The country’s hope of becoming the shipping hub in the sub-region has been described as a mirage following the high cost of doing business in her ports which has more than doubled since the concession of port terminals in 2006 to private operators. This view was expressed by the executive secretary/chief executive officer of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Captain Adamu Biu, last week as he received in audience members some senators from Abuja. The team comprised members of the Senate Committee on Marine Transport, who came on an oversight visit.
Led by the chairman, Hajia Zainab Kure, the senators, specifically Senator Abubakar Sadiq Yar’Adua had asked for the honest impression of the council on the outcome of the port reform that got over 14,000 Nigerians sacked from daily means of livelihood. He demanded to know if after over six years, the port concession has yielded the dividends as told by proponents. Captain Adamu had responded by acknowledging the fact that the ports had witnessed physical developments in terms of modern equipment with cargo throughput on the rise and turnaround time of ships improved upon. He however regretted that since after the concession, the cost of doing business had more than doubled as the terminal operators, 90 per cent of which was foreigners, continued to slam arbitrary charges on shippers with anybody calling them to order. Consequently, according to the foremost master mariner, in the Dakar-Angola transport corridor, Nigerian ports were the costliest for doing business, resulting in shippers diverting goods destined for the country to neighbouring ports. With this scenario, he lamented the Nigeria-Niger Commission that required Nigeria providing transport corridors for landlocked nations like Chad, Niger, Mali, among others, could not be executed. On the other hand, he revealed, neighbouring Ghana had been offering such service to these landlocked countries thereby creating jobs for the people and earning revenue, which Nigeria was losing. “In all honesty, there has been remarkable improvement in the ports. With the takeover of the terminals by private operators, there have been physical developments in the ports. There have been more modern equipment as against when the Nigerian Ports Authority was in charge. But at what cost, is the issue? I can tell you distinguished senators that the cost of doing business in the ports has more than doubled”, he said.
He pointed out that the terminal operators, though indigenous firms, were 90 per cent more of foreign interest and 10 per cent Nigerian, were business people out to make profit and as a result always slammed arbitrary charges on shippers. Captain Biu informed his guests that due to such recent increase, some freight forwarders had been on protest march and cited the piqueting of the NSC headquarters by the aggrieved agents that morning. “This morning, some freight forwarders, who got wind of your visitation, were here to protest recent increase in charges by some terminal operators. The charges are increased without consultation and there is nobody to regulate them”, he disclosed.
The Bornu State born chief executive observed that this development was happening at a time the country had no single ship on international trade that could lift Nigerian shippers’ cargoes unlike when she had a national carrier that lifted at least one-third of generated goods. In his words, “In 1978, when the NSC was established, we had a national shipping line, which was lifting as much as one-third of our trade. Without a national shipping line today, Nigeria is 100 per cent dependent on foreign shippers and the foreign shippers are not charity organisations, but are here to make profits. The scenario has now worsened that we have concessioned our port terminals”. In the face of all these, he lamented, there was nobody to curtail the excesses of the terminal operators as there was no Economic Regulator to do so. He therefore pleaded with the lawmakers for assistance towards the NSC Act amendment to enable them perform such a role. “Enactment of the enabling laws for the upliftment of the NSC to become Economic Regulator has become imperative with the arbitrary increase of charges at the ports today”, the NSC boss demanded. He made it clear that the council was the only agency that could carry out such a function as the Act that established it in 1978 gave it the powers to protect the interest of the shipper.
Other functions of the Shippers’ Council he listed as regulation of freights, local shipping charges, regulation of the operations of the inland container depots (ICDs) and freight stations, organization of conferences and seminars on the functions of the outfit, among others. He disclosed that with all these responsibilities, their funding had been very poor, saying that presently the council was being funded from the one-seventh (1/7) of the seven per cent surcharge paid on import and export in the country. Captain Biu made it clear that this had not been enough and even would not come early enough. He then pleaded for the intervention of the senators through an enabling Act to assist them to be entitled to one per cent of all freight in the country. If done, he explained, they would be on the same footing with other sister agencies like the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (Nimasa), which rakes in huge sum from the three per cent it collected on freight. “Frankly speaking, we are illegally being funded, because, as it is today, there is no law that specifies how much we are being funded – that’s the gospel truth and that one per cent is determined by the Nigerian Customs. If we are properly funded, we could do a lot more than we are doing today”, Biu told the lawmakers.
In her response, the chairman of the committee, Hajia Kure, said the committee was at the NSC to interact with it and know how the council was faring with its 2012 budget and to understand it the more. “Having approved the budget for the council, we thought it is only pertinent to be here to see certain things for ourselves and to know further the activities of the Shippers’ Council. Your presentation had further revealed certain things we did not know before now and we will prevail on the National Assembly for enabling laws that will make the council do better”, Senator Kure said. The former first lady of Niger State, had earlier commended the management of the council and the executive secretary for the way and manner they had had close working relationship with the committee, noting that their visit from Abuja was to enable them have an on the spot assessment of the situation of things with the NSC. Members of the team took time one after the other to ask questions or get clarifications from the NSC management team on the presentation of the council on its budget and operations.
Other members of the delegation included Senators Pius Ewerido from Edo State; Kabiru Gaya, Kebbi State; Oluremi Tinubu, Lagos State; Abubakar Sadiq Yar’Adua, Katsina and Joshua Dariye, Plateau State.
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