Private terminal operators at the nation’s seaports have substantially improved the fortunes of the ports, says the Executive Secretary/CEO of Nigerian Shippers’ Council, (NSC), Barrister Hassan Bello.
Speaking exclusively with SHIPS & PORTS DAILY’S Shulammite ‘Foyeku, Bello emphasized the need for government agencies at the port to adopt full automation to simplify cargo clearance to make the ports more competitive. He also speaks on the need to minimize regulation of the private sector, among other topical issues.
What is the way forward for the ports in terms of trade facilitation and the ease of doing business, especially in the face of cumbersome clearance proceduresand the high rate of physical examination?
The high rate of physical examination by customs is a temporary thing. We are looking for a long lasting solution, a holistic one to the problem. We have been talking about automation because it will ease the clearance process, make it transparent, block loopholes and revenue leakages as well as increase efficiency. A transaction that could take days will take only seconds with automation. For example, sometimes ago if you want to pay Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) dues, it will take you like 6 days because you will be required to go to the bank and bring the teller back to the port but now they are complying with technology and payment of dues at NPA presently takes less than 60 seconds and I know the terminal operators have also deployed appropriate technology in that regard. The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and others at the port are currently engaging in one technological adaptation or the other to improve operation. The Federal Ministry of Transportation is clear on competitiveness of our port and now there is collaboration between the Nigeria Customs Service and the Ministry of Transportation on the National Single Window. The Single Window is the panacea for all as it would accelerate our clearance process, integrate the system at the port, and make them more transparent, more credible and more competitive. So I think customs is doing everything to see to the realization of the national single window. Shippers’ Council is an active member of the committee of the Ease of Doing Business recently launch by the Office of the Vice President hence the ease and the cost of doing business are the focal points of the NSC.
We need to make our ports more competitive to attract cargo which is manifested in the economy in terms of employments content and infrastructure among others. We must simplify the way we do business and the Nigerian Shippers’ Council has always called for automation of the ports and the deployment of appropriate technology. So the ease of doing business is at the heart of the NSC and we want other stakeholders to come along so that we will have our ranking up.
What is the latest development on the Rotterdam rule?
The Rotterdam rules have not received the sufficient signature for it to be a convention but Nigeria has signed the convention a long time ago because Nigeria was an advocate of that. This is because we have a vast interlock and inland ports. This is the only convention that has taken care of that because it is a multi-modal convention from the sea, road and rail and up to the delivery of cargo in the hinterland. All our conventions are maritime based at least, they stop at the sea but this is combined so that you can have cargo taken to Kaduna for example through a bill of lading and may need not to be examined at the seaport and this would help bring shipping to the door step of every Nigerian. It would reduce the cost of shipping and boost the economy of those places the inland ports are located with a concept of both door-to-door delivery of goods which is modern and electronic bill of lading as well as e-commerce. That is why we have been at the forefront promoting the development of Inland Container Depots (ICDs) across the country. The Council recently signed an agreement for the construction, procurement and management of a dry port located at Ntigha in Isialangwa North Local Government Area of Abia State. We are sure that with the signing of the agreement, work would begin soon at the site. The Abia Inland Cargo Dry port will ultimately become an export free trade zone, which will enable the creation of 3,000 direct jobs. When fully operational, the port is expected to boost business transactions in the South East and decongest Onne and Port Harcourt wharfs.
The proposed project, which is a 50,000-TEU port facility, will serve Aba, Onitsha, Enugu, Ebonyi, Imo, Delta and Benue States. The port will receive containerised cargo by rail or road from Port Harcourt. The most important thing about these ports including the ones at Funtua, Kaduna and Jos among others is that they are also ports of origin and destination which means that they will be used for export, and export is really important now to the diversification of the Nigerian economy.
How would you rate the level of infrastructures at the port since port concessioning?
Of course level of infrastructure has improved. The terminal operators have made substantial improvement in our port infrastructure. These days when you go to the port, you will see pictures of before and after concessioning. We have more turnaround time for ships now and there is efficiency. In terms of statistics, it can also be substantiated. The only problem we have is the landside, which has to do with evacuating of these cargoes from the port. That is giving us challenges but with the ease of doing business we are pursuing, things will tremendously improve.
What is the latest on the court case NSC and shipping companies and operators?
The case is still going on but we are looking at ways of amicable settlements. We are also calling on maritime elder stakeholders and practitioners to make sure they play a role in seeing that we achieve this. Sometimes, we don’t blame the terminal operators for the court action they have taken because we need simplicity of regulation. We don’t need a sector to be over regulated where everybody will go to them with one issue and another one will come. But I guess the National Transport Commission bill will solve that problem of multiplicity or duplicity of regulation. Don’t forget, they are our investors and such is not good for them but all the Shippers’ Council is saying is that there must be a corresponding responsibility on the part of investors who come here. It cannot be laissez-faire because there are rules of engagement. We hope that all these issues will be resolved.
Some State governments are pushing for the development of deep seaports. Do you think this is what we need at this time?
Yes, we need deep seaports. It is a private sector initiative. The government as a catalyst will promote that so that we can have bigger ships coming here and that means we could be the distribution centre; we could be the hub which means it would be cheaper if we have the drafts needed which is about 16 metres. Besides the Apapa port and Tin can port have reached the zenith of their capacity so we need to have new deeper ports. How many we are going to have is another thing all together.
Don’t you think it is rather important to deepen the channels of the existing ports rather than establish new ones?
If we talk about dredging the channels of the existing ports, you will agree with me that these are natural ports. Even when you want to dredge, it is capital intensive. You will need to do the maintenance dredging, the capital dredging and so on, that is what dredging the existing port could cause. But here we have natural harbours, so that would be less expensive to run. That is the advantage we have when we establish more deep seaports.
What is the council doing in ensuring that admiralty law is taught in Nigerian universities?
Former Justice of the Supreme Court, Tanko Mohammed has asked the council to champion the introduction of the basics of maritime law in the curriculum of all universities especially in faculty of laws in Nigeria in collaboration with the National Universities Commission. In doing this, we are also going to collaborate with the Nigerian Maritime Law Association to ensure that admiralty law becomes part of our school curriculum.