The National Transport Commission (NTC) Bill and the Transmutation of Nigerian Shippers’ Council 

The National Transport Commission (NTC) Bill was passed last month by the Senate, about 10 months after the House of Representatives passed the same Bill. It is now awaiting the mandatory Presidential assent.

From the Bill, it is “to provide efficient economic regulatory framework for the transport sector, mechanism for monitoring compliance of government agencies, transport services providers and users in the regulated transport industry with relevant legislation and to advise government on matters relating to economic regulation of the regulated transport industry.”

Instructively, the NTC is to pave way for the transmutation of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council to become the regulator of the nation’s transportation sector.

In the last few years, the Nigerian Shippers’ Council has moved from being just the protector of shippers’ interests, it rose to become the economic regulator of the Nigerian port system. 

A couple of years ago, when  words filtered in that the Federal Government had given approval to the Nigerian Shippers’ Council to take on the role of the commercial regulator of activities in the Nigeria port system, there was skepticism in some quarters as to the competence of the Council to carry out this added responsibilities. No doubt, the Council has done very well, striking a balance between the highly profit-driven private sector and the various users of port services.

It has also struck a balance in its relationship with sister government, agencies, it didn’t allow its new role to cause friction, especially with the Nigerian Ports Authourity (NPA).

 The Council had since then been performing that role very creditably even in the face of deliberate moves by private terminal operators  and shipping line agencies to confront the Council and render it impotent. There are pending court cases to prove this. 

Even though a commercial regulator ought to have been an integral part of the port concession deal, stakeholders, including the Nigerian Ports Authourity (NPA) and the concessionaires have had to make do with a largely unregulated system since the ports were concessioned. This is the lacuna that the terminal operators and the shipping agents have been taken advantage of. 

The Nigerian transport system is so complex; it is (at different times) controlled by at least two different ministries and several agencies. Sadly, it is anything but intermodal; it has never been united, neither has it ever been inter-connected.

The question may then be asked: How can we (on account of having concessioned the sea ports and in the process of concessioning the airports too) force the four modes of transport to ‘cohabit’; all in the name of having one regulator? The NTC will superintend the many sea ports and airports, the roads and the rails

 In other climes; especially in Europe and America and some parts of Africa where a single regulatory agency exists for all modes of transportation, the principle of intermodalism is well in place; hence it is convenient for all the modes to be independent and still be interconnected, under a regulator.

By the Act, the NTC is envisioned an ombudsman that will provide efficient economic regulatory framework for the nation’s transport sector.  It is expected to provide mechanism for the monitoring and compliance of government agencies, transport services’ providers and users in the regulated transport industry with relevant legislation as well as advice government on matters relating to economic regulation of the industry.

Since its emergence as the economic regulator of the ports, the Nigerian Shippers’ Council has been performing most of the functions envisioned by the NTC, albeit in the port system.

It is instructive that the thrust of the NTC Bill  in section 6 (1) (b), (c), and (h) is ‘Regulation’, which is also similar to section 3 of the NSC Act, Cap N133, LFN 2004.

The NSC currently boasts of six zonal offices in the six geo-political zones as well as area and port offices spread across the states of the federation. 

Those who still have contrary views about the creation of a National Transport Commission should pause and ask themselves if it will benefit the maritime sector or the transport sector in general. 

As a leading media outfit in the Nigerian maritime industry, we maintain that if the Nigerian NTC is as conceived in other countries, then it is going to be to the advantage of all. The TRANSNET model in South Africa is confirmation of the success of intermodal transport regulation, and worthy of emulation.

While commenting on the eventual passage of the NTC Bill, chairman of the Senate Joint Committee on Land Transport, Marine Transport and Aviation Transport; Senator Gbenga Ashafa said:  “The National Transport Commission bill when signed into law is capable of setting the transport sector on the path of positive development.

 “With this bill, we would successfully create a multi-modal transport sector economic and safety oversight regulator for the transport sector.

This is very good for business as it brings standard and structure to the transport sector while also increasing the revenue of Government.”

We are particularly glad that the grey areas and the fears earlier expressed in the aviation sector, which delayed the Bill’s passage for years have all been addressed.

The attendant portfolio of the NTC will no doubt be a heavy one, given the complexity of the transport and aviation industry and the plethora of agencies therein.

Upon transmutation, it means that the council will have a new name and a new face. We advise that, ahead of the expected assent of the President to the NTC Bill and its eventual transmutation, the Nigerian Shippers’ Council should carry out a sincere S-W-O-T analysis of itself vis avis the expected new role. 

No doubt, the NTC is bigger that the NSC, it will no longer be about economic regulation of the seaports, but if the doggedness of and the commitment of the incumbent CEO of the Shippers Council is anything to go by, then the transmutation will be in the larger interest of the Nigerian transportation sector.

The quantum of work and the transformation of the Nigerian Shippers Council, especially since the appointment of the incumbent CEO as evident in its stakeholders’ engagement, the matured handling of terminal operators and shipping line agents,  successful midwifing of the Inland Dry Ports, the Truck Transit Parks projects as well as several interventions are evidences of a focused organisation, that can take on any added responsibility.