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Terminal operators should embrace dialogue

Roget’s Thesaurus Dictionary defines Dialogue as colloquy, parlance, repartee, Talk. Aristotle Socrates and Plato were the greatest minds in ancient Greece. Socrates (C. 469-399BC) left no writings but much about him was through the dialogues of Plato. His legacy is the Socratic method of reaching an answer through a dialogue of questioning, and arriving at the truth by discerning the difference between opposite points of view. Nations dialogue over contentious issues, families dialogue over property, especially when the upkeep allowance is no more realistic. Corporate organisations or public agencies dialogue with unions over unpaid emoluments. Dialogue is therefore acceptable as conflict resolution mechanism.

Therefore, there is dignity when parties dialogue to resolve issues that hitherto looked confrontational. And this is why Churchill once said that, “our destiny sometimes depends upon the most trivial of the decisions.”

Recent moves by terminal operators to sue the Federal Government calls for caution. The commercialisation of port operations in Nigeria in 2007 saw the leasing/concessionning of 25 port terminals to private operators with lease agreements ranging between 10 to 25 years. One of the concessions was to Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) basis. If we critically undertake a stock taking in the past nine years, the 16 terminal operators that have worked in Nigeria and equally examine their investment portfolio, there is no gain saying that they actually invested heavily in equipment, human resources and automation.

Their presence to a certain extent changed the face of shipping and its operations in Nigeria. We must therefore commend them for believing in Nigeria and bringing their foreign expertise to bear in our port operations. However, they too must acknowledge that their return on investment compared to other climes will reveal a marvel. It must be positive + positive return. If a study or comparative analysis is conducted vis-à-vis their parent companies, it will definitely show that terminal operators are enjoying the best of times in Nigeria

I was a bit worried to know that terminal operators instituted another court case against the Federal Republic of Nigeria. While some cases have been vacated or struck out for some reasons, some are still ongoing. In addition, what are the bases of all these litigations?. Challenging the Federal Government’s appointment of a regulator that  will bring sanity to the ports. When the Nigerian Shippers’ Council was pronounced as Port Economic Regulator, apprehensions set in. Recall that in 2007 port concessionning agreement, there was a clause stating that there must be a regulator to ensure sanity of purpose. Nevertheless, the Federal Government in its wisdom or lack of it could not appoint one at inception. So, in February 2014, the Federal Government pronounced Nigerian Shippers’ Council as Port Economic Regulator and followed it up with an order titled: Ports Economic Regulator Order 2015 and published in the Federal Republic of Nigeria official gazette No 34 Vol. 102 of March 27, 2015, as government. Notice No 40.

The NSC Act provides sufficient brick wall for economic regulation in section 3. Most importantly, it outlines the basic responsibilities of improving the regulatory regime of Nigerian ports for the control of tariffs, rates, charges and other related economic charges. It also requires NSC to enforce fair trade practices to protect rights and balance interest of providers and users of port services. The Act also allows NSC to mediate and establish modern dispute resolution mechanism and to minimise high costs of doing business at Nigerian ports.

From the above, one would appreciate that the numerous litigations by terminal operators is not against the  Nigerian Shippers’ Council as an institution of change but the must curious challenge is why it  should look into the “gold mine” we have been digging unhindered since 2007.
This is why, it is advisable that terminal operators toe the line of decency and engage the regulator in a dialogue.
Experience shows that those who question the veracity or otherwise of government institutions and its laws often end up the losers.
Look at the judgments entered into or against FAAN by Bi – Courtney Nigeria or the MTN/ NCC row. MTN had to invite the President of South Africa to come and dialogue with Nigerian leaders over the impasse. Also, as part of the dialogue process, MTN withdrew its litigation on the matter. Also, recall, how some banks caught over financial sleaze or FOREX round tripping opted for dialogue with CBN to mitigate their penalty.
It is not likely for any corporate entity to sue a government agency regulating its functions and get away unhurt.
This is why I advise the terminal operators to withdraw all impending cases and extend an olive branch to NSC for a new era of rapprochement. Politicians of all hues will always say that there are no rights without responsibilities. This is used to justify the taking away of rights and privileges of people to claim benefits, unless they meet their responsibilities.
Nigerian Shippers’ Council as an organic entity can only live when the terminal operators and all port users survive and grow. I am sure that if the concept of dialogue is applied, the council would take another look at the contentious issues especially the tariff hike, and port charges. As at today, cost of inflation and sourcing of FOREX are  negatively impacting on port operations. All these will be taken into consideration if the parties come to a round table. Agitation for enhanced wages and the global recession occasioned by energy costs will be part of the review process. Volatile issues are resolved amicably and warring parties go home dignified without loosing or bruising their egos. Anon once said that; “Contra negantem principia non est disputandum, meaning; You cannot argue with someone who denies the first principles.”
The Federal Government and its agencies are giagantic institutions and as father of all, they patiently listen to the cries of their children who confidently turn to them. Wisdom is being wise at the right time.
I therefore urge terminal operators to critically review the journey so far and examine if they have chosen the right path or enter into dialogue. The Federal Government wants your survival because you play a critical role but not in a hostile environment.
Remember when you quarrel, always leave room for making up.

Nwamadi is a journalist based in Lagos

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