After what can be aptly described as an endless waiting game, the National Assembly has finally opened the book of remembrance in the quest to amend the Nigerian Ports Authourity (NPA) 1954 and 1999 (amendment) Act.
In between 1954, 1999 and 2009, Nigerian Ports Authourity has transformed significantly; from a ‘small’ post-independence and an entirely government- owned agency to a concessioned organisation – now stripped of its pioneering responsibility of a master stevedore to a ‘landlord’. From a small organisation, NPA has metamorphosed into a money- spinning agency and with this comes attention.
The Port Act of 1954 which comprised of 15 parts, 120 sections and five schedules essentially sought to transfer ownership of ports and harbour undertakings of the government to an agency called Nigerian Ports Authourity. Even though, NPA had become a body corporate by virtue of the Act, it was not until 1969 when the government of the now-independent Nigeria took over all private ports in the country and handed them over to NPA that the agency actually became the owner of all ports indeed and by law.
Between 1969 and 1999, NPA was decreed into becoming a public liability company (PLC) by the then military government, but in actual fact it was only a PLC on paper.
The amendment of 1999 did not achieve much in changing the status of NPA apart from providing the leeway for the private sector to come into port operations in the name of port concession.
While it may not be exactly true that the essence of the new Port Act may be to give bite or rubbish port concession, it is certainly not out of place to predict that the new law will determine the fate of port concession.
The lawmakers also agree that port operations have changed dramatically in recent years, particularly in the last decade and equally believe that for the nation’s seaports to compete effectively, her port operations structure has to conform to global best practices.
Suffice it to point out here that even in the build up to the new law, it will be erroneous to argue or state that it was NPA that actually picked the ‘landlord’ model for government’s divestment from port operations. The process leading to concessioning of the ports from April 2006 was a product of different interventions and postulations.
It is a widely known fact that there was (and still is) the National Council on Privatisation, an inter-ministerial committee and the Bureau of Public Enterprises; all playing significant roles in the acceptance of ‘land lord’ model.
We quite agree that the absence of ‘adequate’ legislation for port concessioning may have translated to subjectivity in the application of the rules and calls to question the legality of the arrangement.
This probably accounts for why expectations of stakeholders are very high and the public hearing which has been fixed for this week may witness the highest turn out of stakeholders at the national Assembly in recent time.
After about 45 years of the NPA Act and about 10 years of its amendment in 1999, there is unanimity in the quest for a new law that will govern all operations and operators.
By and large, it is expected that the new law will bring the principal law governing port operations in Nigeria, up to the expectations of stakeholders and the requirements of maritime jurisprudence.
It is not just about port concession, but it must be a lasting a instrument that is capable of elevating the status of Nigerian ports to a hub for West and Central Africa.
We have heard stakeholders complain that the bill’s passage is being delayed and we have also heard the lawmakers disclose their handicap.
From all indications, it is the wide gap in the positions taken by the lawmakers, the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) and port stakeholders that is responsible for the delay.
As much as it is almost impossible for maritime sector stakeholders to accept the multi- sectoral National Transport Commission (NTC) which the BPE is canvassing, it also advised that the stakeholders in the port system who are going to be directly affected by the new law to offer the lawmakers a workable middle- of- the- road suggestions in the contentious areas.
In the same manner we appeal to the law makers at both chambers to be nationalistic in their pursuit of a new law for the Nigerian Ports Authourity.