But the echoes are all around
Whirling like a harmattan
Whirl-wind throwing dust around
And hands cover faces and feet grope.”
The events at the Nigerian Shippers’ Council(NSC), last week, happened like the speed of fire. The seeming alternating celebration with severe uncertainty that followed the appointment of an alien as the new Executive Secretary shares the contrast depicted in the short verse above extracted from Gabriel Okara’s poem, “The Fisherman’s Invocation”. Gabriel Okara, through the fishing expedition in his poem, dramatizes two fishermen in the canoe; one skilled and the other unskilled and inexperienced. Though the poem has it thematic relevance traced back to new Africa and colonialism in post –independence era, but the bold message of loss of identity and alienation it passed across then, are the painful realities NSC will have to deal with, today.
The new Chief Executive Officer(CEO) by the reason of being an unskilled fisherman, will make the Council suffer from alienation and its identity will be lost, at least, for a time. There is no guarantee that the bevy of the Council’s smart and knowledgeable directors can gamble with the dice.
Last week, Mr. Hassan Bello retired from NSC on completion of his two terms of eight years in office as the CEO. There was an elaborate ceremony in his honour with accolades from stakeholders. He handed over to the most senior Director in the Council, Ms. Ifeoma Ezedinma on Monday, the following week, and on Thursday, Hon. Barr. Emmanuel Lyambee Jime was appointed by President Mohammadu Buhari as the substantive ES/CEO. This can only mean that he had since been waiting in the wings for Bello to sign off.
The worry, however, is not that he is not qualified to occupy the position but how the achievements of NSC under Hassan Bello can be sustained or surpassed. No doubt that he is inexperienced in the sector, but can his pedigree offer some hope to stakeholders and shippers?
Jime is of Tiv tribe in Benue State and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Law. He is a one time Managing Director of Nigeria Export Processing Zone Authority(NEPZA) and a two-term member of the House of Representatives, representing Makurdi/Guma Federal Constituency between 2007 and 2015. He was also Speaker of the Benue State House of Assembly from 1992 to 1993.
Born on 20th June, 1962, he was the governorship candidate of the All Progressive Congress(APC) in Benue State in 2015 elections. Said to be a bundle of strength in perseverance, tact and finesse, Jime is independent-minded yet a good team player. Urbane and detribalized, he is a vocal and active personality, no wonder he was a leading member of the integrity group in the Green Chambers of the Federal House of Representatives that impeached the Speaker, Mrs. Patricia Etteh. He is married to an Idoma Lady, Comfort Oklobia.
He was a key player in the controversial emergence of Rt. Hon. Aminu Tambuwal as the Speaker of the House. He nominated Tambuwal for the position of Speaker he occupied. Then, he served as the Chairman, House Committee on FCT as well as member of five other committees including power, human rights and media/public affairs. Jime left the House with a record of a little over 20 bills and a few motions to his credit in addition to numerous projects in his constituency. He is therefore expected to bring to bear his experience to discharge his new brief at the NSC, especially as the Ex-Managing Director of NEPZA where he refocused the authority for greater efficiency.
Bello, who rose through the ranks to become the CEO, took over the mantle of leadership when NSC was losing its relevance in the emerging new port order following the port reforms that handed over the management of the ports to private sector operators without a port economic regulator. Indeed, history will be very kind to Bello ,who in spite of the numerous challenges made moderate achievements.
Not minding the control clauses in the port concession agreements, the concessionaires wielded so much power that even the Nigerian Ports Authority(NPA) lacked the knowledge and capacity to exercise control over them as the technical regulator. Bello played the needed politics and NSC was appointed the economic regulator.
But the excitement of the new position had not ended when the terminal operators and the multinational shipping firms operating in Nigeria dragged NSC to court over lack of regulatory powers to regulate terminal charges and shipping lines agencies fees. The argument remains that the regulatory authority lacks legislative backing. This case moved from court to court with the Council always securing victory. However, the consciousness and fear that NSC is there to check arbitrary charges and enforce compliance always curtailed the spiraling excesses of terminal operators, shipping firms, bonded terminals, stevedoring companies, among others.
He raised compliance and enforcement team and raised the bar but his delivery strategy was largely diplomacy and continuous engagement with stakeholders because they deserve encouragement as investors in a galloping economy like Nigeria, he would always argue perhaps as a humanist. However, this scenario remains a major slide in the performance rating of NSC. A couple of company premises were shut for non-compliance to rules but a section of shippers and freight agents feel that the penalties are not stringent enough to deter future infractions, and therefore concluded that NSC is an agency that barks but can not bite yet on several occasions it recovered millions of dollars for shippers over different complaints and claims.
There were concerted efforts by the NSC under Bello to transmute the Council into the National Transport Commission (NTC) to fill the vacuum of legislative instrument and perform its regulatory duties without distractions, but on two occasions the bill was denied assent by the President.
He secured a 100 per cent salary increment for members of staff with zonal offices established and some built.
His interpersonal skills kept stakeholders, and workers glued to his leadership priorities and focus for results. In fact, he was the agency’s chief marketing and regulatory officer as well as the chief image maker. He managed the media and managed stakeholders. He did 80 percent of the corporate communications jobs with his goodwill and influence in the media circle.
Bello positioned NSC as the agency of reference in stakeholders’ relationship, technical and economic matters in the port sector that it became a father figure to all while driving all towards efficiency, digitalization, and corruption-free environment. In many instances, bribes offered were turned down. While the 7 days target of cargo dwell time is still work in progress from the current 24 days, the Apapa traffic gridlock did not help matters; but the Nigerian port has attained about 90 per cent digital compliance, NSC will always allude to this. So, the traffic menace is the sore point. And Bello has said that this is his only regret!
He inherited the Inland Container Depot(ICD) or dry ports and Vehicle Transit Area(VTA) projects from his predecessors and as at the time of his exit, he facilitated the construction of Dala Inland Dry Port in Kano, which has attained 65 percent completion stage. Benin Dry Port which came on stream as a wholely owned private sector initiative is receiving the guided facilitation from NSC, while the Kaduna Inland Dry Port is up and running. With more nine dry ports to kick-off it is important to note that the successful completion of these projects is not dependent on NSC but the promoters of the project. There are six official VTA but none has taken off.
He introduced indicative haulage rate that bench marks cost of movement of cargo from sea point to hinterland.
At the heart of NSC plan is to eliminate under declaration and the challenge of insecurity, this explain the tireless efforts at ensuring that Cargo Tracking Note(CTN)is re-introduced.
However, it will not be out of place to state that Bello has laid a good foundation for his predecessor. But to be able to raise the bar and deliver on the goals of the agency, the new CEO knows what to do, coming from NEPZA. Nevertheless, for whatever reason, there are units and departments in NSC that need urgent rejig if the Council must move forward and sustain its current rating in the public space.