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How NSC helped transform maritime sector

The Nigerian Shippers Council, NSC, as an economic regulator, has helped in no small measure to reshape the maritime sector by addressing the irregularities in…

The Nigerian Shippers Council, NSC, as an economic regulator, has helped in no small measure to reshape the maritime sector by addressing the irregularities in the nation’s ports.

Before it was appointed the economic regulator, the reforms initiated by former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, which led to the concession of the nation’s seaports, created a huge vacuum in the port system.

At the beginning, the process restricted the role of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to only providing common user services as well as collection of royalty as the landlord.

The confusion which later followed this arrangement made the Federal Government to have a rethink. It felt that there was also the need to fill the vacuum by appointing an economic regulator to help streamline the excesses of concessionaires. However, the situation became further compounded when the National Assembly refused to pass into law the Port and Harbour Bill.

How has it faired since its appointment as economic regulator?

Though, at first it met stiff opposition from terminal operators and owners of jetties who went to court to ensure that NSC was not allowed to regulate their activities, the NSC stood its ground by ensuring that the regime of illegal charges and levies came to an end.

By doing so, it was able to justify its appointment as an economic regulator. Since then, it has recorded tremendous gains for the operators, the shipping sector of the economy and the economy as a whole. It has provided a level playing ground for all stakeholders.

Accruable benefits

Barrister Hassan Bello, the Executive Secretary of the NSC disclosed some of the benefits. He said the council has been able to address the irregularities in the port system which has made it impossible for the economy to enjoy the gains of the port reforms.

“The seriousness with which NSC had approached its duties few months after it was appointed as a regulator had made the federal government to issue a gazette on its appointment, thus affirming it to perform the functions of a regulator,” he said.

Reviewing arbitrary charges and levies at the port

Bello explained why it went ahead to remove the arbitrary charges and levies imposed on shipping companies and importers.

“There is no doubt that one of the major gains of the NSC as an economic regulator is the fact that it has ensured that no stakeholder engages in any form of imposition of unauthorised or arbitrary charges and levies on the consumers of shipping services in the country.

“It has continued to wield the big stick on the excesses of the concessionaires and the foreign shipping lines. In 2014, NSC reduced the charges of the terminal operators.

“In the same year, NSC also increased the free period in which cargo would not pay rents at the ports to five days from the erstwhile three fixed by the terminal operators. We also reviewed downwards some of their charges just as we had reduced the terminal charges of the foreign shipping agencies. We also directed that they must refund container deposits not later than seven days. I think that these were why they became angry and went to court.

Why terminal operators and jetty owners sought legal action against NSC over arbitrary charges and levies

Bello explained that though the concessionaires and the foreign lines had challenged the decision of the NSC in December 2014, but the outcome still favoured the regulator as the judge had affirmed its appointment by the federal government as an economic regulator.

He said that the court declared that NSC, on behalf of government, has the right to review the charges of the service providers.

He stated that the court also directed the concessionaires to refund the excess charges running into billions of naira which they had collected from shippers through the NSC.

Gains of reforms

Bello in explaining the gains of the reforms said, “The gains of the reforms initiated by NSC, as an economic regulator, include improved revenue generation, improved infrastructural facilities, creation of efficient market, reduction of cost of doing business, improvement of the nation’s global competitive index and the attraction of foreign direct investment for those in the transport and logistics chain.

“On the part of the shipping companies, the reforms have led to improved delivery of marine and terminal handling services, reduced turnaround time of vessels as well as lower cost of vessel operations. On the part of the Customs, it has led to improvement in the level of transparency, efficiency, effectiveness and a boost in its image while for NPA it has led to induction of clearer standard operating procedure derived from international law and practice.

“The Council has done well in the task of commercial regulation. It has been able to make the terminals safe for importers and licensed customs agents to do business by curbing the losses they incur while doing business in Nigerian ports.

“Overtime, the council has also continued to exhibit its philosophy of an umpire who believes in level playing field as it has also provided a platform for the concessionaires and the shipping firms.

“It is imperative that the council should be encouraged to do more in the discharge of its mandate as the economic regulator in the nation’s seaports in the months and years ahead.”

What stakeholders have to say

Boniface Aniebonam, founder of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), said NSC has added value to the shipping sector of the economy, particularly the operations of the service providers.

“NSC has also been able to create a high level of awareness as it concerns the rights of stakeholders. The council has helped in building capacity as well as making efforts to establish inland container depot and truck transit parks. The council has adopted a lot of measures that have facilitated trade,” he stated.

The chairman of the Ports Consultative Council (PCC), Kunle Folarin, said the NSC has discharged its functions as a regulator in a most professional and very efficient manner.

According to him, NSC has sanitized the operations of the concessionaires in the maritime industry just as it has checked arbitrary and unauthorised increase in their charges and levies.

“The way and manner the Council has performed its role has given the Nigerian ports, particularly the ones situated in Nigeria’s economic centre, Lagos, the opportunity to emerge as the preferred destination for other ports in the West and Central African sub regions,” he added.

A former president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Olisa Agbakoba, also said, “The task of the NSC ought to be upgraded to that of the economic regulation of the maritime sector because it had succeeded in enhancing the contributions of the seaports to the economy.”

The former president of NAGAFF, Eugene Nweke, said, “The performance indicators showed that NSC has done well in terms of sensitization of stakeholders, response to issues and positive impact in the ports. This explains why so many shippers and freight forwarders who took their complaints to the Council for intervention succeeded in getting their problems resolved while it has been cautioning shippers against getting involved in illegal acts.”

 Lexy Nwangwu, president of the African Freight Forwarders Association (AFFA), also expressed delight that NSC has almost completed work on a standard tariff system that will facilitate the reduction of tariff in the nation’s seaports to between 30 and 40 per cent.

“It has also adopted measures to get soft loan facilities for truckers to enable them purchase new vehicles. It has also been working towards a new port order that will ensure efficiency and transparency in the activities of stakeholders in the sector.”

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