By DAPO OLAWUNI
The Executive Secretary of Nigerian Shippers Council, Hon Emmanuel Jime has confirmed that the Council has been able to achieve harmonization of tariff heads in the shipping sector from 17 items down to just 5.
Jime noted that the Nigerian Shippers Council under his watch promoted automation and digitalisation in the services that are offered at Nigerian ports.
According to him, automation and digitalisation has automatically brought down the cost of doing business at our ports.
He said that the Council through activities of the Port Standing Task Team (PSTT) the body saddled with implementation of the Nigerian Ports Process Manual (NPPM) has substantially reduced corrupt practices at Nigerian ports by cutting down human interference.
DAILY TREND brings you except of the interview conducted with Hon Emmanuel Jime at the Shippers Council headquarters in Apapa Lagos.
What is your appraisal of your performance at the Shippers Council since you arrived, how has the journey been for you?
When I first came into the industry, there were lots of skepticism that I was not an industry person, and so there was fear in the mind of the stakeholders who rightly or wrongly have that believe. The reason was that my predecessor, the very last one, placed the Nigerian Shippers Council, especially in the aspect of it’s regulatory functions on the front burners, so there was a concern of possible reversal of the fortunes of the Council.
For me, I have always accepted these kinds of fears as a challenge because in every area I have worked in the public sector, I have always been confronted with this approach of people believing wrongly, there is this sense I get from the public that politicians are not prepared for responsible offices, without being immodest, I would like to say that, I haven been in the law practice for forty years, I have had opportunities of being in the public arena. I served as the Managing Director of Nigerian Export Processing Zone Authority (NEPZA) for a short while before I arrived here, I do not consider myself as an outsider in that sense, especially, when I was in the National Assembly, part of my stewardship had me serving in Committees that supervised the maritime sector, I was a member of the Marine committee for four years, that already gave me an hindsight about the working of the sector, I also see myself as a fast learner, it means that you have to being yourself up to speed.
Summarily, I didn’t feel like a fish out of water, which I think a lot of people described me with.
I came in here and I was fortunate because there are very knowledgeable people in the council, I was proud to say that I was surrounded by the best set of officers that one can describe as my greatest assets, both at management level and staff level. This made it easy for me, because I could rely on the professionalism of these team members that are well equipped. These combined experience I brought to the table, and the people I am surrounded with, made the journey very interesting, so I don’t really see this journey as a challenging one.
But the fact remains that, because of the sensitive nature of the maritime industry, there is a lot of data that one can relate to that would speak to the strategic position of the industry to the nation’s economy.
Outside of oil, the maritime sector is the golden goose that laid the golden eggs, the reason is that ninety percent of international trade is conducted by sea, so, if I am going to put the economy on sound footing, it then means that international trade must be a key component of how we are delivering on that economy. So, the work that Shippers Council does is fundamental to the economic wellbeing of the nation and we have risen to the ocassion. I am lucky to have some giants on whose shoulders I stand, people who were there before me, talking of Dr Usor, late Capt Biu, Adebayo Sarumi, these are giants in their own rights who put their footprints here, all I needed to do was look over my shoulder and I can see inspiration and direction, so I cannot afford not to be successful.
We are riding on some of the successes and foundations that were laid for us.
This is why I situate the work of the port standing task team in particular in implementation of the NPPM.
When we talk of efficiency and service delivery at our port, we are talking about how do we get the cargo clearing process to be seamless, the Nigerian Ports Process Manual has placed guidelines as to how clear cargoes at our ports. Now we are implementing joint boarding of vessel, joint examination of cargoes, today, there is also operation Free the Port Corridor. These are three aspects of the implementation of the NPPM that has led to better cargo dwell time and an ability for us to evacuate our cargo out of the port faster than achieved in the past, especially in Apapa.
For a business man, time really means money, the ability to save time in the way that you are delivering on services, you may not be able to calculate it in Naira and Kobo, but in terms of the economic benefits that comes as a result of the services that are being delivered efficiently, that cannot be quantified in Naira and Kobo, the Shippers Council has insisted and promoted automation and digitalisation in the services that are offered at our port. So, automation and digitalisation has automatically brought down the cost of doing business at our ports, this means that you are reducing substantially the human interference, and we all know that if there is any incidence where it is possible for corruption to breed, it is usually in the area of human interface, that we have been able to cut down the number of individuals in the process of human interface brings two indications; first is the efficiency of service delivery and secondly is the cost effectiveness of the way businesses are being done.
These, to my mind are monumental achievements because if you look at the data, before the implementation of the Port Process Manual and the work of the PSTT, the effect that these practices was having on the economy of our ports was in the negative, and this is the reason why if you look at the corruption perception index data before implementation of the NPPM, we were in the negative.
These are monumental achievements recorded as a result of the work of the council.
Everytime I am asked how we were able to mitigate costs, the first thing I always refer to is the harmonization of tariff heads, before now, we all know that we have over 17 tariff heads in the shipping sector, but we have been able to bring them down now to about 5, this would have an immediate impact without a doubt.
I think the work of the agency is best demonstrates in the ability of the maritime industry to perform in the best optimum required for their to be a quantum leap in the economic benefits that comes to the nation.
Summarily, my journey so far has been exciting, one that has led to putting the nation’s economy on a much better footing than we met it when we came.
What are the challenges you have encountered on this journey
There are challenges, first, I have always said that the legal structure of the Nigeria Shippers Council is self limiting, it does not allow us perform our functions as effectively and efficiently as we could.
I would give you an example, today, because of the limitations in the Shippers Council Act, our ability to perform certain economic functions such as sanctioning breeches is grossly limited, we are not able to sanction people in a way that does justice to our mandate.
This is actually what informed our decision to go into a memorandum of understanding with Federal Consumer Competition Protection Commission (FCCPC)
The reason is that this agency has the ability to prosecute and enforce, but we don’t have that in our Act. I am not comfortable that we now need to lean on another agency to be able to exercise such a profound mandate of economic regulation. It does not make sense that you are a regulator and you are not able to enforce. I believe there is a need for an amendment of the . shippers council Act to allow for ability to more forcefully exercise her mandate.
Don’t forget that a number of Nigerian Shipping companies and terminal operators had taken the Council to court and we are still in court. What was the issue? We had queried the introduction of certain charges and tariffs which we felt were inconsistent with the guidelines we laid out.
The parties were to be bound by the regulation we put in place but they decided to drag us to court. Truly, if you look at the Shippers Council Act, there is no provision that allows us to do that.
If we were to make this an Act of the National Assembly, nobody would challenge our ability to function because by then, we would be the law of the land.
Secondly, funding is also a key challenge of the council, as at today, the main source of revenue for the agency is the 2/7% of the Port Development Levy which is pretty much a hard hoc arrangement that government decided to put shippers council alongside government agencies that have access to that source of revenue. If you look at it in real terms, the 2/7% percent of the port development levy doesn’t come to much.
So, the ability for the Council to exercise it’s mandate is limited by the fact that our funding lines are not consistent with what we are supposed to do
For example, the Port Standing Task Team, even though it is an inter-agency thing, the leadership of the team is the Nigerian Shippers Council, which means that we have a greater responsibility of making sure that PSTT function effectively.
There is manpower shortage for the team as it is, we are only efficient in Apapa, don’t forget that we have other ports outside Lagos, Onne, Port Harcourt and Warri, but we are not able to extend the work of the PSTT to those other ports, that itself is not an effective way of delivering on our mandate.
With the resources and revenue string that we have, we are not able to put together more personnel, and logistics required in terms of Vehicles and Operational gadgets.
Summary of all of this is that we have been unable to fund activities of the Shippers Council in line with our mandate
Sir, what steps have you made to address the Act of the Council and the issue of lack of funding?
We have done some work, let me remind you that not too long ago,
the National Transport Commission (NTC) Bill was being processed by the National Assembly, the idea was that Shippers Council would utlimately become part and parcel of the NTC which would be a more bigger outfit with an enabling legal structure that would allow it perform the limitations I have highlighted.
Unfortunately, that Bill have not seen the light of day, it has been passed about three times, by my records, Mr President has declined his signatures twice, there was a third attempt, there wasn’t a decline, but there was not also an assent.
So, from the point of view of a lawmaker, I can say that the Bill for now would not be seeing the light of day, that’s my understanding for now. I believe that the National Assembly are still looking into it.
There is another legislative instrument being processed at the National Assembly, the OMNIBUS which at the same begining included some elements of the Nigeria Shippers Council’s functions which could have strengthened out activities here.
But my information is that because the NTC was being processed, then the aspect of the Shippers Council in the OMNIBUS Bill was excluded when the Bill was finally being presented to the National Assembly, otherwise, I would say that this is another angle of addressing these challenges.
However, the last thing I intend to do is to work with the legal department of the Nigerian Shippers Council in other for us to process the legal requirements under the Nigerian Shippers Council Act in other to see to an amendment for this Act.
Of course, we are not able to escalate that process by ourselves to the National Assembly, we must route it through the supervising Ministry of Transportation, that is what I am looking at, since the other efforts are not leading us to where we want to go.
The imperative of a review of the Shippers Council Act is not lost on me, I truly believe there is a need to have that review, we would use whatever means is available to us, whether it is to work with our parent ministry, the Ministry of Transportation, and hopefully if it gets to the National Assembly, we would also look at how to fast track the current legal system and find a way of getting it reviewed.