Maritime industry stakeholders, including maritime lawyers have thrown their weight behind the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) moves to transform into a commercial regulator in the ports industry.
Stakeholders who spoke to THISDAY last week said the move had become necessary to quickly fill the gap created by the absence of an effective commercial regulator in the shipping industry and in particular the ports industry.
The expertise, which the council enjoys in the industry and the overwhelming capacity in terms of personnel with deep rooted knowledge in tariff regulation and structure, are considered by stakeholders as placing the council above any other agency in a position to become a commercial regulator.
A maritime lawyer, Mr. Okesanmi Ogunlana, who spoke with THISDAY said the Shippers Council is the only agency of government that can effectively act as a commercial regulator because the agency had in the past been asked to perform tasks similar to commercial regulation in the ports.
Ogunlana said that past ministers of transport in order to address the excessive nature of shipping charges imposed on importers had asked the Council to carry out an investigation which later proved abuse by multinational shipping companies.
He recalled the era of Chief Adebayo Sarumi as Chief Executive Officer of NSC during which the council was asked to investigate some charges by shipping companies and which were said to be inapplicable to Nigeria.
He said government later abolished those charges, which according to him, resurfaced because the shipping industry had remained porous without any agency to effectively check the multinational shipping agencies responsible for the excessive charges.
Another maritime lawyer, Mr. Okey Ukeh, while noting that the absence of a commercial regulator has brought untold hardship to importers said the Council was capable of addressing the problems being faced by importers under the ports concessionaires.
Ukeh said what could be so bad is the fact that the reform in the ports industry failed to address the issue of commercial regulator.
He recalled that the Transport Ministry had on several occasions particularly in the past two years asked NSC to investigate allegations of excessive charges against importers by terminal operators, adding that the findings which indicted terminal operators and shipping companies have remained in the cooler as a result of absence of regulator.
He called on the Federal Government to urgently empower the council to transform into a regulator in the ports, adding that this will bring about positive results in the country.
"The telecoms industry is doing well because there is a commercial regulator, the operators are constantly put into check. There is nothing like that in the ports industry and Nigerians are suffering for this. We need NSC to transform into this role. The Council has the personnel, the expertise and necessary structure to carry out the assignment. The Council understands the issues and tariff and will do a good job for this country," he said.
A freight forwarder, Chief Uche Ofobike, who also spoke to THISDAY, called on the National Assembly to consider transforming the Council as a commercial regulator under the Ports Harbour Bill.
Ofobike said the National Assembly should be fast in addressing this issue for the benefit of Nigerians, adding that leaving the ports industry without a regulator was an economic sabotage to the country because of the illegal charges being imposed on importers.