“I am extremely optimistic that the electronic call-up system will be successful”
“We will apply sanctions for any terminal that does not provide digitalization, the same thing with shipping companies”
The Executive Secretary/CEO of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council; Mr. Hassan Bello in this interview with Shipping Position Daily speaks on some key maritime industry issues, such as the recently-launched Nigerian Port Process Manual, the national fleet, electronic call –up system, among others.
What’s the update on the recently launched National Port Process Manual?
Port process manual is the operationalization of the SOP’s of the agencies operating at the port, including government agencies. There is need for synchronization of what a person does in the port and the time given specifically for doing that. So many agencies are at the port doing nothing, except adding to the delay of port processes. So the Nigerian Port Authority (NPA), the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) with UNDP about two years back or three years back got the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) which is internationally backed for port operations and almost all the agencies submitted their SOPs. So we want to operate the SOPs and Nigerian Shippers Council is the lead agency, and as the Economic Regulator we are neutral; we are not offering any services, but we are the superintendent of the processes, so what we do is to streamline these processes, simplify them and make them accessible. If we can harmonise these processes within the specified time to know who, when and why things are done, then we would have fulfilled the easy obligation of international standard in the port operations, and what will be the implication is that that there would be reduction of the endemic corruption in the port, secondly it will improve efficiency and thirdly there will be transparency which will even lead to blockage of leakages in government revenue. So, our ports have improved over the years with the procedures, but we need to do more and that’s why we are now the lead agency; we are working with law enforcement agencies to make sure that there is monitoring and enforcement. The Nigerian Shippers Council has enough law, NPA has also to make sure that these things are done and we are working with NPA in that committee. Let me also let you know that another area we have to concentrate on is the environment of the port; the environment is dirty, with everybody coming to the port without any business, let us leave the truckers out first, we are talking about the kiosk people who sell anything, so the port is not sightly, so we need to clear illegal squatters and illegal activities to give it a resemblance of seriousness that it is the port. Secondly, the process of cargo clearance must be streamlined, already we are working with Customs, the Nigerian Shippers Council has been working to see that there is fast clearance of cargo, we have worked with Customs and with others who are supposed to be for clearance. The problem is that not everybody will be there at the same time, sometimes the freight forwarders may not be there, sometimes other agencies may not be there, but now will have to enforce that at a certain time the cargo must be positioned for inspection, and all the representatives of those who are supposed to be there will be there; those who are not to be there will not be there unless they are invited by the Customs; So Customs is already working with us to achieve that and then Customs will of course bring scanners and other x ray machines to make the process faster and more transparent. So the 22 days’ dwell time in Nigeria, for days’ dwell time in Lome Togo, seven days in Cotonou Port and that’s why we are aiming at seven days dwell time in Nigeria. Within maybe first quarter and that is imperative, we are winning the war of throughput with our neighbours because most of the goods are bound for Nigeria anyway, but we need a port that speaks of efficiency. So within that range also Nigerian Shippers’ Council has already been doing so many things on digitalization of the port, it’s a silent thing but we have a terminal for example that scores 98% because we are rating them, there was a terminal that we rated 24%; only now they are at 42% and they are still going, we will apply sanctions for any terminal that does not provide digitalization, the same thing with shipping companies, we expect the freight forwarders to fall in line, some are already doing that, clearing their processes online and the banks will have to be in, we have no choice but to be in, our port must be contactless, one must conduct transactions electronically without physical presence in the port which breeds so much corruption, we are talking end of the year; we are aiming 81 % digitalization, it was 65% last year, now some terminal operate both manual and electronic, so we want to phase out this manual thing to make the people fall in like electronically. Then the port multi-modal approach, the rail line has reached Apapa and the first rail service was done about two week ago or so, we have the designed MOU between the Nigerian Railway Corporation and the terminals; we are still looking at it, so if we are rail, we have barges, this artificial cost will really disappear. So we see a prospect of that, the NPA electronic call up system will go a long way in doing that. Besides by the end of March, we want to make sure that we abolish container deposit and replace it with more economical and modern insurance scheme; instead of shippers paying deposit and rushing to return the containers, so the traffic in Apapa will disappear and our port will be more efficient and we are resolute in saying we are going to do this one.
How optimistic are you about the e- call up system?
I am very optimistic, even when the call-up was done manually, it was successful, I am extremely optimistic that the electronic call-up system will be successful, and have great impact that will redress the confusion that we have in Apapa.
But we still have some trucks along the road?
Of course, it’s not something that will disappear suddenly, I am that sure gradually things will fall in place.
About the port process manual, it’s likely we have some agencies that may not cooperate?
All the agencies are cooperating, they have been doing that, we have received tremendous cooperation from all agencies, of course there will always be recalcitrant agency and that’s why I said we will monitor and enforce it.
What the update on the fleet implementation?
The fleet implementation committee has recorded a measure of success, we are now considering two proposals from the private sector, besides for the first time after the fleet implementation met with the Group Managing Director of NNPC, there has been a provision for Nigeria to lift crude oil which the ship owners reported to me. So, we are changing the policies, we are changing the laws, unless this is done we are not going to have sustainable national fleet. We could have done that last year; bring a couple of ships and say this is national fleet, but they are here today, tomorrow they are gone. But we said no, we must look at the impediments and remove them, so that the private sector will come in, the government has nothing to do with this, of course the government will provide vibrancy and it should be the catalyst, but we are watching these gradually, this will come but it has to be anchored on sustainable feasible profitable national fleet that will make contributions to national economy in terms of infrastructure, in terms of earnings from freight and employment. But then, there are other things, we need to have other supportive industry, like the ship repair and ship building; it’s very important. Of what use is the national fleet when you have to take all the ships to Namibia for ship repair that will drag all the money you made and Nigeria is capable of doing that. I am happy with NIMASA they are working so much with the Nigeria ship registry, our ship registry must be electronic to attract ship owners to come and register. A national fleet would not just come in the middle of the night; it has to be anchored on something.
How do Nigerians get funding for this scheme because funding has been a problem?
Some may have, you never know, it’s because of impediment that’s why we are saying we will give it pioneer status, tax incentives, remove all the other things and make it a national fleet. Actually, we have been working with NEXIM on Sea Link project with six vessels, they could also be a national fleet because it doesn’t mean one; all these will come together and I think there is a great prospect for shipping
What’s the update on Inland Dry Port, it that seems there have been a lull, kind of?
There is no lull, a lot of things are going on in Kano, rejuvenation of capital in Jos and in few months, we are going to sign the $90 million Ibadan Dry Port, and we are working towards the last phase and we have concluded negotiations with the Chinese companies and what remains is for it to be taken to the Federal Executive Council which will be done in a month’s time and then we go for the ground breaking ceremony in Ibadan and it will take like 12 to 18 months to build.
Recently a committee was set up to facilitate the port process manual, can you give an insight into what we expect from this committee?
It’s not really a committee, we only look at every sector and pick people who we can exchange ideas with, so it’s not a specific committee or organization of committee as such.