In a rather unique manner, the Nigerian Shippers Council has in the last four years through its stakeholders’ appreciation night fostered synergy in the industry by endearing itself to port service providers and users. This has also made regulation and compliance much easier, reports Francis Ezem.

Executive Secretary/CEO, Nigerian Shippers Council, Barrister Hassan Bello

When the Nigerian Shippers Council, the country’s economic regulator for the port industry held the maiden edition of its Stakeholders’ Appreciation Night in December 2016, many thought it was some form of jamboree where nice wines and encomiums are poured freely. Many also wondered why a Federal Government agency with all the powers to wield the big stick should be romancing the same stakeholders it was supposed to beat into lines and invoke heavy sanctions whenever it pleases. Four years down the line, it has become clear to all, even to the worst cynics that the best way to regulate a system or sector is not to instil fear rather to get the stakeholders to buy into your regulatory visions. This is by convincing them that it is better to comply with trade standard operating rules than being hounded down with sanctions, which has paid off.

This is also given that Nigeria remains one of those business climes where most government regulatory agencies emphasise punishments, sanctions as against prevention of offences or crimes, the Nigerian Shippers Council, the country’s port economic regulator has through this unique way stemmed the tide of flagrant disobedience to trade rules and regulations.

The primary aim of this annual stakeholders’ gathering which has been institutionalised by the council is to promote synergy towards addressing the myriads of challenges faced by the industry. Little wonder it has also over the period provided a platform for the cross fertilisation of ideas by policy makers and industry operators, as top government functionaries such as the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Minister of Finance, State Governors or their representatives have been in attendance at one time or the order. This is in addition to the Minister of Transport, who has remained the Chief Host of the event.

Similarly, stakeholders from across the entire spectrum of maritime and shipping including trade groups, shipping companies, seaports/off dock terminal operators, freight forwarders, shippers, cargo consolidators, Institute of Chartered Ship Brokers, members of the Nigeria Economic Summit Group, among others have had to be in attendance. Similarly, past Chief Executive Officers of the Council have also attended the event over time. Also, heads of other maritime agencies including the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency NIMASA, the Nigerian Ports Authority NPA and the National Inland Waterways Authority NIWA, etc. have always been in attendance.

While speaking at one of the editions of the event, Executive Secretary/CEO of the Council, Barrister Hassan Bello reiterated his usual belief that synergy among the various operators would address the myriads of challenges currently confronting the shipping industry in Nigeria.

He said there was urgent need for every segment of the industry whether public or private sector to cooperate and collaborate with one another in the overall interest of Nigeria’s economy.

According to him, as a commercial regulator, the council is placed at a vantage position to look at issues holistically, which accounts for why it relates with all the operators comprising the terminal operators, shipping companies and their agents, freight forwarders, consolidators and insurance companies, among several others.

Bello, who pledged that the council will continue to strive to provide a level playing field for all operators with a view to maximally utilising the potential of the shipping industry to the benefit of the Nigerian people and the economy, also assured of prompt response to issues.

“There is need for synergy among the operators including the government agencies and that is part of the reason why we came up with this stakeholders’ appreciation night in line with our policy of continuous stakeholders’ engagement.

 “As a regulator, we are at a vintage position to look at issues more holistically and that is why we always interface with terminal operators, consolidators, and insurance companies, shipping companies, shipping agent, freight forwarders and even the maritime media. We have the vantage position to maximise the potential of the industry and provide level playing field for all stakeholders and to protect their investments”, he also said.

Bello told stakeholders at the well- attended event that apart from being a regulator, the council is also a trade facilitator, which accounts for why it has partnerships with other government agencies including the Central Bank of Nigeria CBN, Nigeria Customs Service and the Federal Road Safety Corps FRSC, among several others, with which it signed a Memorandum of Understanding MoU on the strict enforcement of traffic regulations around the port environment.  

He also noted that the council is desirous of being in touch with every segment of the industry, which reinforces the urgent need for synergy among all and therefore enjoined them to cooperate with the council and other relevant government agencies in the industry in their quest to install a regime of integrated transport system in the industry.

Minister of Transport, Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi

Minister of Transport, Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi, while speaking at the event, commended the council for fostering cohesion among the stakeholders, which he argued, is key to achieving the Federal Government economic objectives as they relate to the shipping industry.

According to him, the stakeholders’ engagement by the council remains a positive initiative by the council, which will bring about mutual respect in the mediatory role played by the council as an economic regulator.

The Minister, who pledged the commitment of the Federal Ministry of Transport to always incentivise the private sector operators, however charged them to channel their complaints and grievances if any to the appropriate agencies rather than apply unconventional means to address such issues.

In order to enhance international best practice, the Council in one of the editions of the event gave awards to best compliant shipping companies, terminal operators as part of efforts to encourage them to do more and also challenge some recalcitrant ones, which has paid off, as this has engendered the spirit of competitiveness among the stakeholders in terms of being compliant.

Just like in every human society, where there must be deviants no matter what you do to avoid that, there have also been stakeholders who at one time or the other gone contrary to the rules and the council did not hesitate to wield the big stick.

For instance, Cosco Shipping was made the see the other side of the council when a combined team of officials of the council and operatives from the Police Mobile Force had to seal off its Apapa head office over a disputed N3.5million demurrage overbilling imposed Sunflag Nigeria Limited, a steel firm operating in the country. This is one of the several cases where the council was left with the only option of demonstrating that it can both bark and bite.

Stakeholders, who spoke with BUSINESS AND TRANSPORT on the four-year assessment of the council’s stakeholders’ night believe it has both fostered synergy and enhanced strict compliance with trade rules, thus promoting trade facilitation.

Chairman, the Nigerian Port Consultative Council PCC, a private-sector advisory body for the port industry, Otunba Kunle Folarin, who spoke in a telephone interview, noted that the council has done very well in its overall regulatory mandates, saying that the stakeholders’ night remains a master stroke to promoting synergy and enforcing compliance among stakeholders.

He also cited several other giant strides by the council; including the Inland Dry Port IDP, the Standards Operating Procedure SOP and the Truck Transit Parks TTPs, which have helped to reduce pressure both on the roads and the conventional seaports, especially those in Lagos and by so doing minimised incidences of congestion.

“Shippers Council has also curtailed some of the excesses of some terminal operators and shipping companies in terms of imposing arbitrary charges and thus making our ports more user-friendly. I think generally, they are doing very well so I give them a pass mark”, Otunba Folarin also said.

President of Nigerian Institute of Freight Forwarders NIFF, Dr Zeb Ikokide, who also spoke in a telephone interview, commended the CEO of the council, Bello urged the council to continue with such laudable initiatives. He therefore urged that issues derived from the annual stakeholders engagement should be used to develop other policies for the good of the industry.

As the council inches up into the 5th edition of the stakeholder event, which has also created industrial harmony, it is expected that the tradition should continue so that Nigeria’s seaports would be more globally competitive.