"We would revoke ICD concession if anyone of them is found wanting"------Barr. Hassan Bello 

“If the airports can work 24 hours, why won't Nigerian ports work 24 hours”? 

Barrister Hassan Bello is the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Shippers Council. In this interview with Shipping Position Daily correspondent;  Dapo Olawuni, Bello spoke on the operation of Inland Container Depots in Nigeria and the idea behind the Council's creation of Truck Transit Parks. He also said that the Executive Order issued by the Federal Government is  achievable .    On the court case between the Shippers Council, shipping companies and terminal operators, are you disposed to out of court settlement?The series of court cases between the Nigerian Shippers Council and the operators is not adversarial, we are seeking for interpretation. An investor like the terminal operators and shipping companies need clear regulatory framework for them to operate. Sometimes I am inclined to think that the area is over-regulated, so it is within their right to go to court and find out what is happening. It is also wrong for us to reduce the court case to the fact that somebody won and somebody has lost, we should stop looking at the maritime industry in such light, we should always look at its economic potentials and how we are going to harvest all the potentials in the maritime industry. Out-of-court settlement has been on-going for a very long time and despite what the court says, we consider the terminals and shipping companies as our critical partners, our own is to provide the atmosphere where they can operate and make profit, when they don't make profit then it becomes our failure as the Shippers’ Council. We as regulators, we are the umpire, we are neutral, sometimes you see us criticising even the government for not providing the environment for them to operate, it is important that we guarantee their investment because it would translate into the contribution of the transport sector to the GDP in terms of new infrastructure. If you go to the port now, they are not as they were 20 years ago; we are also considering the employment content of what they can offer for to our people. Now we are gearing the ports to be competitive in export, we are opening some inland ports; all these are economic activities that have multiplier effects and profound impact on the economies of these locations where they are sited. I can imagine that about five to six industries would spring up in Kaduna because of the dry port, if you translate this into employment, distribution of wealth, infrastructure, you will see that the economy would gain a boost. The same thing in Jos, the ICD in Jos is 65 per cent completed but the operators have already got a long term contract with some investors to carry goods from Jos to other locations.We should forget about trivial issues and begin to talk about economic issues, two shipping companies have closed shop in Japan as we speak, what are the implication? The other day, there was a breach on the APMT systems and the next day we were already there to look at their operations to see how they are coping, we also negotiated that this should not translate into demurrage, this is the way to play because the world is global.

 Did APMT agree to waive the demurrage for these period of cyber-attack?We are still talking with them, we want to show our concern because cyber-attack is something that can happen and we are talking with them. Like I said, we are always talking with the terminals and shipping companies all the time.

 What is happening to the ICD in Kano, there are reports that it is deliberately being frustrated There is no deliberate frustration, everyone was given a license to do their construction and we have issued a warning that we can revoke the concession if anyone is found wanting, there is no excuse at all and I think the mistake of Shippers’ Council in the past was that we wanted to see all the dry ports completed at the same time, but we realised that some are more serious than others, some of them have got some serious issues like some stage government not supporting, but in the case of the one at Jos, this was not the case, the former governor of Plateau State went to demolish the structure already in place for the ICD forgetting that it has been built up to 65%. Now, what I am trying to say is that we have timelines for the construction of the ICD, 18 months, but the shippers council is ready to assist them just like we did in Kaduna, we interfaced with the state government because they have the responsibility to provide the roads, security, electricity, water and some other infrastructures, so we ate watching and supervising. 

 How can the Kaduna ICD survive when the rail lines are not working efficiently?The rails are working, right now containers are being dropped there from Apapa port, they are carrying out operations already, Customs is there already and other agencies are also there at the Kaduna ICD, it is now a port of origin and destination and this means that you can consign cargo from anywhere to that place and also export goods from there to any port in the world.

In line with the Federal Government’s Executive Order that cargoes should be palletized, shippers have complained that it would add to cost of shippingThe Presidential Enabling Business Council on Ease of Doing Business under the Ministry of Finance sent to Shippers’ Council the issue of palletisation because they want it to ease cargo inspection and clearance; once the cargo is palletized, then it is easier to bring it out. But it must be an interim measure because we have had meetings with shipping companies and the organized private sector including MAN, NACCIMA and many others here at Shippers’ Council, we had the feedback from them and we have sent it to the ministry of finance. The ministry is going on a sensitization tour to still to see how it would be achieved, so there is nothing that has been concluded.But we think it is an interim measure because if we have Cargo Tracking Note, and we have scanners, there might not be need for palletization. The concerns that have been raised is cost, the reduction of space in the container and environmental pollution, somebody have said that even the pallets could attract rats to the terminal.Our own is to listen and convey, we are the conduit between the government and the private sector.

 On achieving 24 hours operations at the port, do you think tank farms can be moved away from port area?The question is not about moving the tank farms, but the mode of transporting petroleum products, the pipeline is a mode of transport, if the tank farms have pipelines which would pump outside Lagos so that the tankers would stay there and collect their products from there; the thing is that we have a unimodel connection to the port and this is by road mostly. Meanwhile access to the port should be multi modal; it should be by road and mostly by rail, inland waterways and by pipelines, which is why pipelines are considered as a mode of transport. However, we have the solution now, the IFC which is the World Bank did a study for Nigerian Shipper’ Council on management of traffic on Lagos port corridor, what was found out was that 5000 trailers and tankers are always on the road, meanwhile what is needed is only 1000. The project is being done with the Nigerian Ports Authority where we are going to have modern traffic management, electronic gates, parking bays, staging areas so that only trucks that have business to do at the ports are allowed in, it would be electronic and you cannot even have access if you are not invited. This is already within the procurement process, it is going to be advertised and when it is done, we would solve the problem of traffic in Apapa, I hope this would also be duplicated where we have proposed ports in Lekki and Badagry.

 What is the idea behind you establishing truck transit parks across the country?The idea of truck transit parks is to provide modern transport infrastructure, we cannot be parking trucks on the road side, nobody does that anymore, so we have to upgrade our infrastructures and make them modern. We also have to humanise the truck drivers because they carry all the burden of the economy, so we want an off-the-road area that would be modern with hotels and hostels, garages, repair yards, restaurants, and police stations. This project would be done on Public Private Partnership, we are about to select transaction advisers for the two projects in Enugu and in Kogi states and others would follow suit. We are waiting for investors, we are working with the Federal Road Safety Corp for enforcement, and once we do all these, truck drivers have no excuse to park on the road side. This is also a cash cow because you would pay money to make use of the transit park.

 What are you doing to partner with NPA on realising the Executive Order recently issued by the government?We are partnering with the NPA, they have already done a lot of work, but what we studied was that there is need for a lot of infrastructure, security, attitudinal change and there is need for other institutions like the Customs to key into the directive. In terms of infrastructure, we need port lighting, the roads and security, there is no reason our ports should not work 24hours, the terminals are ready, the customs are also ready, they have now devise shifting, so we need to talk to the freight forwarders so that they would go and clear, so everybody would be at the port without excuse, and we also need to talk to the security agents to ensure safe passage of the cargoes. If the airports can work 24 hours, why won't Nigerian ports work 24 hours? So the ministry of transportation is coordination this, the NPA is looking at issues at the port, while shippers council is looking at the overall issues, very soon we would call a meeting where everybody would bring a report. Twenty four hours port operations has come to stay at our ports and it is achievable this year, it is already on. More importantly, the ports would be connected with the port master plan, the railway and the Inland waterways, NIWA is also working, we are also working with the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) to look into the issues of the tank farms.