The Nigerian Shippers' Council (NSC), as the ports economic regulator, is in the forefront of enthroning efficiency at the nation's ports. In a chat with newsmen, the Executive Secretary/CEO, Hassan Bello, speaks on a number of palliatives measures lined up to achieve this, including interconnectivity of modern infrastructures that will facilitate trade. The Guardian was there.
Your council is involved in promoting trade facilitation at the ports, how far have you gone on this?
SO much has been achieved and more will continue to follow. Shippers' Council is providing a lot of support for all, and I know very soon, we will, at least, have the palliatives on ground. NSC, as a think-tank, has provided permanent solution or will suggest such, chief of which is the rail connections to the ports. Every port should be connected to the modern mode of transport. We are also talking about the whole traffic management in Apapa and other ports to be established where we have the stage, the call system electronically controlled, so that we don't have unwanted trucks on the road.
It is a macro-economic thing; we have no business to import petroleum products. Yes, we should concentrate on our refineries; the pipeline is a means of transportation. This should be enhanced, if we have the pipelines, the 2,000 to 3,000 petroleum trucks coming to Apapa will just disappear. We should enhance the means of transportation. If a port is connected with pipelines, a port is connected with rail, road, and inland waterways, then you will not have traffic situation as we have and that will go to the efficiency of transport infrastructure. Not only the presence of infrastructure, they have to be modern, sustainable and they have to have connections with the economy. And that is why we are talking about linkages. No infrastructure should stay alone. What we are trying to do in the council is to establish the Truck Transit Part (TTP), which will also have connections with the ports, and we could have a holding bay attached to that.
The Ogun State government has agreed and is going to allocate land to NSC for that purpose. We are also looking at other places. Whatever we do the connectivity is very important. Now, if we have modern infrastructure, you will see improvement will have reflection on the economy. The port is not supposed to retain a container more than a minute necessary. The port is a transit point holds for cargo, not storage and you see there have been investments by the terminal operators. Some of them have modified and have provided necessary technology, which is commendable. But the infrastructure coming out has failed and this the Federal Government is addressing massively and deliberately to provide rail links to the ports, to do the roads, provide modern traffic management. Shippers Council supported a study by the African Finance Corporation (AFC), which shows a lot of things within the Apapa logistics ring, including the presence of unwanted trucks. Now, if these things are electronically controlled, which means a truck is only within the vicinity of the port if it has business to be there, and the business is to load and off-load cargo within a second, it has done its business and it is on its way. This is what is done in other climes and this is what the shippers' council is doing.
What is the current level of equipment profile by the terminal operators?
We have seen with some of the terminal operators. You can see the result. The turnaround time reception of vessels and cargo has improved. We can see that in terms of the amount of cargo we have been able to gain from our competitors. Actually, if not for the recession and banning of some commodities, Nigeria would have been ahead in tonnage. It is actually because you could see efficiency entrenched. We call on the government to actually supplement the efforts of the private sector in making sure these go along, but we still need competition. That is why the ports were concessioned. Competition is the key. We need the intra-port competition, also competition between ports, and our competitors in neighbouring countries.
Talking about Executive Order, are some of these efforts by the council part of implementation of the Order by government?
Yes, we are central to executing the Executive Order. And we are from next week starting a stakeholders' engagement so that we are in tune. I tell you it needs a lot of hands to tie it.
How has the council been able to handle the issue of tariff imposed on shippers by shipping companies?
The issue of tariff is very important. We need to have a modern tariff system and we are working towards that, at least with the shipping companies. Now, tariff must be scientifically decided. We have to look at many factors. NSC has competence, well trained staff on tariff structure of the ports and we are looking at that. We are getting cooperation from the shipping companies who are actually desirous of establishing machinery for future tariff setting. We are looking at competitive tariffs. It can't be all the same. But we have the minimum; we have the maximum within which to give them leverage. So this will emphasize the competition. We need to see that the shipper has option. The shipper has the choice to take his goods where he has economic advantage. So, it is a question of efficiency. It is an economic decision by the shipper to say, let my goods come to terminal A rather than Terminal B because I get the goods faster, I pay less, I have efficiency, I have many other advantages.
How far has the Council gone in terms of getting refund from the shipping companies who were based on Appeal Court judgment ordered to refund illegal charges they had collected over the years on shipping lines agency charges (SLAC)?
It is a court case in which the shipping companies have appealed to the Supreme Court. The case is now at the Supreme Court and that is the situation for now. But we are engaging stakeholders, the Ministry of Transportation is aware of this and also the Attorney General of the Federation. We in NSC are more interested in establishing machinery for objective tariff structure rather than some punitive issues actually. It is important that our tariffs are considerably competitive with tariffs in other neighbouring ports especially those ports we are competing with.
All NSC is saying is not averse to raising tariffs or lowering them for that matter, but there are procedures. And these procedures are entrenched in the Nigerian laws, so we urge everybody to obey the law. The truckers are here; we are negotiating their tariffs. So, people should come and say, we want to raise tariff or we want to lower them as the case may be. Because there are times when you need to do that. All we are saying is that you are operating in a clime of laws. Nigeria is country of laws, so please, come and abide with the laws of this country.
In effect, have the shipping companies stopped collecting those charges the Appeal Court ruled against?
Not effectively, because it is a complicated case in the sense that there is no stoppage of these things.
Can you talk about the progress made on the Inland Dry Ports (IDP) projects?
We have the activities of the IDPs rising. One in Isiala Ngwa, they have just signed an agreement to commence construction, which should be done immediately, and they have 18 months to do that. If they construct a port and we examine it together with international organizations, they will be accorded a Port of Origin and Destination status which means you can consign your goods to the port from anywhere in the world. And it will be a port just like Apapa or Tin Can Island. For the Jos IDP also, a lot of progress has been made and the only thing we are having problem with is the rail line or its rehabilitation. In Funtua, a lot of activities are taking place towards construction. So, we are seeing some progress but we want that progress to even be more and next few weeks, we shall take a holistic approach, we shall hold a meeting with the concessionaires. Don't forget theses IDPs have already been concessioned and some state governments such as, Plateau, Kaduna and Abia have supported these projects and we have to be very thankful to them. We also have one in Benin City. We are looking at it and very soon, we will take the issue to ICRC because it is a Greenfield investment, so that we know the procedure and processes.
What about the launch of the Kaduna IDP?
The Kaduna State is constructing another road to the terminal. The state government is really a partner in that project.
So does it mean that until the road construction is completed, the launch will not take place?
We will do that, but goods are coming to Kaduna by rail now. Kaduna is our showcase and many people have visited. We are working with the Nigerian Railway Corporation to see the amount of goods they are bringing.
Can you also talk about the latest development on the Truck Transit Park projects?
That is another important transport infrastructure that will add a lot of value to the economy. As I have said, Ogun State government has given us land; we have two land in Enugu and Kogi. And we are now doing the exchange of titles to the NSC. But we have also advertised for Expression of Interest to people who want to run the TTPs. We are also talking with the ICRC as usual. And on November 9, we are having a breakfast meeting with lending institutions and investors so that we will have a solid roadmap on how to go about this investment.