“There is no difference between the period of recession and the present day, because all that led to the recession are still there’’ ………Rev Jonathan Nicol

“New charges are illegal without first discussing with the Nigerian Shippers’ Council”

 Rev Jonathan Nicole is the President of  Shippers Association of Lagos State. In this interview with Anozie Egole, he spoke about the recent introduction of additional charge on imports by a shipping line. He also spoke about the role of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, as well as sundry industry issues.   

 “I grew up to meet some restrictions from countries that used to bring in sub-standard products; China and India were on the list”  

What do you have to say about the recently introduced Ports Additional Charge by CMA CGM? We woke up with the surprise, it has always been like that and nothing has changed. That was one of the reasons why the Nigerian Shippers Council had very far reaching discussions in 2014 which was the reason we have a court cases because the cost of doing business was getting out of hands. And we are surprised that up till now we are still doing the same thing irrespective of court decisions and all that. Those charges are illegal without first discussing with the Nigerian Shippers Council. The increase in tariff has to be agreed by the stakeholders, so what they are practicing is private monopoly and that is so dangerous for our economy. The case is still in court so for me increasing the charge is violation of international law and I don’t think the government of Nigeria will be stampeded by private investors. It is not good for the economy of this country and we need to control how we spend our money despite the investment we have made somebody will be increasing charges without control. What they did was to paralyze the activities of the Nigerian Shippers Council by going to court to say that the Council cannot regulate them. And the last judgement we had at the Appeal Court says that Shippers Council cannot regulate them. If you look at the laws governing the Nigerian Shippers Council, the act tells them that they can control freight charges and local charges as well. So if for any reasons you tell an operator that he/he is violating the laws of the Nigeria Shippers Council, the council can report them directly to the Minister of Transportation. And I want them to do that, irrespective of the fact that the matter is in court that does not stop them from controlling the prices. They have now turned Nigerian Shippers Council into a building contractor. Look at them going to some terminals to go and set up terminals; leaving there primary duties which is taking care of shippers. Since when have they become contractors, all because they want to try to be relevant? They went to the court, I expected the government to say investors stop this at least give the Nigerian Shipper Council a kind of support. Instead they went ahead to say that they don’t have the right to stop anybody from doing business in this country, whose fault is that, the government.

 What is the update on the Court case between the shippers and the shipping lines?Yes, unfortunately they removed Shippers Association from the case in Appeal Court because we were thorns in their necks and they said we were the ones stalling the hearing of the case after all we were not the people they took to the court. Shippers Council was set up to protect shippers, they do not own us they are there to protect us administratively and what we are talking about is administrative protection. So we cannot wait for them to drown us before we can come out and say enough is enough. And the lower court said we have the right to join in that case because we are not fully an intervener, we are the people paying the bills. Shippers’ Council doesn’t pay the bills they can only say stop, agree on charges and tell us this is what we have agreed on. Right now we have all gone to the Supreme Court. The shippers association is challenging the decision of the Appeal Court that removed us from the case. 

 Do you agree that the country is now out of recession?There is no difference between the period of recession and the present day because all that led to the recession are still there. There is no serious control by the government on how to do business in this country. Yes they have ruled out the directive, we must have enforcement. For instance you have made a budget for about 200 containers at the rate that was in existence before you placed the other. And along the line without any recourse, they now increased charges which means you have to look for more money to enable you clear those containers and all of these charges will be passed on to the final consumer, it means you don’t  have conscience. So we cannot say that the country has pulled out from recession. It will take another two years before we can notice that because a lot of damages have been done on the psyche of this country. I want to appeal to the government because we seem to be going on this private partnership business; we want to appeal to the government that in a developing country like this, you do not sell the country completely to private enterprises. For every private concern that government enters into, the government is supposed to have at least a minimum of 25%, so that they can really control that particular entity. But if you give it all to private entities, we pray we don’t have enemies, because you never can tell who your enemies are.  Is it true that cargoes that are meant for Nigeria are diverted to other ports like the Cotonou port?Actually, we were the first to announce that in 2012 and it is still happening till date. Look at what is happening, if you have a cargo, the bottom line is not just to maximize profit, but to make some profit and with what happened with the recent charge by a shipping line, it will reduce your profit. And if you have a choice, you won’t you take the second choice. I believe more cargoes will even be going to our neighbouring countries, they are not increasing charges the way we do here because their government has firm control, rather they bring down the cost of doing business especially in Cotonou and Accra in Ghana. So what stops us from doing the same here?

  Do you think the visit by President Buhari and the CG of Customs is the best direction towards stopping illegal arms importation into the country?I grew up to meet some restrictions from countries that used to bring in sub-standard products; China and India were on the list. What the federal government did was to ban importation from the two countries and the ban lasted for over 10 years. Then, all of a sudden the people we say that do substandard products and have not changed are the same people that we now bring into this country to develop our country. And now like I said before we have to be very careful. They have gone into illegal importation of firearms; that is on absolute prohibition list. So in a situation like that the Nigeria Customs Service is doing the right thing by meeting with the Turkish government. Left with me, I will advise we place an embargo on goods coming from Turkey because we cannot guarantee the content. Then you ask the Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON) what they are doing about that. Because before shipment come they have regional offices so they should have known that and they didn’t stop all the goods from coming in. So if you can’t stop the goods, of what use is it keeping regional offices. In that case SON has failed on that, we don’t look at the goods that have been cleared and you start going to people’s shops. I think we should start taking people to court, it is wrong to start going to the shops to check goods. That is not how to deal with standards it should be checked even at the arrival you stop them there. You don’t wait until it gets to destination. So they have failed on that part as well the best thing is to reduce tension in this country, stop Turkey from bringing in goods into this country. Because you never can tell when they will bring in bomb into this country and we will be sleeping and it will explode.  How would you assess the work going on at the reconstruction of Wharf road?I will tell you that we, shippers association as a major pressure group has raised awareness on the road thing since 2012 and it was ignored. We even informed the government that if they continue like this in the next 10years our ports will be empty and it is going towards that direction. The only thing we are asking them to do is to give us good roads, reduce cost of doing business in Nigeria and I don’t think we are asking for too much. Because you cannot say you are a maritime country when you do not have access roads to the ports. It brings you down to a jungle country and what we are experiencing now is worst than jungle. So we have written to the Minister of Transportation that they should tell the government to declare state of emergency on these roads. They cannot be repairing these roads and allow trucks to be moving up and down there. Because what they are exhuming out of the ground for instance the contractor, Dangote said they met gas pipes and that is very explosive. It can pull down the whole of Apapa, so they have to be extremely. Whoever built those pipelines did it in a hurry without making provisions for emergency. The pipeline is about 8ft deep and you now put the contractor under a check because before the will begin to remove those pipelines they need to be extremely careful otherwise they will end up causing major disaster in Nigeria. So that is one major sensitive thing that is holding back the road reconstruction.

 If the government declares state of emergency on the Apapa roads as you said which other route are you suggesting for them? I don’t need to give NPA the answer to the problem they created. Because the concessionaires that they brought into the country should have known that they have bottle necks in our roads, they should also have known that somewhere along the line if those things are not addressed it will affect their businesses. And this is what we are facing today, so in that part of the agreement, the private investors will not be involved in the protection of our roads. I have privilege to travel to some countries and I discovered that in some countries they build the road free for government because they are going there to do business. They even built dockyards free to some government but here the reverse is the case. The private investors do not even have developmental plans whatsoever in an area that they have signed an agreement to trade for 20 years. A 20-year old road will have some issues because definitely they are dealing with heavy trucks, no provision for them to even maintain the roads for the government. So they don’t like you, all they want is the money.   Some are suggesting that government should relocate the ports out of Apapa and build a five star hotel in Apapa, what do you think about that?That is not even the far-reaching solution,  the ports have always been in Apapa since the 1950’s. What happened was that they ignored the development of our ports system. If as at the time they were developing Apapa and Tin-Can ports, they development extended to Snake Island, we will have enough space. Then they would have stopped the movement of personnel opposite the Coconut area, that area would have been declared a maritime village. So moving the port to maybe Badagry doesn’t solve the problem, where is the road from Badagry to wherever? We have only one road leading to Badagry so we still have bottleneck.  When you talking of building a five star hotel in Apapa, who will come there, what are the activities outside the ports that you have in Apapa? You don’t have recreational facilities in Apapa that will attract people to come and stay in a five-star hotel or is it to come and be looking at the structures. If you want to build a hotel there must be recreational activities.