The Executive Secretary, Nigerian Shippers’ Council Barr Hassan Bello in an interview with SEUN IBIYEMI in Lagos speaks on issues to make the Maritime industry competitive and on reforms to be introduced in the sector. Excerpts:
What is the status of the truck transit park and how will it reduce accidents on the nation’s roads?
The project is going into procurement, we have met with ICRC and they are two of them, one in Ogbolafo, Enugu State and another in Lokoja, Kogi state. These are the ones developed into the point where they will be thrown out for procurement, that means there will be expression of interest for all investors to come and these will come out very soon, may be in two weeks.
You remember the two are subjected to lab, focused lab organized by Federal Ministry of Budget and Planning, it was very successful and we have people putting money aside to develop this structure, investors not only Nigerians but also foreigners.
It’s the fatigue of drivers that causes accidents, a driver is supposed to drive for not more than six hours compulsorily then observe rest after every six hours but our drivers, drive day night and they are human beings.
When we had a chat with the Federal Road Safety ommander we found out that fatigue is one of the reasons. Why? So, if we have mandatory observation of rules that drivers should rest after every six hours and if we can check that, then it will be okay.
It even humanizes the drivers because they are not machines, they have to find a decent place to rest not sleeping in their cars or trucks and not on very dirty polluted environment. In a decent environment that is well ventilated with hotels also for others who can afford it, with hospital, gas stations and repair yards for trucks.
What is the council doing about the perennial traffic gridlock on the Apapa port access road especially as it leads to increase in freight rate?
On the Apapa gridlock, it is unfortunate but you have seen how Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) has worked so hard to ensure that this is resolved. Also, the Federal government has awarded the contract for the Oshodi, Mile 2 to the port. So, it is the key infrastructure which is being taken care of by the government.
Government is much disturbed about these as well as Ministries of Works, Transport and Finance. The port is a gateway which will provide infrastructure, otherwise it will not be competitive.
We know there has been some artificial freight trip which attempts to impose some charges like congestion charges and the Shippers’ Council will not allow such charges.
Also congestion is bad for business, even locally, to transport containers from Apapa to Ikeja, it is astronomical because of the nature of the road but now that the road will be fixed, we are looking at next year and hope on not having such case again.
The Nigerian Ports Authority began review of ports concession but the Shippers’ Council are not in charge in the review of the concession?
You know the press said I complained that Shippers’ Council is not the one and that is not what I said, What I said is that the concession of the ports has far reaching consequences on other motor transportation especially going inwards. The port is as good as it connects to the hinterland. So, whatever the NPA discussed should be made open to other stakeholders for participation.
The people who are negotiating, the terminal operators, the Nigerian Ports Authority they are all interested parties, you need a neutral party because they should all have obligations and rights. When doing that, you can not specify your obligations and your right.
I think this has been yielded for now Shippers’ Council has been invited as an observer, which is good for us to observe what is happening about the ports concession.
As the economic regulator of the port, we also have input to make in the ports concession so that we don’t repeat mistakes that we have had. So, the concession is not fair to terminal operators and not even fair to the ports authorities. So, you need a neutral body like Nigerian Shippers’ Council, because we are not biased and we don’t have interest of becoming an operator.We are not one of the operators at the ports and we don’t levy charges. So,we should have a fair high view that will scrutinize to make sure there is a fair dealing.
Has the council been invited to the review committee of the ports concession?
Yes, we have been invited as an observer.
You are planning out of court settlement with shipping companies but what about terminal operators?
You know right from day one, you should remember that we didn’t go to court. I moved the opinion that court is not where to settle trade issues and I have worked so hard to make sure this is out of court.
Let me quickly say, the response from the shipping companies has been very good. The shipping companies are looking at the future, they have recognized Shippers’ Council as the moderator in this.Every charge they have brought to us we look at it together and nobody says you cannot increase charges or decrease them but there are overriding factors, like the cost of doing business.
We look at the ease of doing business we should also look at the cost of doing business, I’m just from the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, 30 per cent or more of their cost of production is transport and we should do all we can to reduce it so that there will be competition and the shipping companies will know that.
About the terminal operators we have been talking to them but not yet formally.I am looking forward to formalize it.I am appealing to terminal operators to come so that we can work together and resolve these issues.
What is the council doing on arbitrary or excessive port charges?
There are no more arbitrary charges, every charge you see is tied to service. If there are arbitrary charges they are just to fly the kite but we have stopped those charges, like congestion charges and many other charges that you may not even know, like holding bay charge. We will not agree to that.
We are not just Shippers’ Council, we have stakeholders, we have the shippers, we have the manufacturers, we have the freight forwarders and the shipping companies too.
What you need to know is that Shippers’ Council is not a cargo-based institution, it is now the overall so we have to cater for the shipping companies, terminal operators, also service providers.
We must tell the governments to produce conducive environment for them to make profit.We have to guarantee return on investment for them, if a company is not making profit it’s the fault of Shippers’ Council.
The operating atmosphere is improving but it can improve better, as a matter of fact we have more troops this year than five years back, this is because the ports have been efficient. We also dialogue with them, the terminal operators have provided substantial investment in the ports and when you remember the way it was doing business then it is not like that now.
There has been efficiency they have introduced, left for the government to do many things also, like providing power for example the finance they have power when you say Ghana is $20 to do this and in Nigeria is $30, you will know that the operating costs are different but people will say what is here in Togo but what have you done? Government is a catalyst. Government should provide conducive atmosphere for people to operate especially in the Maritime industry.
The Maritime industry is supposed to employ people but how do you employ people you have a lot of output coming, the more cargoes coming to Nigeria the more our economy grows but then cargoes also going out on export is very important.
Shippers’ Council is a trade facilitator, it’s an economic regulator and seeing that the Maritime industry and transport industry must make appropriate contribution to the Gross Domestic Product of this country.
What are the things needed for our ports to be competitive?
It is the turnaround time for vessels which in Nigeria is zero. Vessels come they berth, they discharge and leave, how fast they can do that is very important. Secondly the vessels receptionist i.e effective transparent boarding of vessels of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council is on top of it, because there has been complaints that many agencies come to the vessels and ask for bribe and delay the vessels to discharge for a long time, we cannot afford that, everybody is looking because shipping is international, you can’t have Nigerian shipping or Bende shipping, it is international.
So, we are targeting that together with Nigerian Ports Authority and ICPC to see that vessels reception is very good and that those who are supposed to board the vessels are known. So,we don’t need everybody going there to board the vessels and we are looking at the risk assessment why vessels are not boarded on time.
Also the appropriate time for cargo i.e. how many days will your cargo stay at the port these are another indices of efficiency. If cargo is discharged effortlessly from the port because the port is a storage and not a warehouse, so port is just processing and let the cargo goes to the homes or warehouses of the owners.
Another thing to show efficiency or competitiveness of our port is the cost, the decision of the shippers because shippers are important, nominates the port he wants his cargo should go to, he might want it to be in Lagos, Warri, Port Harcourt or Benin Republic. It is his decision and nobody can force him otherwise and why did he do that is the economics,
So the port must be efficient, there has to be reasonable price, port must have tolerant time for vessel, it must have vessel reception and it must be transparent so that investors like you and who are importers will know the cost to pay.
All these shady deals, to many check points is not good for Nigeria’s image because ease of doing business is to sit down at point A and clear your cargo from port at it comes to meet you where you are without you going to the port, there should not be physical presence at the port but when you go to the port you see a lot of people even though it has been reduced now, you don’t need to be at the port, nobody will be at the port by the time Shippers’ Council introduces the new economic port system, we have to clean up that but then we have to work with many agencies, we need cooperation from Nigerian Ports Authority and also we need cooperation from Nigerian Customs Service, from Nigeria Police, from freight forwarders and that is why we have to introduce reforms and by next year there will be lot of reforms.
Also reforms will come in fleet of trucks, the trucks coming to pick cargoes they are old, they are ancient trucks and that is why they break down, you see the container falling off the truck killing people so we need to refleet these.
We are working with the automotive agencies to make sure we have a way, but first of all establish trucking companies, not owner driver each of these companies must have a minimum of six trucks for them to operate at the port and we have them now, we have new companies coming in with new trucks and these trucks have to be checked, to see they comply with standard, do they have the tracking method even the weight they take.
We have to check the weight they take because that is one of the reasons goods fall because nobody is checking, we have to install weight bridges on our truck transit park because these truck transit parks fit into the system of reforms, no truck driver will pack outside, if they do their truck it will be mobilized and certain test will be conducted on their trucks.
We have to sanitize people are moving up, Nigeria has to have the same speed too, and we are not bad people, we are very productive people. Have you ever seen in the world where people pack trucks along villages, polluting the environment constituting serious danger to people living in that area, petrol tankers for that matter, any slight spark anything can happen so we have to help sanitize our system and have to introduce modern transport infrastructure.