The Executive Secretary of Nigerian Shippers’ Council, Hassan Bello, during a courtesy call by management of Daily Times to his office in Apapa, Lagos, revealed that the Maritime sector has the capacity to contribute about five times the revenue being earned from oil, assuring that with strengthened regulatory capacity given to the council to oversee the sector, tremendous transformation was certain in three years’ time. Emmanuel Ogbonnaya, Business Editor, and Funmi Coker report.
What are your set targets for the Transport maritime sector?
It is imperative for us to boost this sector especially now that we have volatility in the oil prices and uncertain economic realities and I think that diversification of sources of income for Nigeria would start with maritime. We have always said that maritime can add up to five times what oil is bringing in today. We need to come back from oil and concentrate on the real issues that will drive our economy.
The Federal Government has been deliberate, conscious, concerted and serious about the shipping industry. The government has seen what it can do in terms of contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), employment and infrastructure.
You have to have modern transport infrastructure for you to be alive in the world economy and I think the journey has started. The transport maritime industry is poised to give a new lease of life to the Nigerian economy.
And if Nigerian Shippers’ Council is so much empowered to supervise the sector, I have always said that in three years’ time, the transport maritime sector will be transformed for better. What we want is a port that is more concerned with attracting ships from all over the world and the shippers would make Nigeria their preferred destination for their cargo and the ports can only do this if they are competitive; we want to be the hub, we want Nigeria to be where everything is brought and we can take feeder vessels to other ports of neighbouring countries.
This is where Nigeria should be, but this is also a function of competition. You have to have processes for evacuating your cargo in a simple and automated system, we don’t need physical presence. We need a modern port, a deep sea port that is connected not only by road, but by rail, inland waterways and other modes of transport like pipelines as well.
We have infrastructural deficit especially in the maritime sector; our role here is also to make sure that our ports are efficient and competitive, and we should never forget that we are competing with ports in other countries. We want to be the hub, the centre of activities in the sub-region so that people can bring ships to Nigeria.
You need a friendly port, a transparent port; a port that is capable of facilitating modern trade. That is what Nigerian Shippers’ Council is going to do.
Is the Shippers’ Council proposing a change in some existing laws?
The existing laws are okay, in fact, the laws are private laws, private in the sense that it is between the individual and the carrier overseas, but there are overall laws which have been sent to the National Assembly and they are reform laws. They are reforming the way we do business, we are going modern. In the inland waterways, you would see the enormous potentials they have. And we can have that exploited and this would reduce the burden on the roads and the roads would last longer.
How far have your members benefited from the Cabotage Act because for years now, there has been complaints that foreigners are still dominating freighting of cargo within the country?
The Cabotage Act actually is to increase the capacity of Nigerians to own vessels and a lot has been achieved in that area. NIMASA is in charge of Cabotage and is reviewing it, very soon you would see many results from that reform.
Why do you think terminal operators are kicking against some regulations in the sector?
Do not get us wrong, the terminal operators have contributed tremendously to the attitude or change in shipping in Nigeria. You can see this in some international indicators – turnaround time of vessels for example. If vessels spend 24 days before, now they spend less than that, they just offload and leave, they have really improved our shipping processes.
The only thing missing is obedience to law. There are Nigerian Laws that must be obeyed. What the Nigerian Shippers’ Council is saying is that we can never have impunity again, we can never have arbitrariness again. We have to monitor, supervise, superintend operations – nobody is a law unto himself.
We are also working for the terminal operators. We have intervened on their behalf on so many policy issues by the Federal Government, and we have prevented the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) from raising certain bills for them. Every regulator will find challenges but the most important thing is for people to know that there must be respect and adherence with regards to law. If you don’t do that, then we are going to operate in anarchy; the capitalism we have now is not a laisse affair, it is an organised one.
Why are the inland depots not working optimally?
The inland depots are not working optimally, unfortunately, because of some legal issues. We have to be gazetted and designated as ports of origin and destination. The Minister of Transport is making efforts to see that they are designated as such and the moment they are, then I think we are in business because they are of tremendous importance to the economy and to transport.
However, despite the legal issues, containers are still offloaded on some of these terminals. We plan to visit the one in Kaduna on inspection.
Is 48 hours cargo clearance possible in Nigeria?
It is a possibility but can only be realised if we have the right infrastructure, if we develop the right culture for handling cargo/ships and if we have the right equipment to handle the cargo, and if our processes and documentation are harmonised and totally integrated into a single window platform.
So going forward, for us to achieve 48 hours cargo clearance, we must have the single window in place which would remove human contact. Everything would be done electronically, you can pay and designate where your cargo should be deposited and you pick it up. So 48 hours cargo clearance is definitely a possibility.
Do you think our shipping laws contribute to people finding it more attractive to ship their cargo through neighbouring countries instead of Nigeria?
Broad laws brought by the government has made the private sector key for port operations; private sector participation in the economy is significant because it is supposed to shape the efficiency of operations because government cannot run business.
And we have had since that introduction, tremendous achievement and even now cargoes have been coming more to Nigeria.