Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Shippers Council, Barr Hassan Bello in this interview with DAILY TREND NEWS revealed how the Council was allegedly excluded by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) from signing of the new concession agreement for terminal operators despite being the port economic regulator.
Bello said that the Council has written a strong protest to the Ministry of Transportation and the matter is being looked into.
The Shippers Council boss also revealed that the outbreak of Coronavirus has delayed the signing of a landmark agreement for the Ibadan Inland Container Depot, even as he assured that Kano and Jos ICD would be delivered in the second quarter of year 2021.
In the face of the global pandemic, how can we diversify our economy from oil, so as to harness the potentials in maritime industry?
The maritime industry has always been an alternative and a very rich source for diversification of revenue for the Federal Government, it is an industry that creates jobs, bring revenue to the government, create modern infrastructure and generally move the economy forward. There is gain saying that the Coronavirus pandemic is global and it would have a local effect on our economy, what is important now is the lessons we are learning from it. We have to record what has happened to Nigerias’ economy including fall in oil prices.
The issue is about production, we cannot be a consuming nation forever, we have to produce, manufacture and export, and this must be supported by infrastructures including power, rail, road and the maritime sector itself, so it is important we learn a lesson, we cannot continue putting our eggs in our basket as a mono economy, right now the federal government is grappling with a stumbling economy and we even had to cut out budget.
Would this scourge not affect the revenue coming from the maritime sector?
Of course it would, the arteries of world trade has been clogged, the supply chain has been disrupted with dare consequences, this is a lesson for all because whatever happens, one has to look for how to get out of the situation, this is what Nigeria should be looking at, but there is hope, the situation is temporary, the most important thing is to learn a lesson, maritime sector kis beckoning on Nigeria, saying, here I am, get me right and you will not fall into this problem.
We have an import economy that employs people, collect revenue, but we need to balance it with export so that we can equally earn the scarce foreign exchange, there must be a balance, so here we call on the government to be deliberate, government must be conscious and concerted to look at all aspects of the economy to put our money where our mouth is.
Other dry ports are yet to function, what is happening, a promoter even pulled out recently
The dry ports are more important right now, Kano is on now with new investors, at Jo’s, new investors are coming, we intend to deliver Kano and Jos in the second quarter of 2021, we have new investors and technical partners in all of these, especially Kano which is extremely progressive. The mistake the Shippers Council made was trying to deliver all the dry ports at ones, we are now choosing the ones where we have a willing and capable investor, a financially buoyant investor, and this we have been able to sift together with ICRC (Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission) to make sure it is done, so the Inland dry ports are looking very bright.
What is the level of work at Ibadan dey port?
The Chinese investors were the preferred bidder, they were the most responsive, and they have been chosen to execute the Ibadan dry port, but now we have had a disruption because of the Coronavirus, so we are expecting one or two months delay, otherwise, negotiations would have started by 15th of this month, to negotiate, sign an agreement and get approval of the Federal Executive Council (FEC)
However, China is recovering now, Nigeria would soon go over this, the government has been extremely responsive and retroactive, this is temporary, as soon as the issues are done with, the whole world and Nigeria would start on recovery, we hope it would be very strong because the demand for oil by China would be even more than the pre Coronavirus level.
Where are we with Kaduna dry port?
At Kaduna, we have more exports now, for example, we have massive exports of over 2,200 metric tonnes of manganese ore, rock stone and zinc, every day it has been a delight, but still, there are processes and infrastructures we need to put in Kaduna so that it would have maximum contribution. What we have as the problem is, first, rail capacity, despite the pandemic, if the rail is operating with cargo, we hope that we would have a special allocation by the Nigeria Railway Corporation, dedicated locomotives and wagons for Kaduna, an average of 80kilometer per hour is what we are striving to get, the moment we have this, you would see imports coming to Kaduna and people would be going to pick their imports, the most important thing is that I want the Kaduna Dry Port to be an export processing zone, we want the economy of Kaduna to be greatly influenced by the Kaduna dry port and I think we are reaching that level.
Now that the Federal Government is constructing the standard gauge, would it be linked to the dry port?
Ultimately, 30milliom tons could be generated and transferred from Lagos to Kano, and also, Lagos to Ibadan, the speed of the standard gauge is good, it’s about 120kilometres per hour, that is the ultimate, the Federal Government’s policy now is that all ports are to be linked with rail, including the dry ports.
How can we make use of the opportunity of the lockdown to decongest the ports?
There is an opportunity because the roads are free now, but dont forget that the lockdown has also affected operations at the port, and the government is trying to broker a balance between he Safety of the people and the economy, you cannot shut down the ports because they are central to the economy and the revenue, the port must operate because we are even receiving things we must use to fight the Coronavirus itself, the medicines, the supports and other essential commodities, the president has gladly said that port operations must continue, however skeletal it is, and this is what Shippers Council is trying to do, to make sure we have a balance between safety and economy, I agree with you that we could use this to decongest the ports because
Terminals are now recording 95% occupancy of their yard, this is not good because there would be congestion on both sides, the sea side and the land side
But you must agree with me that this are abnormal times.
The port concession agreements have been renewed and stakeholders are not happy that they were not carried along
The same thing with me here, I didn’t know anything about the signing of the agreement, the Shippers Council is supposed to be there as observers, and we are the ports economic regulator, whatever affects that agreement affects you and I, and every village in Nigeria, so it should have been open for contribution of critical stakeholders so that we dont repeat the mistakes that we have had in the past.
Concession agreements are not supposed to be secrets, they dont belong to any agency, it is critical that the port economic regulator must be mentioned in the agreement, it baffles me as to why issues like that should continue without respect for the economic regulator, and we have made protests to the Ministry of Transportation, saying that whatever happens, the Shippers have never been involved, the worst we got was to come and observe, observe what? We are critical stakeholders, the same thing I say about the Lekki Deep Sea port, people should come and build ports that suits Nigerias’ economy, we cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of Apapa port. I am really angry as far as this issue is concerned, but I believe the ministry of Transportation is doing something about it.
Do you think there is a connivance by the custodians of the agreement and the terminal operators to shield you away from an agreement you are already contending in court?
It is a paradox, and it pains me personally that such critical relationship of the port is being determined without the Nigerian shippers Council, without contributions from freight forwarders, consolidators, dockworkers, among other. The central bank cannot come and decide for us what happens in the port, neither can the BPE, what experience does the BPE has in port administration, is it an exclusive reserve of a certain parastatal to determine whatever happens, even without the contribution of the Federal Ministry of Transportation? We need to have a relook at this, I am going to write again about the signing of the concession agreement, a stronger letter, we cannot allow the future of this country to be decided unilaterally, arbitrarily without consultation.
What is the implication of this on the economy?
Nobody knows, and this is why it is so worrisome, this is an open society that has enemies, we are not running a cult, why should a critical stakeholder like the Shippers Council be shielded away,and when there is issue of cost and efficiency, terminal operators would tell you that you are not a party to the concession agreement, yet, in the Act that sets up the Shippers Council, it has a role to play in the regulation for the port, it says we should supervise the port concession, but now, all these legal issues have been disregarded.
On lekki deepsea port, what do you think should be done to avoid past mistakes?
I was at the port two weeks ago and I am very impressed with what is going on, this is a port that would change the way we do business in Nigeria, I have to appreciate the Lagos State Government, the investors, the construction companies that it is good.
But what I have to say is that, we are a modern port now, port is not supposed to be a storage area, Customs should not examine cargoes at that port, containers should be taken Offdock and examined.
We also talked about access to the port, there must be a multimodal approach, we cannot have one mode, otherwise the same problems would repeat itself, I think there is a committee looking into all these which the Shippers Council is not also a member, issue of port should not be mystified and people are shielded away, we would continue to talk, we are not happy with the way we are being excluded in critical decisions like the port concession and others.