What has been your experience in regulation of the ports since you assumed office?
I came into this office as Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) as the ports economic regulator two years ago. It was a completely new assignment at the time of my arrival because I have not actually been very involved in the maritime industry. Of course, I have had the sting of working in the areas that bordered on some form of relationship with the maritime industry.
For example, when I was a member of the House of Representatives, I was a member of the House Committee on Marine Services and, of course, I have to remember that for sometimes. Also, I was the Managing Director at the Nigerian Export Processing Zone Authority (NEPZA), an agency that has some sort of bearing on the activities of the maritime space. So, I did not come here again as a complete novice. But of course, it was like a learning curve. I have to say that for two years I have become more aware of the responsibilities of this office. I was very fortunate to have been working with a group of very dedicated, knowledgeable staff, members of the working team here in the council for which I feel a special privilege to be made to be working with.
How strategic is this industry to the nation’s economy?
Strategically, I will like to argue most times that, next to oil, this perhaps must be considered the most important strategic industry. Even, the oil itself, if you can put it in some perspective, how do you transport crude? How do you also get imported refined produce? It has to be through the maritime space. That again underscores the very strategic place of the maritime industry. Don’t forget 90 per cent of international trade is actually conducted through shipping. Because it is very strategic also means it is very complex. This is the multimillion dollar investment arena involving foreign participation. The implication is, therefore, that first and foremost, you must have in place rules and regulations that actually conform with international best practices. That is the best way that we can start understanding what the role of the NSC is.
When the NSC was established following, of course, the resolution of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) allowed for African nationals, who are owners of cargoes to be able to organise themselves in the way that they compete with ship-owning countries who in a sense operated as a cartel were too strong that they could emasculate every local participation in the industry. That was the background with which shippers’ councils were established in most of the countries in Africa. So, again, that was how we started from that particular position of being a protector of shipping community in the local arena. We have done this business of protecting the Nigerian shipping community for as long as before the reform in the ports industry. Government in its wisdom decided that the NSC had been performing the role that was close enough to the function of a regulator, we were then given additional responsibility of becoming ports economic regulator in which capacity we have somehow transcended beyond being simply a protector of shippers to an arbiter of the industry. In other words, we now have a responsibility to regulate, take care and manage both the providers of shipping services and equally the consumers of shipping services. That is the strategic particular position the NSC is operating at the moment.
Can you assess the compliance level of service providers and consumers of shipping services in terms of the regulations?
I am very happy to say that there is an almost total buy-in of the regulatory role of the NSC as the ports economic regulator. It has not always been so. At the beginning when we started performing these functions, naturally there was resistance and again I say that this came as a result of lack of understanding, there was mischief certainly. You know, we keep mounting all these beautiful concept of having international best practices regulatory environment that meets the need of the particular industry that we are regulating. But the reality is that most people actually prefer atmosphere that is not properly regulated because they benefit the strongest. Regulation actually in my understanding benefits everyone but most importantly protects the weak against the strong. That is the setting in which we have to understand what has happened. So initially we had resistance but we are now effectively at the place where stakeholders in the industry not only recognise but have appreciated that regulation is very necessary for there to be an effective conduct of business in any sector, particularly in the shipping, maritime industry. So, it behoves on us to equally put a framework that is in conformity with those kind of international practices that those who are working with us are participating in this our economy and already imbibed as a way of conduct of business in our ports as well. So, today, we are happy at the level of compliance and it is because of that that we have been able to also record tremendous amount of successes in the way that our maritime space is being run.
How would you explain the level of efficiency that you have achieved in the ports?
Not too long ago, the Federal Government established for us through the Nigerian Ports Process Manual (NPPM), a regulatory framework with which the port system is being regulated. The NPPM is actually a harmonisation of the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that were actually being operated by different entities now brought in as one document, which everybody has actually arrived at as a consensus. This is the document that will guide how we function here. In order to implement, there was the establishment of the Ports Standing Task Team (PSTT). Both the NPPM implementation and its oversight by the PSTT are led by the NSC. Of course, these are inter-agencies platform but basically the NSC is driving it. Today, we are happy to report that, for instance, the average turnaround time in our ports due to the activities of the PSTT, which has ensured following the strict provisions of the NPPM guidelines that there is joint boarding of vessels for instance. There is also joint examination of cargo.
In the ports, we had different agencies of government who took their time and decided at their own space whenever they will perform a function. This is no longer the case. We believe that if you save time in the manner in which conduct of cargo examination is done, if you save time in the manner in which you board the vessels that have berthed in our waters, there is tremendous amount of efficiency that is then brought to bear on the manner of the conduct of business in the ports. So, I am happy that we have been given the tools by the establishment of this particular document and of the work of the ports having task team that has collaborated and assisted all the other divisions that are present here in the NSC. i.e the regulatory services division working hand-in-hand with the PSTT is now better in role to guarantee automation in the industry which we have been driving and of course a number of the tools that are available for us to be able to ensure there is quality service delivery in our ports. Don’t forget the PSTT under our leadership has also extended its activities to cover access into the ports. We all remember many years ago, the gridlock that visited access into the ports, whether it is in the area of the trucks coming in , whether it is in the area of containers that were littered in the ports. Now there is sanity , some level of order are beginning to develop and we can only continue in that pathway, because it guarantees that we can be more sustainable in the way we are ensuring quality service delivery in our ports.
Last year, the council cried out that the PSTT operatives were having issues because of threat to their lives over their activities at the ports, what is the situation now?
It has not changed much. The threat and the challenge are still there. But what has happened also is that there is doggedness and a firm commitment. There is nothing that has not been thrown in their way to interfere and interrupt their ability to work. They have resisted every temptation and provocation. Let me use this platform to also commend some of the stakeholders who are part of this team, particularly the Nigeria Police Force, the Customs Service, the Road Safety Commission and other agencies of government that have collaborated and supported the team in their work. The harder the challenges, the harder we are fighting back to ensure that we will continue to support the work of the PSTT.
Can you talk about the benefits of Cargo Tracing Note (CTN) to the industry and the country?
CTN is a very useful tool in a number of different ways. First, let me just mention technology. We all know that part of the problem of this nation, I said it several times is the proliferation of small arms, and how do they find their ways into our shores?. Most of it through our ports, also we have to remember that our borders in most cases are porous, but you can drastically reduce the capacity and ability of people with bad intentions from accessing our country with this. Lets be clear, CTN will enable this country to be able to identify what is contained in a cargo from a port or origin to any port of destination in Nigeria and throughout the course of journey. What that does is that it prepares our security apparatus from the very beginning where that ship is to set sail, from that port of origin, so as to know exactly what are the content.
In other words, Part of the problem again as you know is that crude theft has constituted big big obstacle in our ability to sufficiently get the revenue that are due to our coffers. We have now a tool that will be available which will enable our security agencies to know from the beginning there is particular activity that is being undertaken in our waters. If we can stop or at least reduce substantially (I did not say stop, but reduce substantially) the incidence of such occurrences, whether it is the area of small arms finding their way into our nation or the theft of our crude, that I think is substantial.
We are talking of our ability even when the ship has left the particular port in any part of the world and heading into our waters, we are able to identify it and stop it from that point. So, those and many others, actually, we are talking about the efficiency of our services, we are talking about cargo clearance. We are talking about delays into substantial demurrages. Before the ship has left, the manifest and every identification that is needed is supplied to us ahead of time, in some cases even two weeks or three weeks before that ship comes into our water. Already the clearance can proceed while the vessel is still at sail.
By the time the ship finally arrives, all you need to do is simply walk in and clear the goods that have come. That will enable the efficiency that we have been looking for in an even much better way that we operate at the moment. So these are some of the advantages of CTN I can remember now.
Have you been able to sensitise stakeholders in terms of awareness on the project?
The whole thing is being delivered in stages. As I speak with you, we have not actually concluded the process of getting the consortium that will deliver on the platform. We are in a working process. We have been hopeful that by now, we would have been done with that aspect, but we are not done with it yet. Once, we are done with the paper work, the processes are concluded then comes the sensitisation. We need to be sure that we are already at the point of delivery then we can of course engage the stakeholders.
But we have actually gone ahead to start discussion. Recently, the leadership of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) came here on courtesy visit. And by the way, MAN has always had representative in the government board of the NSC; so, they came here to pay us courtesy visit and it was part of the engagement because we have already started having s discussion which I believe is the most important thing that the shipping community wants. Every attempt must be made to ensure that the deployment of cargo tracking note does not unnecessarily add to the cost of doing business.
That I believe is the interest of everyone. It is the responsibility of NSC to make sure that the cost of doing business in our waters is reduced to the barest minimum. That is actually part of our core responsibilities as council. What I know is that at the moment there is already a substantial fraction of the administrative cost that will be brought to bear, embedded in the cost of freight.
As port economic regulator how do you discharge your responsibilities with limited fund?eg
I think truth must be told when we were given this responsibility of port economic regulation, government actually in its wisdom approved that the council be placed on the seven per cent revenue ports surcharge as stop gap. By the way, sources of revenue are 1 per cent cost of freight mobilisation which is enshrined in our statue. When we became ports economic regulator, government decided to increase our share of the seven per cent development levy from 1/7 to 2/7. That was actually sort of reflection of the understanding that we have a new role to play. Now, because of the very expanded nature of the ports economy and the fact that there is further additional responsibility, for example, today we lead in the PSTT, that is a huge responsibility if we are going to execute that mandate. At the moment, our efforts are limited with the Lagos ports, even within Lagos, it is mostly in Apapa.
Today, Lekki has come up, Badagry is around the corner, in the near future, Badagry will be there and there are the Eastern ports like Onne, Port Harcourt in Rivers and then Warri in Delta. To also mention the dry ports being established all over the place – Kano, Kaduna, Jos and those other places. That shows at once that the work of PSTT is also increasing astronomically. We need to have more staff, more equipment and then all the tools that are needed for us to be as expansive as we can to cover these new responsibilities. That means the source of revenue of one per cent or even 2/7 is completely negligible in terms of how much do we actually need.
So, we are making a case. I am happy our supervisory ministry has seen the need for us to be supported. The minister before he left recently constituted a ministerial team and given that responsibility to help establish more properly why the NSC should be allowed to earn a statutory source of revenue. They have even finished their report and presented to him but unfortunately time was not sufficient for him to carry it through. That work is already on the table. I believe that whenever there is a new minister on that desk, that will be one of the things that hopefully may be looked at. So, in due course, I am hopeful the revenue sources of the NSC will improve consistent with the amount of work that the agency is performing.