Mr. Hassan Bello is the Executive Secretary and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC). In this interview with our correspondent in Lagos on Tuesday, he bares his mind on consolidation of freight forwarding comp-anies and practitioners, the National Single Window among other salient issues plaguing the maritime industry. Excerpt;
There has been this feud between the amongst the freight forwarding associations especially on which association is more beneficial to the government and which is superior to the other, a development which has elicited concerns from major stakeholders in the industry. What is the Council doing as the Port Economic Regulator to arrest this ugly trend and redirect such energy towards positive development of the industry?
The terminal operators and the shipping companies have revolutionalized the way we know in the ports. If you look from all indications, the efficiency of our ports increased tremendously and our ports are becoming very competitive. This is also supplemented by the efforts of the Nigerian Ports Authority, Nigeria Customs and many other agencies at the ports. Everybody is pulling his weight trying to see that our ports are competitive.
It is important that there should be synergy between all organizations and in that regard, as the Port Economic Regulator, Nigerian Shippers’ Council is looking at the best way to come together because the port system is holistic, one cannot do without the other and it is important that the private sector, is given the necessary and conducive atmosphere to operate.
If you go to our ports, you will see that our ports have increased in handling equipment, there have been investments in our ports. This you have to credit to the terminal operators. The turnaround time for vessels has increased and it is now rated with international standard and this is all efforts by the terminal operators. The shipping companies too have contributed to what our shipping has become.
It is just that the government needs to have consistency in policies to enable them increase in efficiency and there is also the need for all the stakeholders to come together all the time to do some coordination so that we come together and increase efficiency and competitiveness. That is what Shippers’ Council is all about.
Recently, during the visit by the House Committee on Ports, Harbours and Waterways, you solicited for financial independence for the Council. Could you throw more light on this?
No we were talking about revenue leakages and we are in tandem with all operators. Nigerian Ports Authority for example has been commended for its revenue collection for this year. This is because they automated their system, like the E-Payment. That is what everybody should emulate. You know when you automate the port system, you will see that all the loopholes are blocked; you will not see so many leakages.
The Nigeria Customs is at the head of IT revolution at the ports. I am sure by the middle of this year, all these will crystallize and you will see more efficiency in the Nigerian Ports. In fact, if not because of the economic downturn, the volume of cargo has increased, coming to Nigeria, which means we are getting cargoes from our competitors and the Nigerian Ports Authority for example has been able to deal with the dredging so that bigger vessels are coming to Nigeria. All these development must be commended and we are on course, Nigerian Shippers’ Council is looking at all the cooperation and trying to encourage people to cooperate more.
You talked about the Council’s efforts at wooing Niger and Benin Republics to consider using Nigerian Ports as transit port for goods bound for their respective countries. How far have you gone in that regard?
Yes, and this is where we come in, ours is just to facilitate. Nigerian Ports Authority has helped in dealing with this, the terminal operators and the shipping companies. They all went to Niger and sold their services or presented their services to Niger shippers. This is what I mean by collaboration, now when we collaborate with NPA, with the shipping companies, with the terminal operators trying to get market, that is the whole essence of privatization and Niger and Chad were not just coming here just because they love Nigeria. No, they have seen that the Nigerian ports are now efficient and they are trying to come but they have to deal with some certain details. They have to negotiate with the terminal operators for example, about getting concession, may be give them price, this is what we are getting in Ghana and give us this. That is the beauty of it.
But we have to commend the private sector, we have to encourage the private sector so they as the engine room for growth, we have to increase the Nigerian standard in the ranking of the ease of doing business and the global index standard. We have to be very weary of it and make the Nigerian ports competitive. We are on the verge of doing that and this we have to work with the private sector.
Could wooing of other neighbouring countries to use Nigeria for transit port for their cargo be described as a step towards making Nigeria a hub for the West and Central Africa?
Exactly, you got it. Nigeria will soon become a hub but what I want is still for the government to discharge its responsibilities to the private sector because the private sector; the terminal operators and the shipping companies, at times, they operate under stifling environment. I will ask the government to be concerned and concerted and conscious about its role. The role of government is to make things very easy and conducive for their operations, guarantee the investment that is done by the private sector and ensure that they make profit. This is the context with which the Nigerian Shippers’ Council is engaging the government.
Sir, are you looking towards a private sector driven ports in the country?
Yes! It is already private sector driven but we want government to make it more viable. Government has to provide the access road and other issues that are concerned with them. So, that is all what we are talking about.
Sometime ago, you talked about the consolidation of freight forwarding companies and practitioners so as to make them more viable to compete with their counterparts all over the world only for it to be downplayed following an outcry from the freight forwarders themselves. Tell me, are you still going ahead with that project of are bowing to the pressures of the freight forwarders?
No, we have been talking with all the sections of the industry. The freight forwarders, because the freight forwarding is such an indispensable and very important part of the chain in port logistics, we have to professionalize it and this is being done by the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria which is their regulatory body and together with the associations, we are talking about ANLCA, we are talking about NAGAFF. If you go to ANLCA and NAGAFF, you see the type of trainings that they do, yet the CRFFN is making training, re-training and so on and so forth. So, everybody has his hands on the deck now. It is a beautiful thing when you go, you see ANLCA is performing, is making training here, NAGAF is training there and CRFFN is training and others are training. This is all trainings and that was why I said we discuss with the freight forwarders, we have joint council so that we are members of their regulatory body, we encourage this and I am sure the freight forwarders themselves, they are already professional but we need more of these trainings.
Talking about the CRFFN, the Practitioners’ Operating Fee (POF) has seemingly threatened the gains and the existence of the CRFFN as one of the associations the Council was established to regulate had taken the Council and others to court. How could the Nigerian Shippers’ Council as the Port Economic Regulator help get the crisis resolved in the CRFFN because it seems there is nothing happening in CRFFN now?
No, it is not true. We are talking and there are lots of things happening with CRFFN, they are doing a lot of work. The CRFFN is concerned with the training because you have to have trainings to be a professional freight forwarder, just like if you are a Lawyer or a Doctor. The freight forwarding profession is a profession, it is not a touting thing that everybody can come and do and that is what they are concentrating on.
What is an update with the Nigerian Single Window?
Single Window is a very important trade facilitation equipment which is being spearheaded by the Nigerian Customs Service and the Ministry of Transport has been participating and other Ministries. So, I think this will also manifest if we have a Single Window, it will help faster clearance of cargo, this will make our ports competitive and if you want to select destination for your cargo, you look at, do we have Single Window? How much does it cost for clearing? What is the time for clearing? All these you must have done and that means it is very important that we have all these trade facilitation, but they are all coming and we hope that by the end of the year, Nigeria will become a preferred destination for cargo.
Shippers’ Council has done a lot in the last 3 years under your watch, what are we to expect from the Council this year 2016?
What you should expect from the Nigerian Shippers’ Council is to manifest government programme. This government is serious with revenue generation. We want to make the maritime industry a source for government revenue, we want the maritime industry to generate employment for our people, we want the maritime industry to be competitive using world standard, to be a mark for investors to look at us and say, yes, Nigeria is going there. That is what we are doing. We are an economic agent and our own is that this year, we have done a lot and we want to consolidate them so that you will see the contribution of the maritime industry to the GDP of Nigeria which will be significant.
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