By Ayoola Olaitan
Mr. Hassan Bello is the Executive Secretary of Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC). Last week, he had a media chat with the leadership of maritime media associations. During the interaction, he bared his mind on myriad of port sector issues. Enjoy the insightful views!
Safety Measures And Sensitization
Your suggestions have helped Shippers’ Council to carry out our duties with some criticisms and acknowledgements. So, we know that your work is very important to the economy with regards to the containment of this pandemic and it is very important to observe all the protocols.
The key issue today is the health guidelines and journalists must also observe them. I talked to you on issue of social distancing and it is being observed. Microphones are not put in speaker’s mouth anymore because journalists need to keep the two meters distance.
There have been economic impacts on the media just like other sectors, advertisements must have dropped and you still have people you pay. During the lockdown people don’t come out to read papers. Every aspect of the society has been affected so we need journalists to be safe. You need to observe all the protocols wearing masks like you have been doing, even here now.
There might be changes in journalism just like there are changes in the port system, in almost all aspects. We now have virtual studios where interviews are conducted via some applications such as Zoom, Skype, among others that don’t need physical presence. The same thing applies at the ports and we need to embrace it. People will not have to be at ports when it is unnecessary to be there and that is one thing the NSC is set to achieve.
This will change the way we do business and that is what we want the journalists and media people to help us achieve. The idea is to keep the port open but to also stay safe. It was a very difficult thing to achieve.
Our port is a very vulnerable place, dangerous, crowded and inimical to trade.
However, we ensured the terminals and shipping companies take responsibilities to make sure things are done orderly and not in a rowdy manner. At a point, we wanted to close the port so that it won’t be a point of transmission but we are there almost every day, we hosted some officers from terminals and shipping companies to make sure the processes are obeyed.
One other thing is that one needs to be at the port to do other businesses, so from now on we are working with the shipping companies, freight forwarders, terminals, the banks and the Nigeria Customs to make sure that by next year we will not be having people coming to the port as they are now.
I will make example of the bank. Before now, two to three years ago. there were lots of crowds in banking halls; today, there are few people at the banking halls. You don’t need to get to the banking hall before you can transact businesses. That is what we want the port to be and we have already started the process. If you want to collect your bill of lading from September, you won’t be coming to the port for such because it would be done electronically.
We have gone round to engage truckers, freight forwarders, workers at the port and almost all segments of the port to make sure that we are safe, with better and safer operations.
Life will always prevail over livelihood and we all know what is happening and your job is to look at what the government has been able to do. I know there is grumbling but the truth is that this is an abnormal moment and this is what most people don’t see. Banks were not working when the lockdown started and how can you transact business in the port without this, NSC had to plead with banks in Apapa, even when they were open they were still not in full operations. The banks too didn’t want agents to come and crowd their premises but gradually things started taking shape. We also had to bring trains to help in evacuation of cargoes and barges.
Exports will be our main focus now if you ask me because import will shrink. There is a lot of disruption in international supply chain. Even China will not export what is normally exported from there. They will keep it for their domestic use because there have been so much disruption.
The world is a global village, but everybody will need to bear his father’s name now. Nigeria is so blessed but we have always been quick to sublet our raw materials to China. Now, we are going to process that and that is why we are calling on the government to focus on export.
There were about 800 trucks outside some terminals but NSC has worked on their evacuation and now these trucks are going in. We want all the exports to be evacuating such perishable exports as we cannot afford to allow them stay on the roads.
First of all, the infrastructure must support export. I am talking about the rail capacity and the roads also must be made to enhance exports. Other processes and procedures which are sometimes too bureaucratic must be simplified so that export will not be a tedious thing. That is why we are calling for an improved logistics value chain for export.
So, government should come out and say, we are looking at export. Government must be deliberate and have a hands-on approach. If we develop export, it will be an advantage because we are talking about value chain, from the farm house. For every value chain created you create employment. There is loss for the export currently because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We need to upgrade logistics infrastructure. We need to simplify and harmonize export trade procedures. We want to call for strategy committees for export made up of Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC), NSC, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA). The export strategy committee is very important so that we can look at export. All the exports grants need to be harmonized.
In years to come Brazil and other countries will be talking about Nigeria but with the situation where the ports have been difficult to aid exporters, people who export to will not take us serious. They will have to look for other sources because they need consistency to fulfill contracts. If somebody in Britain needs banana and for two or four months the banana is in cargo, this will degrade the quality.
Access to the market is very important and access to finance is another thing. The CBN must be commended for providing incentives and palliatives but they need to look at that export chain and come up deliberately to put money there. So, we are really grateful, looking at the government efforts. Of course, as journalists with some commitments to the country you don’t have to sensationalize.
We have to be responsible, I have seen a lot on different WhatApp platforms, honestly when I see things there I weep at perceptions that the government initiatives are just to embezzle money. Is that responsible? There is crisis management which we are going to have but you all should support the government.
Aviation industry is in more crisis than the ports and the ports will pull through just like other industries. NSC has interfaced with the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 to open land inter-state borders. Even, some governors are not aware of the internationality of shipping. You know once the government says the borders are to be open that means cargoes must find their destination but they cannot because you close your borders. I am happy now that it has been given the stamp so cargoes must go, export cargoes especially.
So, we have to reset the economy, this crawling economy, I have seen gloom and darkness but I see opportunities and also a bright light. There is no better time than now to reset the economy. We have to look for alternatives against oil and find our revenue generation and employment because this is what the whole world is doing right now.
What We Are Doing
What the Council has learnt and is doing with others. For example. we have had Maritime Task Team that consists of NPA, NSC, National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN), Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Nigeria Customs Service, Nigeria Navy and many others, even the unions. We all came together to explore strategies as we all look into the future. So, who says the agencies can’t work in unison. We need that harmony and we are working on a way to be more automated, efficient and transparent.
Dedicated Export Terminals
We learnt recently that we need to have a dedicated terminal for export or dedicated chain or space because we are so used to importation that we have forgotten what exportation is all about. We are so much drunk on petroleum and crude oil exports that we never welcome farmers selling fruits.
We need to support them with finance. We need CBN intervention as they have done in other sectors. We need them to look at the maritime economy and see what they can provide even if it for rent like warehouses and others, so there will be standardization.
I appreciate you for coming and the tremendous support given to the economy especially the maritime economy. Now, when I read your write ups I see you operating on a higher level in the conscious economy level; but writing inter-agency rivalry is out of it.
Instead of writing about the economy of the maritime industry, for instance, we have about 11 terminals competing with one another, that should be area of focus, forget about the Director-Generals and Chief Executives. Focus on the real issues in the maritime sector. Once we can get the efficient maritime economy, then, pick on transportation. Maritime industry will sustain this country but this can only be achieved with you.
Dry Port Operations
The idea of the dry ports is to bring the ports to the doorsteps of the shippers but the rail capacity is the reason why this can’t happen. There have been increase in both import and export goods in the dry ports though I don’t have the figures but every year there has been an increase because people are aware that one can export or import from the dry port and don’t have to come to Lagos for such transactions.
We have the compliments of almost all the agencies here in Lagos at the dry port. I have said before now that I am not going to allow the mistakes that happen in Apapa to repeat at Kaduna dry port. The rail capacity is the number one and even when it is done you have to have the frequency and the schedules and the connection with the sea ports. We have made about 10 trips on the narrow gauge and this is because the standard gauge is being rehabilitated.
After the massive rehabilitations going on, we would see improvements on the tracks and we will have dedicated coaches. In fact, we want people to come and take them especially the private sectors to come and take these coaches and ply them from Lagos to Kaduna and Kano dry ports.
APMT and NRC Fallout
We have had meetings on generating terminal delivery orders from the terminal. We are going to look at the procedures between railways and the terminals. There is an issue there but as soon as we are done, it would be resolved.
NCDC Maritime Testing Facility
We are setting up an Isolation Testing and Treatment (ITT) center. It is not just for the port but the whole Apapa community. I won’t be dwelling on this because it is still at the initial deliberation stage. Let’s wait until it is done. We should come together to give out the information at the appropriate time.
Empty Container Conundrum
It is an issue of lack of structure. For every container brought in, the container number should be out. Why should the container be empty in the first place when we should taking of laden containers?
This explains why doing business in Nigeria is very expensive. Why should Nigeria have empty containers? That is one of the most painful things we have. MMS Plus said there should be duties for these containers. Some operators have said the containers are expired and a lot have been said about containers.
All we are saying is that the insurance companies should come and take control of this thing. We pay maybe like billions of naira on containers deposits and these companies do not pay refund even when you deliver the container but then you can’t even deliver the container because the road is blocked. What we are saying is that the insurance companies should come and take responsibility. You see container deposit continues because freight forwarders are not structured.
Everybody knows the challenge with returning back the containers and most of these companies don’t even have holding bays. We have requested that these containers should be taken out because Nigeria has been littered with containers. It better to have the insurance where you pay N10,000 instead of the N300,000 being paid as container deposits.