Barrister Hassan Bello,The Executive Secretary and Chief Executive of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council. In this interview with Segun Oladipupo and Benjamin Ameh, he explains how the Council is working to make sure that trades among African countries are formalised, he also speaks about the states of the Inland Container Depots (ICDs) across the nation and how to keep Apapa and Tincan ports access roads traffic free by creating a modern truck bay for trucks.
He explains how the Council intends to achieve the feat going forward.
What are the activities lined up for the Council this new year?
We are commissioning an information centre between Benin and Nigeria under the USAID because there are lots of informal trades going on between Nigeria and Benin Republic and other African countries. The volume of trade between African countries is very low and this should not continue.
So, we have a post there now, if you want to trade in Benin, we will tailor all the information and everything you need for you, we make connections for you. What this means is that government will get revenue. A lot of people informally spend much money trying to smuggle but if they had come through that, they would have gotten their goods. So, we are going to use Benin Shippers’ Council, with the Chambers of Commerce and Industry and so that the trade between Nigeria and Benin Republic will be consolidated and be done formally
At what stage are the dry ports across the country?
Now, on dry ports; we have Kaduna nearing completion; they have just completed the buildings for all the regulators like Customs, NDLEA, Shippers’ Council and so on. So, we are hoping that by second quarter of this year, it will be completed. Already, containers are being brought to Kaduna but we want to make it international with the advantage being that we want to reduce the cost of doing business. Instead of you to come to Lagos and have your container taken by road up to Kaduna, the goods will come from Liverpool and the bill of lading is going to read Liverpool/Kaduna because it is a port. So, it will be brought here and be put on trains or any other means and taken to Kaduna, you will pay your duty there. This will also boost the economy of Kaduna state because there will be a lot of transportation, warehousing and so many other things. Recently, we took an inspection tour of the Jos dry port with the Minister of Transportation and the basic things will be done by June this year. So, what we are going to do is rail connection and a road because Jos ICD is very suitable because it is located near the airport and the minister has directed that we discuss with FAAN to see how we can have a link to the airport.
We are going to open up Plateau, Benue and all the adjoining states because a lot of agricultural produce are going on in those places. Some people are talking of setting up agricultural processing farms, even flour can be exported to many places if we have the markets from that centre. So, what we are concentrating on is developing the economy.
We have just gotten land through the Kogi state government to operate truck Transit Park. Gone are the days when we have these trailers park all over the place, it doesn’t happen in any country but ours.
It is off the road and it has luxuries; we are going to have restaurants, gas stations and many other conveniences. So, this is a modern infrastructure and it will also employ people. The Jos ICD will employ about 2,500 people directly at the first instance and indirectly it could be up to six thousand and so also the Kaduna dry port.
There are other ICDs coming up in Ibadan; right now, the China Construction Company is interested in the Ibadan ICD. We have brokered a meeting with the concessionaires of Ibadan ICD and they are also meeting together and they will also start construction of that. We are opening up the economy bringing shipping to the door step of shippers internally. Most of these goods are actually destined for the hinterland.
Why should i drive my rickety truck to come and clog Apapa when goods can be delivered through there? Now, we have also reached out to shipping companies and terminals for efficiency. You know we have a case, we were taken to court and in that aspect, we have not been able to do well because the court case restricted us even in other things that we could negotiate about tariffs and tariffs are going up every day. What we are saying is that if you charge, you must be able to attach it to a service but the terminal operators themselves too have a lot of problems one of which is government’s inconsistent policies. We have told government that when they have investors, they should not bring in inconsistent policies because an investor likes predictability and certainty. So, we have intervened on their behalf.
If we have the RoRo port and you are importing cars through the land borders, the RoRo port will not be able to fulfil obligations. So, all the cars are going to be imported through the ports so that they will be able to do business and will be able to employ people. This employment is very cardinal to us, we have to look at it because it is lack of employment that destroys the country. If we as parents have fulfilled our obligations by sending our children to school, the government ought to give them jobs. How would my child stay with me when he is thirty years old? The people who do kidnapping did not choose to do it, it is lack of jobs. Nobody wants to be a kidnapper, nobody wants to be a criminal. The salary we give to our people is slavery, most of our people are not paid well that is why we cannot sustain the economy
Where is the place of the South East in the dry port arrangement?
There are lots of proposals, we have a dry port in Isialangwa in Abia state. It is coming up too, in fact, we are supposed to go and meet the governor because the governor has shown tremendous enthusiasm. He has reconstituted the local committee on ICD. Now, the ICD concessionaires in Isialangwa are the most serious. Right now, they have a lot of money and they are going into construction very soon. Besides, there are proposals from Onitsha, Benin and some other axis in South South area because also, it has sizeable cargo throughput but the South East also serves with river port which is handled by NIWA.
This year we want to be practical, we are going ahead with advanced cargo information system and ultimately national single window. Once we do that, then our ports will be attractive, shippers will bring their goods to our ports but our ports must be efficient.
Are you considering intermodal transport system in creation of these ICDs?
There has to be because that is what we are doing. There must be a connection. even though there is multi-modal, there should also be intermodal that will connect the hinter land. This is very important but unfortunately, in Nigeria, there is a gap. Legal regime is missing about inland port. What is the liability? What is the insurance cover? So, Nigerian Shippers’ Council has commissioned a law firm to study all the laws.
For example, these luxury buses are also carriers you know the practice, you give them something to deliver, if they don’t deliver, what are you going to do? There is no law, it is just trust and we cannot trust to carry it. So, we are making laws for all these things to sanitise them. We are working with RTEAN, NARTO, AMATO because we are going to have registration of trucks. We can’t have rickety trucks bringing goods from the port. it is no longer one truck, one owner, you have to have a registered company and you have to have a minimum of six trucks in your fleet.
Don’t you think this will cause a problem because NPA is already registering trucks?
NPA have their own work cut out for them and sometimes when you hear me say these things, it doesn’t mean that we are going to do it. It could be the appropriate agency like the management of traffic, we are working with World Bank, we brought the World Bank here, they have seen the traffic and they have now analysed that Apapa Tincan logistic ring, at every moment there are five thousand trucks and what you need is one thousand, three hundred trucks. So, what are the rest doing? Now, the World Bank will come and put electronic gate and it is only when a truck is needed that it will enter Apapa so that we will never have this gridlock again. So, when we studied it, we said NPA should go ahead with it but we initiated all these things.
Our own is not to involve in everything.
How soon are we expecting this traffic management system?
I think they are having meeting on 24th (January). There are some processes, ICRC and BPE will have to do all the procurement processes but NPA too has been very dynamic so also NIMASA and NIWA.
NIWA is strategizing coming up with their own inland waterways. One barge can carry what ten trailers will carry. Already, cement is being transported with the effort of NIWA.
Many things are happening; the minister has just set up committee to look at MAN, Oron, we at the Shippers Council is heading the national fleet, we have reached the stage of financials now. We just had a meeting with NEXIM bank, they are interested in the project, we are having meeting with the minister of petroleum resources on 14 to see that we have a national carrier but it is not a government national carrier, it is purely private sector. We have a technical partner, PIL in Singapore, they are ready to give forty percent while general investors will get sixty percent which we can borrow from the banks. Unless we have ships, we are only pretending to be a maritime nation, it is only when you control the means of transport, that you can control the economy.
A lot of things, the minister is a stakeholders man, anything he does, he always holds a stakeholders’ meeting and from there, he takes off. The problem with national fleet is sustainability, it is not only to have ships, we are talking also with China for ship repairs and building. Just like aviation, when they want to build their aircraft, they go to overseas. If we have it here, if the ship spoils, we repair it here. Then our cadets in Oron will have sea time and we will own the fleet. Gradually, they will keep increasing in number and they will even be involved in carriage of crude oil, foreigners will no longer carry our crudes.
Don’t you think if incentives are offered on consortiums, people would want to come together to form a consortium instead of individual ownership?
The problem is absence of regulation but regulation does not mean you will be a master over them but will just tell you what to do, it is an advisory role but if you don’t do what you are told and continue with your own, you will be sanctioned. So, we are going to monitor the trucks to see if any is not working among the fleet of six and we will call to find out. Moreover, there is going to be a tracking system and from there, we will know if a truck is not moving or working from our office and we will find out why such a truck is not working.
The fleet owners will be forced to employ people who will be graduates that will help monitor the computers, that is how employment comes but in a situation where a man has one truck, he picks an eighteen year old boy to drive it and the containers are falling off, this doesn’t happen anywhere except in this country. Some of the trucks are not latchable and you allow it to go like that.
What is your meeting with shipping companies all about?
The meeting with Maerskline was a continuation of meeting with shipping companies, we have to get them interested in the inland port.
There must be a nexus between the sea port and inland port, some of them are interested already. We are also on talks of having mutual cargo coming into Nigeria, we need them. Chad has also shown interest. We want the shipping companies to help convey the cargoes to the dry ports and we also have to look at the employment charts of concessionaires to make sure they actually employ. This is because Nigerians will like to employ fewer persons to do the job of plenty people. It is the job of a regulator to ensure that these operators employ the required number of persons for a particular job