Hassan Bello: Epitome of Humility, Astute Economic Reformer
Executive Secretary/CEO, Nigerian Shippers Council, Barrister Hassan Bello
BY FRANCS EZEM
When in 2014, the Federal Government decided to appoint Barrister Hassan Bello, the Executive Secretary/Chief Executive officer of the Nigerian Shippers Council, many maritime stakeholders including the media thought the government had made a wrong choice. This is given his soft-spoken nature and gentle disposition to issues. The stakeholders may also have viewed government’s choice from the point of view of the other director of the council, both of who vied for the job.
It was not long after his appointment that many stakeholders, who interacted with him closely, began to see that behind his soft-spoken nature and gentle mien lies very high acumen of an astute economic reformer and humility personified.
Everything around him both within and outside the office environment including public functions tells anyone meeting him for the first time, who is also familiar with the Nigerian political and business environment that this man is indeed humble. In an environment where CEOs of Federal Government agencies move in long convoy of vehicles, loud sirens and maintain a harem of personal aides, this exceptional and highly detribalised Nigerian has chosen to remain humble, simple and different.
Little wonder he has achieved so much within a short time both in the council’s traditional role of protecting the cargo interest of the shippers (importers and exporters) as well as its new function as the Economic Regulator of the nation’s seaports. The Council under his watch, especially as a regulator and a moderator, has earned its pride of place, as it was before now tagged a ‘toothless bulldog’. His gentle but firm approach towards ensuring that the right things must be done at the right time has given rise to series of court cases and being a lawyer, the council has always emerged victorious. As a moderator, the council under his watch has also insisted on creating a level playing field for all stakeholders whether service providers or users of shipping services. In line with this principle, Bello has always restated the commitment of the council towards the protection of the massive investments of the terminal operators, which he said have brought about a lot of efficiency at the ports.
In a recent interview, he said: “There is no denying the fact that terminal operators have made massive investments and so as a regulator, it is part of our responsibility to protect their investments by ensuring equity and fair play at all times. It is our desire that the government would maintain consistent and predictable policy framework that would create the right environment for them to recoup their investment”.
As a seasoned manager and administrator, Bello applies the carrot and stick principle in regulating the industry. This principle is most typified in the stakeholders’ appreciation night, which is an annual event, instituted by the Bello-led management team, where the council gathers all relevant stakeholders including terminal operators, shipping companies and agencies, freight forwarders and even the media to appreciate them. It is on record that some operators, especially shipping service providers, who for one reason of wrong doing received knocks from the council are also given awards and special recognitions at the stakeholders for certain things they also did right. This is an indication that as soon as you play the game by the rule the council will continue to appreciate you.
Shippers Council under Bello is currently promoting the emergence of a new port order characterised by efficiency, reduced cost of operation, reduction in cargo dwell time and turnaround time of ships that call at the nation’s seaports. To this effect, the Council under his watch has created several new and lofty programmes, one of which is the Standards Operating Procedure SOP.
The SOP, which was officially launched by the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, is a comprehensive code of operating ethics for all port institutions and stakeholders comprising government and regulatory agencies, terminal operators, shipping companies, shippers and even freight forwarders, among several others.
This harmonised code of conduct incorporates the Port Service Support Portal, PSSP, which is also an information platform where any agency, importer, exporter or other individuals can lodge their complaints for the attention of the port regulator.
It was in realisation of the huge benefits of these schemes that the Vice President while launching them; said the harmonised operating standards for the agencies of government in the ports industry will drive economic growth in Nigeria.
According to him: “The benefits will also lead to more efficient port administration and ease of doing business in the country, adding that improved procedure in the ports was necessary as it will make trade easy in the country”.
Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, who also spoke at the event, said that the idea of drafting, adoption and harmonising the operating procedures of port operations was to enhance transparency and accountability. This, he said, will ensure the achievement of user friendly business environment in the ports for greater economic performance.
“The SOP is generally regarded as a work reference guide that informs the general public on the process map of each port agency and operator. It will thus guide customers on what to expect at the ports and what they need to do to receive quality services. It helps to establish operational standards, fosters accountability and thus will serve as a corruption prevention tool”, he said.
The Nigerian Shippers Council under Bello’s watch is reputed for the introduction of the Truck Transit Park TTPs project in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Transport, through which it intends to address the chaotic traffic situation on the nation’s major highways as part of efforts to reduce carnage and also facilitate trade. The TTPs project, which is being cited in the six geo-political zones of the country, especially Lokoja, Kogi State, Obollo-Afor in Enugu State, Ogere in Ogun State, Jebba in Kwara State and Porto Novo Creek in Lagos, is a place where trucks and their drivers congregate while they are on transit in the course of moving cargo from one point to the other. Such facilities would be equipped with hotel and other lodging facilities, recreational places, clinics, barber shops and other related place where truck drivers could make a stop for a time before continuing on their journey to avoid fatigue that could lead to accidents.
Available records show that less than six months after the official launch of the project being implemented in conjunction with financial institutions and the Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC, no fewer than seven state governments have already keyed into it.
Bello has also added more impetus to the Inland Dry Port IDP, project of the council, many of which were almost comatose. Through Bello’s constructive engagement with the Governors of the hosting states, all the IDPs now have Certificate of Occupancy, except probably for the one in Maiduguri due to security reasons.
The drafting and signing of a new concession agreement guided by the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission ICRC with the five concessionaires of the IDPs, has given a fresh breath of life to the project, which was nearly moribund. The recent full takeoff of the Kaduna and Jos IDPs, is a testimony for this ingenuity.
In concluding this piece, it has to be stated clearly that it is entirely based on personal observations of the writer. It is neither based on any interest nor to praise sing for pecuniary reasons far from it. But it is rather to put these personal observations on record, which underscores the fact there are still decent Nigerians even in a seemingly perverted society such as ours of today.