Lucky Amiwero is the National President, National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA). In this interview with our correspondent NWADINAMUO SAINT AUGUSTINE, he bares his mind on his expectations from the Maritime sector in the year 2014, the commercial regulator function of the Nigerian Shipper’s Council and lots more. Excerpts;
Sir, what are your expectations from the Maritime sector as this year 2014 sets in?
Our ports cost in terms of clearance is threatening the economy because every day the Shipping companies, the terminal operators, they increase their charges at will. I do not know who gave them the power to be increasing their charges at will. Therefore, nobody controls the shipping companies and the terminal operators. You do not run a system without control, it is already telling on the economy because the high cost of the storage charges and levies within the ports is quite high, higher than everyone within the sub region and it is not easy for a country like Nigeria that is import dependent. It involves how you strive in keeping the port an environment friendly to be able to ward off stiff competition from our other partners like Cote d’ Ivoire, Ghana, Togo and Benin Republic, these are our critical competitors.
And if we continue to run an economy without control, it will be detrimental to our investment profile because people, when you look at the cost, some of the times, you find out that the shipping costs are even higher than the duties and it is negative, shipping costs are higher than duties. How much is the container? Containers by every standard is $3000 per 40 feet equivalent unit a new one and you see where you go and collect a duty of almost four million as storage charges, it doesn’t make any sense of shipping companies. Shipping companies don’t have much work to do, even we can look at the terminal operators and say okay, they have some work to do, but what is the work of the shipping companies shipping companies are charging the same thing that the terminal operators are charging on a container as demurrage. When you charge that and the terminal operators are charging the same, then you find out that that is why many people are losing their containers in the ports and the ports have not been facilitated.
The ports do not comply with the conventions, the Kyoto convention and the FAL convention. These two conventions are actually talking about harmonization, simplification and maximization of trade in the ports. It talks about time of stay of ships and time of stay of cargo and cargo process. These are all conventions that Nigeria is a contracting party.
Talking about costs Sir, people have been harping on the need for a commercial regulator and insinuations has it that the Nigerian Shippers’ Council has been given an oral approval to function as one pending when the enactment of the enabling laws to back it up. Can you confirm this and if it is true, do you see it tenable?
You see, Shipper’s council bb y their status supposed to have worked within the limit of their operations. However, for now, shippers’ council is not doing anything, that is the problem. Look at all the increments going on, shipping companies and all the rests. I worked with the Shippers’ Council when Sarunmi was there; I was the Sub Committee Chairman of almost fifteen committees in the shippers’ council. I headed different committees there; we made many successes when Sarunmi was there. I was a member of the Port Advisory Committee and Shippers’ Council made a lot of difference when the man was there. And when he was in the Shippers’ council, he performed extremely well because we worked closely. I travelled with him to all the length and breadth of this country.
Will it not be said that the ports have not been concessioned out at that time and so…?
During his time, whether or not the ports had been concessioned, you see, the drive is to use the proper people to do what you can do. If the Shippers’ council at that time used people like us who are professionals, Sarunmi was not looking at politics; the present shippers’ council is looking at politics. If government is using people who are not qualified in the ports, the ports can never move forward. Nigeria don’t have much qualified people in the port. Most of the time, you retrench them, you sack them and employ people who don’t know about the ports and bring them into the ports environment, they continue to learn and you destroy your economy and move your economy to other nations. Other people who are looking for your cargo will take your cargo. They don’t have the facilities you are having, they don’t have the potentials that you are having, they don’t have the resources that you are having, they don’t have the market you having, the don’t have the capacity you are having but they have good administrative set up in their port procedure, so they are attracting our cargo.
So when we are talking about the shippers’ council, what have they done up till now? What are they doing now? These are critical questions. What is the shippers’ council doing? It is not about calling meeting upon meetings, what you need is to look at what you can do, looking at the law, have you been able to comply with the law? What gave the right of the shipping companies to grant increase? If you go now, you see shipping companies increasing charges as they feel like. Terminal operators are increasing as they feel like, instituting charges that are not tied to services, all these things are there. So what is the work of the shippers’ council?
However, there are insinuations in some quarters that the Minister of Transport gave the shipping companies express approval to effect increment by 20 percent annually?
The Minister does not have that right. Under what law has the Minister such right to give them express approval? That is not the law. The law is saying that you must consult with the stakeholders. Which express permit can he give you? There is nowhere that it is done in the whole world. We do not have any law governing concession more than the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission law. That is the only one we have and that commission has in its components the ports as part of its jurisdiction but they are not coming into to the ports. Bureau for Public Enterprise (BPE) is not talking about how it can regulate. The concession law gave powers to the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission and not the Minister. So there is the constitution and the people the constitution has given powers to don’t even operate.
The Shippers’ Council and the Infrastructure Concession Commission, they should have come together because the shippers’ council has consultative approach. A consultative approach is what we have been using since in the shippers’ council. These things need experts; these things are not made for mediocre. It is not just for anybody, it needed experts and the port has sector by sector, port is not meant for anybody who comes from anywhere.
Looking at Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), in what way do you think NIMASA can focus its attention to in order to deliver their mandates to Nigeria this year?
What NIMASA supposed to have done is to build capacity in terms of infrastructure. Capacity is not training, because in their law, they are supposed to have the two components that make America thick which we call the pillar. There is no difference between NIMASA law and the American law. The American law is operating a cabotage regime; NIMASA is operating a cabotage regime, then in our own, we have a local content regime. So we are having three laws in this country that are supposed to enhance and build capacity for infrastructure development and indigenous operation within the ports environment but we are lacking the capacity.
You see, it has to do with experts’ working there that is professionals working there. When you do not have experts, you see America is America today because it has one of the strictest cabotage regime. Their Jones Act has been codified in 2006 and they have simplified it, bringing all the agencies together and still having the cabotage platform, they bring in customs into their own framework so that the whole thing can be harmonized but in our own cabotage regime, the customs were left out of it and that is where you have the ISAN having problems.
I told them in the National Assembly, when I made my presentation when the cabotage has to be introduced. I said you cannot run a cabotage, you must look at the people who had run it before and bring some of those components and domesticate them. If you do not bring them in, you just have a paper cabotage and that is what we have got up till today. Since 2003 until now, nobody has benefited from it yet they have been collecting money with nobody benefiting from it. When you look at the cabotage regime under section 15 paragraphs 2 or 14 of subsection 2, it said after five years, it should be reviewed. Nevertheless, until today, it has not been reviewed. Therefore, you have cabotage that is just there and we are now in 2014, so if you calculate from 2003 until this date, you have a regime that has not benefited any single person.
So when we are looking at NIMASA, it is not only for training, it must build capacity in terms of infrastructure, logistics capacity, we call them ship infrastructure and all the rest. So we need them and to see how we can assist to put the environment in order. It is not only about training people because when you train those people, where do you put them. They come back, they start to go around the whole street, and you need to build the way America and other people are building their own. We know that shipping is quite expensive and it is a complex situation.
It was said that the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) has been docile and asleep all these years, where would you want them to improve on in 2014?
You see, when they started the concession, I was a lone voice who was against it. It is not that we do not like concession but we said that concession must be developed according to the concept and domesticated for the interests of Nigerians based on section 7c of the Port Act, the Nigerian Ports Authority Act of 1999. Therefore, when you are looking at NPA, NPA has comprehensive port legislation. Decree 38 of 1999, when we mean comprehensive, it encompasses everything but unfortunately, NPA does not need to go and enact law, what they need to do is to see how they find what is wrong with their law. NPA law here in Nigeria is the same thing you have in Ghana. Yeah, you may say that Ghana is trying to hand over to some people but if you look at Ghana, you will see that they designed their concession for the benefit of the Ghanaians. When Ghana started ports, they started with a port Meridian that is a government entity, so they have consolidated. If they are giving their ports out for concession, they must have a reason, either for political reasons or for economic reasons, but they know where to stop with politics and look at the economy and look at their citizens. These are the issues in Ghana.
So when what look at NPA now, is the function of NPA? My cry is that government should come up with experts. NPA is just there, we have been saying these things, and it is not just for them to sit down there. In addition, NPA needs to be restructured; they need restructuring in their functions. When this concession was going on, some of the staff of the NPA was supposed to be incorporated since you must do it according to your citizens. This is because when you are trying to go into this new arrangement called concession, the ILO (International Labour Organization) has a concept, the ILO is saying that for three years before, you must train people who will go into the system and train people who will go out of the system so that if they are going out of the system they will have something to do and if they are going into the system, they will know what they are going to do. Was this done in Nigeria? It was not done.
Moreover, there are critical components that affect concession, one has to do with infrastructure, and one has to do with labour. Labour is very critical, then one has to do with legislation. These are critical; they are components because the government owns the infrastructures and when you are coming in to concede the ports for private operators, you are going to be in charge. That means you are going to lose these four elements; you are going to lose labour, you are going to lose taxes, you are going to lose tariff and you are going to lose infrastructure. Let the NPA men tell you what they are doing. You need experts, leave those groups who tell you this or that. Who are those groups?
These are fundamental issues. How many Nigerians know what they are doing in the port industry? The port is a technical industry, look at the Petroleum industry. You have commercial aspects of the port, you have the commercial aspect of the port and you have the operational aspect of the port. The commercial aspect of the port has to do with the charges and all the rest, the operational aspect has to do with cargo loading and all of that while the technical aspect has to do with repairs, dredging and all the rest and they are segmented. In addition, you do not bring in somebody from outside, say come, and take over the port activities. NPA cannot talk now that the law has not been passed and NPA still has a subsisting law, which is comprehensive. NPA law actually embodied the whole aspects of the port industry. It has roles for corporatization, it has role for joint ventures, it has roles for commercialization and it has role for private participation. Therefore, it encompasses these. What it is not having is concession. You know concession, NPA law did not say you can concession all these things and conceding means that you have to drop and that is why many people do not go for concession. Like in other countries, what they do is joint venture and NPA has Venture in their law. Therefore, we can approach it in different way for you to transfer technology. You do not just go wholesale and say you want to give out he ports. America has not done that. As other countries are being very careful and we rushed and give out our own ports, today, we are crying over it.
Some stakeholders were of the opinion that the Minister of Transport is confused in piloting the affairs in the Maritime sector resulting to his preference of working with committees, in what areas would you want him to sit up so as to reposition the maritime sector for efficient service?
Any day you play politics with your institutions and professional, you kill your nation because other nations will benefit from your ignorance. That is the truth. You do not play with the port because the port is the gateway to the nation’s economy and the port creates 45 percent of the employment in any part of the world. If you go to any part of the world, the port play an important role, the maritime sector is very wonderful.
The Minister might be very knowledgeable but when you are not political and you want to drive the port, you want to move the industry forward, you bring experts, you do not bring politicians who know nothing, after two or three years, he goes. The industry is going, the industry is crying. Therefore, when you say that the Minister of Transport is not proactive, well, you do not need a Minister that is too knowledgeable, what you need is experts that are knowledgeable. When you talk about experts, it is not PHD. or M.Sc., they are people who has been tested.
Then when you are talking about the Minister, you see the man is coming from a different angle and he doesn’t know that environment. I know that the Minister of Transport has not worked in the port before. When people like Kema Chikwe and Maduekwe came into the port, they did what they had to do and go away. It was during the Ojo Maduekwe’s time that we did almost all changes in the port.
There is a difference between a political entity and professional entity. When you go to countries everywhere in the world, they know where to end with their politics but we stretch our politics beyond limits into our services, into the industries, into everywhere.