as the card reader because
there is no hiding place and that is why you have opposition to it. Every time
you try to introduce new things, there will be opposition. 
When we were doing
the CTN, someone came to me who is a representative of some traders and said
please we don’t want the CTN. I said why and he said because I under- declare.
 So we understand these things. But the minister, nobody can stop him from
bringing the reforms. And the Shippers’ Council is with him. 
And if we do that,
you will see the contributions of the maritime industry to the economy. Then we
can close all the oil wells. The maritime industry can finance the budget of
this country.
It is a painful thing that people are used to doing what they want but
this government cannot tolerate impunity from anyone. It is not possible! What
we had before was doing things anyhow. Now the thing has changed. People must
On the Cargo Tracking Note (CTN) and Inland Container Depots (ICDs),
what is the update as at today?
The ICTN as we said is good, but we are looking at the bigger picture of
a single window. We want to see how we will be able to manage all of them. It
is there but the ultimate is the National Single Window and you know this is
done with the cooperation of the Customs. Customs too is a very important
organisation. In fact, Customs has shown the way towards electronic interface
and have cooperated with the Council so much in its regulatory role. It has
recognized very quickly what we can do. So, the culmination of these two is
As for the inland ports, it is also a very important way of bringing the
cost of shipping down. You ship things and they will be examined at the inland
ports. So what is the implication? You know all these trucks coming to the
ports; you won’t see them because the goods will be taken to the door step of
the shipper. And then the economies that Lagos State and Rivers State have been
enjoying at the sea ports will be replicated in these dry ports.
Somebody said the economy will bounce because of the ripple effect –
factories, consolidations such warehouses, and then we have neighbours that are
landlocked and we have an international obligation to ferry their cargo there.
That way, inland ports will be ideal.  We have got one in Kaduna. We are
thinking of one in Isiala Ngwa, Funtua, they have got technical partner. Kano
has got technical partners and they are all swinging into construction.
I was in Jos two weeks ago with the Governor of Plateau State who came
to our office personally in Shippers’ Council to make sure that this port
begins. And when I went, the port in Jos is being constructed. These are modern
infrastructure because the infrastructure deficit in the transport sector is so
huge but that does not mean it is insurmountable. Any time you have
infrastructure, the chain is production, development. Now, look at all the
waste in agricultural produce in Northern Nigeria, if we have factories
concentrated near the ICDs, then these produce can be evacuated and now we have
to export or we perish.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.