Quest For Sanity In The Maritime Sector, Any Hope?

Quest For Sanity In The Maritime Sector, Any Hope?Hypothetical solutions to the challenges facing the maritime sector in Nigeria were the highlights of a one-day event organized by the Nigerian Ports Consultative Council (NPCC).

The Maritime sector has been plagued with numerous problems that have hampered the smooth running of affairs.

These problems range from the terms of concessioning of the Ports to Terminal Operators, to who should be the regulator, what should be regulated, what are the limits of the regulation; should the regulator have a regulator?

There are also the issues of arbitrary charges and unnecessary delay of cargoes to attract demurrage fees by the terminal operators.

Recently, some freight forwarding associations embarked on a strike to protest what they termed as injustice and manipulations on the part of the terminal operators.

The traffic gridlock on the roads leading to the ports is a very serious problem too because it has caused stakeholders and the nation so much loss and inconvenience and made business transaction in the port difficult and expensive.

Attempts were made at providing solutions to the problems during the event. In his paper presentation with the title: Technical and Economic Regulation for Enhanced Port Performance, Emeka Akabogu, an expert in the field of Maritime Law and Policy in Nigeria, who is also the Principal partner in the Law firm Akabogu and Associates posited that for operations to work smoothly in the ports, there should be regulations both technical and economic and there should be regulators who enforce the regulations to the letter.

According to him, “There is a strong imperative for ensuring adequate commercial regulation in Nigeria. It is not only in line with international best practice, it lays a foundation for increased international trade and facilitation of relationships. As the country strives towards increasing the efficiency of its economy, instituting commercial regulations for the ports lies at the heart of successful gateway services and international trade facilitation; these regulations should be gleaned from and protect the extant laws and regulations which currently guide shipping and port operations in Nigeria.

He maintained in his presentation that there are no proper maritime policies and regulations guiding the sector and therefore advocated for a comprehensive maritime policy and pin-pointed regulations that could address the challenges in the maritime sector.

Reacting to Emeka’s paper, the Executive Secretary and Chief Executive (CEO) Nigeria Shippers’ Council Barr. Hassan Bello said that he disagreed that, there was no policy in the Maritime Sector.

“There has always been a Maritime Policy in the country. Yes there is still a lot to be done, all we are trying to do is to create a level playing field, and there should be synergy among the players”.

He said that Shippers’ Council being the interim economic regulator of the maritime industry is fully committed to ensuring that the sector is being properly regulated.

Bello reiterated the achievements of Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), freight forwarders and other stakeholders in the sector and attributed it to the level playing ground the Council had created.

In reaction to what Bello said, Mr. Victor Egejuru who represented the Director General of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) advocated for the holistic compilation of maritime policies and regulations in one big volume that will touch all aspects of the Maritime industry.

“Yes we have Maritime polices scattered in the pages of our law book but I don’t think that there is anything wrong if we can compile a proper document called our maritime book, it will be all encompassing and touches all aspect of the maritime sector,” he said.

Captain Labinjo, the president of Nigeria Indigenous Ship-owners Association (NISA) called for collective action to rectifying the problems of the maritime industry. “It is about collective action, no matter how much you say you love Nigeria, you cannot unilaterally take an action that will affect all of us bearing in mind all the, issues that Emeka have raised about fairness”.

He also talked about the use of incentives to make the port attractive for investors and cited the examples of United States and some Europeans countries who gave out cash to ships that do not pollute their environment and waters and said that Nigeria can emulate that. He equally added that the incentives were to attract patronage to their ports

Chief Joshua Asanga, the General Manager, Monitoring and Compliance, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), representing the Managing Director of NPA said that “policy documents government direction in whatever they want to do but we have an uncoordinated physical regulatory compliance which is giving us an unworkable environment at the end of the day and if the Directorate of Petroleum Resources (DPR) has given you a license to do a tank farm, that’s fine but you didn’t ask how would that affect the flow of containers from one place to the other, you didn’t ask how it will affect the environment”.

He was of the opinion that laws are made to be complied withand if they are not complied with, things would not work.

Mrs. Dabney Shallhoma, the Director of Commercial Shipping Services, NSC advocated for balance in the demand and supply chain, according to her “the industry is not sticking together when there is a lack of balance of the two critical subsequence in port operations, the supply value and the demand value running at cross purposes one is bound to have a chaotic industry that we presently have”. She also that mentioned that effective performance and value were lacking in the Nigeria ports and gave example of a terminal operation she witnessed in Europe, that; it took three minutes 17 seconds to discharge a cargo and that is part of the performance indicators expected of any concessionaire in Nigeria to provide.

Engr Olu Akinsoji, the MD of Niger Lloyds and a member of NPCC centered his contribution on the issue of monopoly. He urged the government to make policies in the ports and ensure fair and healthy competition even though it means “bringing the rules after the game has started.”

Barrister Fred Akokhia, the National Vice President of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) raised the issue of the recent rift between the freight forwarders and the terminal operators. From what he said, the terminal operators are monopolizing the market that is why they feel they can bring up trumped-up charges for freight forwarders to pay before their cargoes are released.

These trumped up charges include demurrage charges which he said were deliberately engineered to extort money from importers viz-a-viz the freight forwarders through unnecessary delays.

Mr. David Etim the representative of the President of Nigeria Association Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA) said that our port are costly and there are many charges in the port that is why some Nigerians are resorting to the ports of nearby countries which are cheaper to transact their businesses.

The Commissioner of Police Western PortMrs Hilda Ibifuro-Harrisson reiterated that security is everybody’s business; she said that all stakeholders should rally round the police so that “our ports are secured and safe for business transaction to move smoothly”.

Professor S. Ola Oni of Department of Geography, University of Lagos represented by Dr Emmanuel Ege of the same Department also presented a paper at the event titled :Port Infrastructure: Modernizing Maritime Transport Infrastructure in a Landlord Port Model.

He mentioned amongst other things the statutory roles of concessionaires as against what they are actually doing. He said “The Terminal Operators in addition are to invest in equipment handling, terminal maintenance and insurance of concession assets. The terms of trade agreement under the reform programme requires that NPA and the concessionaires meet their obligations of infrastructure development, among others to achieve efficiency at the ports. But the extent to which the agreement has been observed is left for technical audit to determine. The only thing is that NPA has often been accused of failing in its technical regulation of policing the terminal operators, a weakness often attributed to lack of political will in view of the clash of interest involved in this regard. What could be so painful, according to freight forwarders is that the terminal operators are operating without any agency of government or Ministry of Transport having effective power to check their excesses. This is the same for shipping companies most of which are owned by some concessionaires”.

In order words can we say that NPA is incapable of checking the excesses of the terminal operators or are they being manipulated by powers above? That is food for thought.

Most of the solutions advanced against the challenges of the Maritime Sector cannot see the light of the day unless the government steps in. The question is, is the government ready to step in? There so many Bills waiting to be passed for the past 10 years. What is withholding the passage of these Bills?

Mrs. Ogochukwu Ugboma of school of Transport, Lagos State University said in her comments that “The vocabulary of still born keeps coming up, I am a woman and no woman likes stillborn, why are these bills stillborn? When are they going to be delivered alive and active? What is preventing these bills to be passed”? So many questions begging for answers.

However, with all the theoretical analyses and proposed solutions to these problems, are there likely to be any change from what used to obtain or would it be swept under the carpet like others? Would this be another wasted effort?

By Emeka Chukwuaku

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