With persisting irregularities in trade facilitation at the ports being perpetrated by both shippers and providers of shipping services, including agencies in the system, the federal government may have arrived at a solution. Part of this includes the implementation of the port process manual which aims at addressing all vulnerabilities in the ports system and the re-introduction of the Cargo Tracking Note (CTN) which will reveal all cargo information that have been discretional all these decades with consequences of huge losses of revenue to the government. In this chat with SHIPPING DAY, the Executive Secretary/CEO of Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Barr Hassan Bello speaks on the two policy instruments – the port process manual and the CTN, saying the two policies will usher in transformations in the ports with advantages of creating data base, prevention of importation of dangerous arms and reduction in revenue leakages for Customs, NPA and NIMASA. Bello whose Council as the ports economic regulator spearheads the two projects also spoke on other industry issues. Francis Ugwoke brings the excerpts:
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The Nigerian Shippers Council was in December made the lead agency to oversee the Port Process Manual in what is targeted at achieving efficiency in ports operations in Nigeria, can you give an insight on how the Council has executed this national assignment?
It has been very fascinating experience. We need a lot of stakeholders support. But what we have been doing is not new. We have developed the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for all the stakeholders in the port. That is the issue of ‘when, where, why, how’ of things to be done at the port. So, we are just supervising and reporting. Many stakeholders abide with their SOPs. Contrary to what people think, we are not doing the operating procedures ourselves, we are monitoring . The SOPs have already been set, we need to monitor, supervise and coordinate and so far it has been quite challenging but very good. We have had tremendous support from stakeholders. First of all, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) has seconded two senior staff to work with us. They have been quite cooperating. We also have within the NPA the Harbours Masters, some pilots and Port Managers. We have had meetings with them and they have been very very supportive. The terminals, shipping companies and many operators have been exemplary. We have had discussions with the National Drag Law Enforcement Agency, Nigeria Customs Service, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration Control and many others who have one thing or the other to do at the ports. The issue is do it as it is based on international acceptability. Do it on time so that our ports will be efficient. So, it is about efficiency of the ports, reduction of corruption. We have made some arrests on the issue. We are taking one issue at a time even though it is holistic, take for example of boarding of vessels. Boarding of vessels should be done by specified agencies. So we have stopped some agencies from boarding vessels. There should be joint boarding. Before now agencies board at separate time. But we have been able to get them to board the vessel jointly, then the time allocated. It will not be more than 30 minutes we are out of the ship because delay is dangerous. What we are waiting for now is continued coordination of this and again we are grateful to Nigerian Ports Authority for providing the necessary machinery so that we have joint boarding . We are also grateful to the Nigeria Customs for cooperating with us because Customs in their law, they could go and board the vessel separately, but they have in the spirit of cooperation agreed to do it jointly. We have Port Health also working with us and some agencies. So far, we are trying to reduce the time. We have made arrests for people who go into vessels and demand bribe. We are investigating the issue. We have seized some money and this will be an example to everybody that things have changed now. This is to send signals that it is not business as usual. What we want is validation from stakeholders internationally to know something is happening in Nigeria.
You talked about some agencies that have been stopped from boarding vessels, which of these agencies?
The agencies that are to board vessels are Port Health (which can board separately because they will be the first to go and check health status), Nigeria Customs, Nigeria Immigration, NDLEA. They will go jointly. We assemble at 8.30am and go by 9am – 9.30 am we are out of the place because of delay. Then, we monitor that nobody should demand bribe or anything because there are the unhidden charges that make Nigerian shipping very costly, even the freight.
Can you talk about the changes brought about by NPPM following your involvement as the agency in this national assignment?
The changes are palpable. You know what changes we want is before masters or owners of the ship or charterers are apprehensive because of serious demands, serious delays. If we conquer that, that means the cost of shipping will be reduced. Secondly, the turnaround time for ships will be reduced because we will not delay any ship from coming. There are SOPs that is what we want so that Nigerian ports will be in competition with other ports in the world.
You equally talked about challenges in carrying out the national assignment , can you identify them sir?
The challenges we have are funds because this is an additional function Nigeria Shippers Council has been saddled with. We are doing it within our own, but we also need logistics. We are talking with the Customs to give us vehicles as auction. We talk to our parents Ministry of Transportation that is the one responsible for the assignment we have been saddled with. Secondly, we need the cooperation of everybody. Some of the shipping companies and others have cooperated. We need them to do more on this.
We understand that very soon, the Cargo Tracking Note (CTN) will take off, how soon sir?
The soon is that we are going to procurement process. All these things will have to be in accordance with the procurement process Act. Once we do that, the Minister will roll it out after approval from the Federal Executive Council (FEC).
Has the Council been able to meet the stakeholders again on the planned return of CTN?
We have talked with stakeholders. We were operating the CTN until by previous action by other agencies CTN became a subject of investigation by EFCC. We had no option than to stop. Investigation is over now, EFCC said we can go ahead and that is why we got the presidential approval to do that. Soon, we roll out, we sensitise the shipping companies, the shippers , the terminals, freight forwarders and all the important stakeholders. You know the Shippers Council is a stakeholders sensitive organisation.
Can you talk about the expected changes in the ports once CTN is re-introduced?
ICTN will bring changes in four important places. No 1, it will stop the revenue leakages in the industry. Nigeria is losing a lot of money. Now Nigeria needs revenue now more than ever before and we have to do that because we are going to block under-declarations of cargo, we are going to block concealment of cargo. We are going to make sure that all revenues are paid and the CTN gives the information. We stop discretion and go by the books that is what CTN will do on revenue. Not only the revenue which is to be generated by the customs, the NPA revenue will also go up so also NIMASA because declarations of the tonnage of the ships will not be discretional again. And also manifest is not going to be discretional. All these things are standard things. Secondly, the issue of security is very very important, there is nothing that will be imported into the country without Nigerians knowing what it is. We know the value, the weight, the destination, the date of manufacture almost everything and there is no shipping document that can reveal this except the ICTN. So, we are free from a difference of ‘said to contain’ which is the principle set to contain in the container – neither the master knows nor the carrier or even the shipper will say this is what it contains, but it is said to contain – that means you are relying only on the information given. I am happy the Customs will be very happy with it, security organisations will be very happy with it. And this is one of the information we send to the National Security Adviser (NSA) ‘said to contain’ – now we know what the containers contains. So that we take necessary actions to stop illegal trade in arms. For example, any dangerous cargo or prohibited cargo could be done away with because we know what is coming. Thirdly, and that is where shippers council is so proud. It will give veritable, rich source of data. We know whatever comes, we know what earnings we have made. So we can make projections. So that we know that because of our imports or exports we need to build a port, we need to build an infrastructure so this will be meant for development planning. It is very important that we have the African Development Free Trade Agreement that we know what comes so that we can use the data to plan, define and also announce Nigeria’s economic ambitions.
What is the latest on the planned out of court settlement between the Council and the shipping companies on the shipping charges case?
Some of the shipping companies are trying to settle out of the court. The Attorney General of the Federation is leading that together with the Ministry of Transportation. Offers and counter offers have been made and we think this settlement will be done soon. That is only one shipping company – Maersk – that has opted to do. Others have made offers but we have not gone into concrete negotiations.
The Council recently held meetings with the barge operators where you stressed the need for them to register, how have others embraced this?
Many stakeholders are registering now. There have been registration but I am not satisfied with it. There is about 40 percent registration. I need to push the registration to 80-90 percent. All the regulated services are the ones involved in registration. Such registration is contained in the law. They include shipping companies, shippers and freight forwarding companies should register with the Shippers Council.
What does it really take to register with the Council?
Nothing except that some people are suffering from inertia but there are also sanctions if you don’t register. First of all such companies will not benefit from services offered by the Shippers Council and they are considerable. Secondly, you have to know your customer basis (KYC) .