As the National Transport Commission Bill before the National Assembly edges closer to its passage, some stakeholders in the maritime industry remain quizzed as to which government organization is best placed to transform into the National Transport Commission.
The Nigerian Shippers’ Council has been proposed and settled as the institution to transmute into the National Transport Commission but the recent debates between the President of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Senior Staff Association of Communication Transportation and Corporation (SSACTAC); Comrade Benson Adegbeyeni and the President of the Nigerian Shippers Council branch of Senior Staff Association of Statutory Corporation’s and Government Owned Companies (SSASCGOC), Comrade Adikwu Mukhtar seems to have provoked some thoughts that demand proper placement.
Aside the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), other transport agencies of government, include the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC), Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety (NIMASA) and National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), National Airspace Management Agency(NAMA), Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria(FAAN).
In order to answer these questions, one would have to look at the level of manpower, infrastructure, geographical spread, staff strength, core objectives of each agency vis-à-vis the responsibilities they are currently undertaking as well as several other factors.
NIWA is more concerned about the nation’s waterways, NIMASA bothered about maritime administration and safety, NRC focuses on the railway, NCAA looks at the aviation, NPA is concerned about the ports with its function streamlined, following the port concession as it functions more as the landlord at the port; but NSC’s role as port economic regulator gives it room to not only cater for the interest of shippers but explore other areas to enhance the nation’s transport sector development.
The Nigerian Shippers Council is already seen to be playing this crucial role as it has been involved in the development of Inland Container Depots (ICD), Truck Transit Parks (TTP), organizing the West African Road Transport Union (WARTU), harmonizing the Standards Operating Procedures for stakeholders at the ports, relating with and encouraging training of freight forwarders, etc.
Another issue that comes to the front burner on the subject is the spread of these agencies of government across the nation. While NPA is mostly present in areas where seaports are located such as Lagos, Calabar, PortHarcourt and Onne, Shippers’ Council has zonal offices across the nation and present at all border posts of the nation.
Although both agencies would need immense trainings and recruitment to effectively transmute into NTC, the Nigerian Shippers Council has been undergoing several trainings since it became the port economic regulator and its presence in 26 states of the nation gives it a greater advantage compared to NPA whose presence in below 10 states.
Explaining how the NTC bill should be established and the priorities of government in choosing the appropriate agency that should be transformed into the NTC, the National President of the Institute of Transport Administration Nigeria, Professor Innocent C. Ogwude told MMS Plus that the original intension of the NTC bill by government, represented by the National Council on Privatization, whose agent is the Bureau of Public Enterprises, was the establishment of a fresh institution in the name of NTC.
“Today, the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) is the Economic Regulator of the maritime sector, appointed by government in the interim; that is, in an Acting Capacity. You are probably asking me whether the appointment should be confirmed. Before I answer this question, I should explain that the NTC is intended to be the economic regulator for the entire transport sector, including the rail sector, the road sector; and the air transport sector, at some point.
“The story must be told. The hope was that the reforms in the transport sector would have been completed by 2008 so that the following transport Authorities would be in place as the Safety and Technical Regulators in their various sub-sectors, while NTC would be the Economic Regulator for the entire sector: National Ports & Harbor Authority- port sector, Inland Waterways Authority- inland waterways sector, National Railway Authority – rail sector, National Roads Authority – Road sector, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency- Shipping sector (already in existence), Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority – Aviation sector (already in existence)” he said.
“You can see a pattern in the uncompleted reform program in the transport sector. When the NTC will soon be created only the port sector and, to some extent, the shipping sector will be available for economic regulation. We can conclude that currently only the economic activities of ports &shipping are available for economic regulation.”
Ogwude, who is also Professor of Transport and Maritime Management, Federal University of Technology, Owerri, maintained that the National Transport Commission will have jurisdiction for economic regulation only in the ports and the shipping sector, until the reforms in the transport sector are completed. So, he recommended the NSC for its long experience in the transaction and protection of ‘cargo’ interests of the Nigerian Shippers against foreign interests in maritime trade.
“The appointment of the NSC as the Economic Regulator of the ports and shipping sector seems natural and reasonable, but the NSC restructured to fit the new role prescribed in the legislation establishing the National Transport Commission in this modular form.”
Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Ports Consultative Council (PCC), Otunba Kunle Folarin stressed that the importance of the NTC portfolio may be too important to relinquish to an existing agency.
“We shouldn’t be looking at the cost of establishing a new NTC because we can’t ignore the importance and benefits of the services NTC is going to render. NTC would have a massive impact on the nation’s economy that should deserve the cost and resources. On the issue of transforming one institution into the NTC, this should be a secondary option because NPA stands for technical regulation while NSC stands for economic regulation.”, he said.
Otunba Folarin emphasized that it would be erroneous to pitch NPA against NSC in the bid to become the National Transport Commission but the focus should be about how to have an efficient NTC and deliberate on the issues that would enhance the level of fairness in the transport system.
“The main issue shouldn’t be the agency that transforms into NTC. We should be more concerned about the content of the NTC bill, the removal of arbitrary charges and lack of first-class services in the transport system. There might be need to transform an already existing agency but the benefits of having a new body should also be considered.” Otunba added.
Everyone agrees that the proposed National Transport Commission is a necessary institution to have. It is however necessary to define clearly the intended role of the Commission. The National Transport Commission (NTC) shall play the role of the economic regulator in the transport sector. The role of this economic regulator is to ensure fair trading by various interests in the port market. This would be achieved by price cap regulation and by regulation of the quality of services provided, monitoring the activities of competing operators in the market, etc
The National Assembly and Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, among many other government and private sector operators have settled for NSC to transmute to NTC because of many factors, including funding, experience and relevant human capacities.