‘’You must look at other ways of moving cargoes massively from the ports’’ --- Otunba Kunle Folarin

‘’The problems with Cabotage is that most of the conditions are not feasible’’

Apart from many other responsibilities, Otunba Kunle Folarin is currently the Chairman of Nigerian Ports Consultative Council and also the Chairman of the Nigeria Seafarers Welfare Board. In this interview with Anozie Egole, he spoke extensively on key industry issues, especially state of the road leading to the ports, Cabotage, among others.   


 ‘’There is need for the modernization of our ports’’


   There are so many government policies hindering the growth of import and export in Nigeria like the case of palletisation. As an expert, which of these policies would you like the government to look into?

It depends on which one you want me to talk about you. Talking about the issue of palletisation, we are not a manufacturing country were pallets are used as part of packaging for goods that are manufactured. Since we are an import-depended country, it means that the cost of palletisation is going to be an added cost to import cost in this country; in addition to freight, in addition to loading at the ports of loading and discharging at the discharge ports. So we have to ask ourselves whether we can afford those expenses. The second one is the cargo characterisation that is being palletized. Not every cargo can be palletized, if you look at used spare parts or used goods it cannot be palletized except you put them in cartons before palletisation and then it has added to the cost of goods and services.

So we begin to look at it from the cost perspective and from the perspective of whether it is desirable for us at this stage of our development. We can also look at it from the perspective of asking, is that the best way to carry cargo knowing full well that these cargoes have to be examined by customs? If you palletize it, you have to bring it out for customs examination than you package it back. So it is like triple handling of the cargo and it can lead to damage of the cargo. We now come to a conclusion on the need to do more work on this project to see whether this is the right time to do so, because there could be alternative. Particularly in terms of customs examination let them put scanners to do all these. No matter what you have, when you begin to open it for examination you are exposing it to damage and other things.

So that policy has to be looked at again from the perspective of the cost, desirability and whether there is an alternative. Let’s look at policies that can add value to ports operations and the cost of doing business. If you look at concessioning the aim is broad, to increase productivity in the ports operations, to increase business at the ports and to attract investments at the ports. We should now be looking at if these aims of concessioning have been achieved. So those are the issues of productivity, there have been some changes in the productivity of the ports operation because the concessionaires are supposed to have brought investment of modern technology to their operation. We have not reached the level where we expect ships turnaround to increase by 300-400%, so that there will be no congestion no ship waiting to berth. Because of the various obstacles in the documentation in the ports, it has caused lack of transparency and corruption in the system.  Because documentation has reached the advanced stage of computerization you don’t need to write anything manually again in the ports if the documentation procedure is working.  What we need now is the modernization of the ports and that means investments, increasing the documentation procedures and of course increasing productivity. We also need other ways we can package goods for export.


Looking at the state of the roads that lead to our seaports, what do you think should be done?

Well, it is very clear that even if you repair those roads with N1trillion and you speed it up under six months you have completed the roads; you must look at the volume that will go on those roads. You can look at the weight of the cargoes that will be going on those roads in about three years’ time the roads will show stressed of the usage. So what that means is that it is good to have rehabilitated those roads, it is good to have done it as quickly as possible to reduce the congestion of trucks in all the access roads, but you have to look at how relaxed those roads are. So it means that you are now looking at alternative ways of transporting goods from the ports; you must have multimodal transport system. So the road mode is a single mode what about the bagging which is the water mode, the railway transportation. You must look at other ways of moving cargoes massively from the ports than the road because, the stress will show again and then you go back to square one. 


For some time now, the Nigerian Ports Consultative Council has been in limbo, much has not been heard about it, what have you been doing lately?

Yes the council is not a freight forwarding association or dock workers’ institution; it is not a noise making institution. The council is at the apex of policy advocacy and services to government and stakeholders. We are not supposed to go out and showcase operational issues only in the ports system and show that yes we are there, we must come with policies. Let me give you like six policies that nobody in the ports system has ever thought about in the development of ports, the deep sea development was the work of PCC, without that policy framework, will there be any seaport we will still be talking about Apapa and Tin Can now you are having six. In 2011, the idea of Ibom ports was floated by the PCC in Uyo, the Olokola again in 2010 by PCC to develop Olokola deep sea port and oil and gas terminal, the Lekki deep sea port was the work of the PCC; what else do you want, policies that can lead to development. The policy of manpower development we have brought about the seafaring need for Nigeria. Nigeria needs to develop manpower to replace the ageing population of workers. Go to Apapa ports now you will see those driving the cranes are over 60 years old, younger people should have been put in training to replace those people. So we developed a base a study for manpower development which NPA and NIMASA are using today. Policies on maritime security, policies on combating piracy and armed robbery at sea, that is why the Nigeria cargo freight is higher because they have declared Nigeria and ports within the Gulf of Guinea as  being infiltrated  by pirates. Policies on how we can participate in international organisation like ILO, IMO amongst others, policies that will drive the attention of the government on issues around the maritime sector, policies that go beyond Nigeria, we are in Ghana with their harbours authority and also in Benin Republic. We are also talking about a master plan that will go a long way. In all the public hearings there has never been anyone that PCC has not been invited and we presented quality papers.


As the chairman of the Nigerian Seafarers Welfare Board, what are your plans for the implementation of the Maritime Labour Congress (MLC) 2006 which focuses more on the welfare of seafarers? 

First of all, the MLC 2006 for which I worked and which was ratified by the Nigerian government 2014 didn’t talk about the employment of seafarers; it is talking about welfare. It is a tripartite agreement between the workers, the employers and the government, that is why the government has to sign it and after signing it, it goes back to you country for domestication.

So, the 2006 MLC is talking about the welfare of seafarers, talking about issues of working hours, welfare, and repatriation amongst others. So the issue of collective bargaining is not there, it created a platform for employers and employees to talk about bargaining, it doesn’t say ILO is going to set the wage. Have you heard where government set wages between UAC and workers, government can set the minimum wage and now urge employers to take a lead from that. I am also part of the National Joint Industrial Council looking at how to negotiate, it started since December 2016 and it is being concluded now. Because the workers take clue from the international standard and said that the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) where they belong has set a range of wages. The seafarers’ welfare board will join the platform if an employer is negotiating wage with an employee, the government agency (NIMASA) will sit and we will join them to see how we are going to help out. The seafarers’ welfare board cannot tell the employer what to pay the employee or tell the worker don’t take this amount of money, but we want to see that they follow due process, that they sat down and negotiate than to just fight. So MLC is specific on what items of welfare that it covered. So by the National Joint Industrial Council which was set up by NIMASA as a platform between employers and employees to discuss we are having observers’ statues on that committee. And then we can bring our expert knowledge of international transport negotiation to the table and that is why they are thanking us for our intervention. You must consider the two sides.

All the seafarers that have been arrested for piracy and crude oil theft amongst others, some of them are claiming that they are employees on the ship and they don’t know why they took us there , but the government said we found all of you there. Some of them who have been taken to court and they are mostly foreigners like Philippines, Indians amongst others, Nigerians that are there are very few who were on board those vessels. But some foreign countries, government to government can negotiate under bilateral agreement. We don’t know what the government will give them in return because when it comes to that level it is a negotiation.  Russians have left because their government intervened but the Philippines are still here in the prisons with some Ghanaians and Nigerians. So what we did was that we now worked with the prison authorities on the minimum comfort that can be given to these people while they are here. We talked about medicine, we bought medicines, cloths, contacted their families on their behalf, that they are here in the prison. We are lucky to get someone who is able to handle people who are traumatised because when someone is in that situation, the person is not always happy.  Some of them talked on what they want some said they want to get employment, they want the employers to pay them all outstanding bills and medical treatment. You can see the amount of work we are doing. We are arranging tickets for those who are traumatised to go back; not waiting for the ship owners again. You can see that it is both legal assistance and welfare assistance, amongst others. NIMASA is by law the implementing agency.


Talking about the Cabotage act, how far do you think it has been implemented?

The Cabotage Act is not talking about the welfare of seafarers, it is talking about employment of Nigerian vessels in trading within Nigerian coasts; Calabar to Lagos, Warri and all that, internal shipping. The full interpretation of Cabotage is coastal and inland shipping within Nigerian territorial waters.  The problems with Cabotage is that most of the conditions are not feasible, do you have where you can build Nigerian ships here, that is dead on arrival. The second one, they said we don’t have Nigerian seafarers that can man the ship 100%. The issue is simply that the Nigerian seafarers most of them have gone to College, to MAN, Oron and all that and did a BSC in Nautical Science, Marine Engineering and all that; but that doesn’t make you a seafarer. Can you call yourself a Lawyer without going to Law school you can not practice law. Even if you have third class you are better than the man with first class who has not gone to law school. You can’t be called a seafarer until you pass the competence test; the competence test is the practical aspect of it. So what we are saying is that we have located the problem, compliance is what the law requires. And if there are no Nigerian-built vessels, there is another clause in the act. So what that means is that the Cabotage act has not been implemented.