Not many still remember that the Nigerian Shippers’ Council is the ‘mother’ of the National Maritime Authourity (NMA)
which has (alongside the former Joint Maritime Labour Industrial Council) now transmuted to the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). The Shippers’ Council was created in 1978, while the NMA was carved out of the Council in 1987.
Before it gave birth to the NMA, the Shippers’ Council was probably the only agency that was taking care of shipping and shipper-related issues; a situation which overwhelmed it and created atmosphere for the emergence of a new agency that would take care of shipping and maritime-centred issues.
So since 1987 when its burden has been reduced, how fairly has successive managements and chief executives understood and executed the mandate of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council.
An answer to this will require an appraisal of the specific mandate of the NSC. Without mincing words, its responsibility is to protect the interests of Nigerian shippers. In doing this, it is expected to negotiate for a fairer freight rates, good carriage terms and educate shippers to understand terms of shipments.
While some stakeholders continue to lampoon the Council for allegedly not performing up to the expectations of Nigerian shippers, some have also accused it of not being more than a paper tiger. But, those whose sympathy the Council still enjoys have (while agreeing that it has not done quite well) argued that its perceived failure is attributable to its enabling Act and submitted that if the law which established the council in 1978 had made it a council that has powers to enforce compliance, the council would have done more than its doing.
We have examined the decree (now Act of Parliament) which established the council and we can only draw the conclusion that the law was made for the purpose creating a Shippers’ Council as an agency of the government playing advisory roles to the government under the federal ministry of transport.
This much has been demonstrated by the Council itself. It is has never done anything on its own without waiting for the ‘honourable minister’s final word; even it’s so called professional advises are given with the mindset of the minister in the consciousness of the chief executive of the agency.
A few examples will suffice here. When it suddenly wake up around 1995 to fight the so called multinational shipping companies and their agents over freight rates, it took the military fiat of the then-minister of transport late Major General Ibrahim Gumel to at least summon the multinationals for a meeting. They did not have the courtesy of even honouring an invitation for a meeting with the Shippers’ Council.
When recently freight forwarders went on strike in protest against alleged high charges by terminal operators and shipping agents, the best that Shippers’ Council could do was to sit atop a committee and recommend what the government should do.
In many neighbouring West African countries, Shippers’ Councils have a lot more responsibilities, including performing some of the pre-1987 roles of our own Nigerian Shippers Council.
The law that will usher-in the National Transport Commission is already in the works at the National Assembly and if the feelers that are emanating from that arm of government is anything to go by, then the commission may become a reality in a few months; at least before the end of 2009.
From all indications, the Nigerian Shippers’ Council is desirous of transmuting to the Commission and we dare ask: What on earth for? Is it that it is looking for the ‘biting’ powers which it claimed it never had, is it because it already has administrative and professional structures on ground, is it because our law makers are likely to follow the popular sing song of ‘the devil you know……’ or is it just to keep it within, or what?.
As much as we empathise with members of the shipping community who are eagerly awaiting the ‘birth’ of a transport commission; especially in the face of rising post-port concession commercial disputes, we advise that all those who are saddled with the responsibility of midwifing the law and subsequent birth of the commission should take note of the following arguments.
What the port system requires is a new commission that will take–off without any historical entanglement, what the system requires is an arbiter with no bias for any group, what the NTC ought to stand for is the new face of the transport sector and not an old wine in a new wine skin.
As much as we sympathise with the Nigerian Shippers’ Council over its inability to do much, has anyone bordered to ask why its ‘baby’; that is, the NMA and lately NIMASA has continued to enjoy prominence. It is probably the same reason that the Shippers’ Council once received total attention, relevance and reverence when Chief Adebayo Sarumi, the immediate past managing director of Nigerian Ports Authourity was its chief executive officer. The recent meeting between the Council’s chief executive and members of the Senate’s committee on public account is a reference point. The Senator not only queried its continued relevance, but also questioned its contributions to the nation’s economy and its justification for continued appropriation.
The Shippers’ Council Act, as it is, has sufficient provisions for it to meet its objectives. The quest for transmutation is not the answer.