By virtue of its position as a core contributor to the Nigerian economy, the maritime sector is one of the beneficiaries of the democratic experience, having been a victim of several years of military rule, during which it lost the national carrier; Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL), and also witnessed the sale and transformation of many state-owned businesses. The sector also suffered severe decay of structures and superstructures.
One of the most obvious features of democracy is the compulsory subservience (by all) to the activities and supervision of the National Assembly’s various committees and their oversight functions.
At the onset of the democratic experience in 1999, stakeholders (especially port operators) who were not used to what was initially perceived as meddlesomeness on the part of the legislature, had kicked against the frequent visitations by the lawmakers, albeit, in the name of performing oversight functions.
But all that have changed as stakeholders now see the legislature and the legislators as partners in progress, the lawmakers also see stakeholders as co-travellers in ‘project maritime’. The relationship has blossomed to the extent that the marine transport committees of both chambers of the National Assembly often rely on informed suggestions from stakeholders at their public hearings and through other means as veritable instruments in the law- making process.
One of the previous sessions of the National Assembly (through its) committees on marine transport facilitated the enactment of certain key bills, such as: the NIMASA Act, Cabotage Act and the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) Act.
But currently, there are three critical Maritime bills waiting for concurrence at the National Assembly and two others awaiting President Buhari’s assent.
Checks by this Newspaper revealed that the three major maritime bills are: Merchant Shipping Act, Repeal and Enactment Bill 2021, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency Act repeal and Enactment Bill 2021, as well as the Coastal & Inland Cabotage Amendment Bill 2020, are top on the table.
Apart from those listed above, there had been many others that had been forgotten over time. They include: Nigerian Ports Authority Act repeal and re-enactment) Bill 2016; the Chartered Institute of Shipping of Nigeria (CISN) Bill; and the Bill Establishing the Economic Regulator (shipping sector). Also awaiting passage are the National Inland Waterways Authority Bill, and Nigeria Railway Bill, the Maritime Zones Bill, and the Nigeria Coast Guards Bill 2018, and a host of others.
Perhaps of more importance to the Nigerian maritime industry are the Cabotage Bill, Merchant Shipping Bill and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) Bill have been passed by the House of Representatives, but which are still with the Senate waiting for concurrence.
Perhaps the most unfortunate maritime industry bill at the National Assembly is the National Transport Commission (NTC) Bill, 2015
The NTC Bill seeks to transmute the Nigerian Shippers’ Council to the new agency which is expected to superintend all activities in the transportation sector of the nation’s economy.
The Bill was passed by the Senate in March 2018. But the President refused to assent to it.
We share in the pessimism about the possibility of these bills scaling through the hurdles at the National Assembly and securing the statutory Presidential assent, in view of the fact that the present administration is in its last days.
If these Bills don’t scale through, then the process will have to recommence with the National Assembly as from June 2023.
It is a known fact that, any bill before the National Assembly cannot become an Act enforceable or binding on Nigerians, the government or any one, unless the bill has been passed and become an Act according to the provisions of the constitution.
It is a shame that lawmakers spend their time on over sight functions and harass Chief Executives of government agencies, while waiting until the last minute towards the tail end of their tenure before they start rushing through some vital legislations.
We recall that, at the twilight of former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration in 2015, the then-National Assembly brought out about 200 Bills for his assent. Coincidentally, the Cabotage Act and NIMASA Act were among the Bills that were awaiting amendments then.
As it was with previous National Assemblies, members of maritime-related committees have again failed the Nigerian maritime industry; that is, if these Bills don’t scale through early enough for the President’s assent before he leaves office on May 29, 2023.
We also believe that, the three leading maritime agencies, namely; NPA, NIMASA and Shippers Council should work more closely in the overall interest of the Nigerian maritime industry. We see clearly that, their rivalry is partly responsible for the delay in the passage and securing Presidential assent to these Bills.
Finally, we think the Nigerian maritime sector players and indeed members of the shipping community have the right to ask questions as to why ‘their Bills’ are not getting the attention of the lawmakers, especially now that the 8th Assembly is winding down and the 9th Assembly is being awaited.
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