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

The Nigerian Shippers’ Council NSC, late last year hosted the business community in Nigeria to a breakfast meeting in Lagos. The theme of the meeting was “Financing Transport Infrastructure” with emphasis on the Inland Dry Ports and Truck Transit Parks, both of which are pet projects of the council. In this interview with our Correspondent, Executive Secretary/CEO of the NSC, Barrister Hassan says the primary purpose of that meeting was to seek private sector funding for transport infrastructure in order to remove the trucks from the seaport access roads and other highways.

 2017 marked Shippers Council’s fourth year as Economic Regulator of the Ports. How has the journey been so far?

The journey has been interesting though we were also faced with internal and external challenges. The Council came into the proper picture eight years after port concessions were concluded. Before then, there was no referee and no regulator in the system and everybody was doing what he or she wanted.

Eight months after the council was appointed the Economic Regulator for the industry, there was some resistance. However, through diplomacy, we have been able to make people abide by the rule of engagement because regulation is not strangulation. Regulation ensures orderliness from which everyone would benefit including the economy.

For everything the council puts on the ground in terms of the transit parks, dry ports and others, our aim is to have a positive effect on the economy.  The Minister of Transport is so keen on the economic impact of the entire infrastructure and we are trying to change the way things are done in Nigerian ports. Apart from these challenges, I have also enjoyed good will and cooperation from the members of staff of the council, Ministry of Transportation and even the media that have constantly put us on our toes. So far it is a good experience.

Many of the trucks that operate at the seaports are in very poor condition. What is Shippers Council doing to address this?

We are carrying out reforms, part of which is to re-fleeting of the trucks. We are currently working with National Automotive Council to enable the truckers secure loan facilities to begin expand their fleet. In all of this, we are working with the National Association of Truck Owners NATO, Association of Maritime Truck Owners AMATO. and all other trucking associations. From the onset, we told them that the aim is to take them off the road because we do not want to meet resistance when the truck transit parks become operational. Even this breakfast meeting, they are also expected to attend. It is not going to be only re-fleeting, we must have truck companies that must have a minimum of six trucks and share capital, communication equipment, offices, tracking devices etc before they can be certified as trucking companies.

But, the truckers have also argued that there is no need for re-fleeting when they roads are bad. This is why we are waiting for the completion of the various road projects Apapa and other areas. These are parts of what we are doing and we are talking with them, but re-fleeting is a must.

We are also talking with the tank farm owners in order to bring them into the Truck Transit Project TTP. But we have also been reminded that this might not stand the test of time because Nigeria cannot continue to depend on the importation of refined petroleum products and should therefore be building our own new refineries in addition to making the existing ones to work. Secondly, there is one mode of transport, which is pipeline and is as effective as the road to move petroleum products. But the TTP at the Porto Novo Creek is specially designed to cater for the petroleum tankers.

Recently, we observed that some shipping companies introduced new charges, which implies addition cost on cargo owners. What is your take on this sir?

When there seems to be some disorder in any system, people tend to take undue advantage of that. The road issue has really brought much problem and distractions. We have met with the shipping companies over three times but they said that the charges they introduced are not new because they are called recovery charge, which came after the Nigerian Ports Authority NPA, increased its shipping charges.

This is a reaction to NPA’s charges but that does not mean we cannot do anything on charges but we are working with the NPA, shipping companies and other stakeholders to streamline these charges. Very soon we are going to announce uniform charges for everyone to know but we want the people to be patient with us.  No agency or service provider has the right to increase charges but as I said earlier, the port is a reflection of so many things happening in the economy.

Recently, we also had a meeting with the terminal operators and another issue came up. Terminal operators have improved efficiency because they had made some reasonable investments but how efficient can a terminal be when the roads are bad? So, you cannot blame anybody. Sometimes, the charges are because the cost of duty is high, and people go to Cotonou to take delivery of their consignments to avoid the payment of high import duties.

The council has developed an intelligent traffic management system, which we have handed over to the NPA. On a daily basis, we have 5, 300 trucks visiting Apapa metropolis whereas there should only be 1, 500 trucks if there would be unhindered access and mobility.  This is wrong for the port environment. There must be a call-up system and modern traffic management system that would tell trucks when they are expected to come to the port for business. These are going to be championed by the NPA but they are the ideas of the council.

You talked about the state of the roads in Apapa. What should stakeholders expect when the road construction is completed?

If the roads are in order and we have modern traffic management systems, then our ports will be more efficient. The shipping companies must be alive to their responsibilities. We need to have alternative ports, IDPs, TTPs and River Ports. Then, we would see seamless operations in the ports. Transportation drives the economy including the oil and gas such that without transportation, there would be no oil as well as import and export.

Apapa Port has really served its purpose. However, I am not saying that the port should be closed but honestly we have to move on because currently this is like milking the cow until it dies. The port, roads and Apapa metropolis have served their purpose.

In the Malaysian ports, the roads are exclusively for the port such that trailers and trucks have their exclusive roads different from the roads for cars. They also have functional trains and barges using the inland waterway.

If we have deep seaports with 18-metre draft, it means that bigger ships would come and by economy of scale it means that Nigeria would be the hub for other West African countries. We maintain Apapa Port through capital and maintenance dredging, but deep seaports are natural ports and in Lekki, the deep seaport has 18 meters depth without dredging. This means bigger ships would be bringing varieties of goods for Nigerians and neighbouring countries. By implication, we would have more tonnage, more revenue and more employment for Nigerians.

What really transpired at the stakeholders’ breakfast meeting?

Yes, we in the Nigerian Shippers Council NSC, under the auspices of the Federal Ministry of Transportation brought together players from different areas in the global business community. The theme of the meeting was “Financing Transport Infrastructure: Inland Dry Ports and Truck Transit Parks.” At that meeting, we tried to to market certain projects to investors, lenders, shareholders and regulators among others.

First, we have the Truck Transit Park (TTP) project, which has become necessary because we want to take trucks out of the highway. This is because parking indiscriminately on the road entails higher cost of transportation due to delays in delivery of goods to the owners. This also results in highway accidents occasioned by fatigue; loss of drivers’ lives and destruction of the goods.

In Nigeria, road transportation accounts for over 80 per cent for the movement of cargo including very heavy cargo meant for the Inland Dry Ports. What is your take on this?

Yes, about 80 per cent of all the laden cargo are also destined for cities such as Aba, Nnewi, Onitsha, Sokoto, Yola and Maiduguri. Therefore, we need to establish modern transport infrastructure such as Truck Transit Parks. This is nothing but a facility off the highway where trucks must park instead of allowing them to park on the roads indiscriminately. These are modern facilities and it would not only be about building infrastructure but these parks must be operated electronically. There would be chips on trucks to monitor their activities wherever they go.

Within the transit parks, there would be spaces for trucks, cars and luxury buses. There would be hotels, hostels, showers, recreational facilities, shops, quality restaurants, gas stations, fire stations, clinics and modern mechanic garages etc. Each of the parks is going to be standing on 40 acres of land. The idea is that the trucks must park there because Shippers Council is attracting investors and the facilities must be used. That is why enforcement is very important and we must bring in sanity so that the investors would make returns.

Already, we have signed a Memorandum of Understanding MoU with the Federal Road Safety Corps FRSC, whose duty would be to ensure that trucks do not park indiscriminately on the road. Though, with the chips on the trucks, it will send a signal anytime transit truck parks outside the TTP.  We have secured land in Obolo-Afor in Enugu State and Lokoja, Kogi State for the transit park.  However, we are also looking at places like Kano, Porto Novo Creek and Oghere in Ogun State.


For the meeting, we had three important agencies that came and they are Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission ICRC; the Federal Road Safety Corps and the Nigerian Stock Exchange NSE.  We also had in attendance lenders, insurance companies, whose responsibility would include insuring goods on transit because the council would be providing the legal framework to back-up the plans.

Representatives of the African Development Bank (AfDB); Economic Community of West African State ECOWAS Bank; Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority; the Infrastructure Bank; NEXIM Bank and Pension Fund. We also had some individual entrepreneurs like Dangote, BUA, Ifesinachi, Chisco, Ezenwata etc. What the Council has done is to start the process of getting the transaction adviser for the TTP project. We have advertised and many people have put in entries. The transaction advisers will do all the financials and would be in a position to advise the Council.

How would this transport infrastructure benefit Nigeria’s economy?

In addition to making Nigeria become a modern and organised country in terms of transport infrastructure, the projects would create employment for our youths. In terms of job creation, we are looking at creating over 3,000 direct and another 3,000 indirect employment because all the amenities within the transit parks would have people who would be employed to work in them.

The facility is also expected to create revenue for not only for the investors but also for the host states. Also, they will enhance the tracking of all goods taken from the ports and this would ensure timely delivery of goods without delays and damage.

What potential benefits would the Inland Dry Ports (IDPs) have on the economy?

During the meeting, we are also going to talk about the Inland Dry Ports (IDPs) because we need more investment in that area. We have the Kaduna Inland Dry Port, which has become functional and cargoes are being taken from the ports to the dry port in Kaduna, but there is one other area that is being perfected for the port to operate electronically. However, it is going to be commissioned this December.

In Jos Dry Port, construction work is ongoing and the last time we checked, it was at 65 percent completion. The main problem we are facing in Jos is the railway siding into the port but the Minister of Transportation is communicating with General Electric, NSC, Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) to see what would be done in that regard. In the Isiala-ngwa Dry Port, by December they would start construction and we have given them just 18 months to deliver the port. We have to make these inland ports centres for export especially for agricultural products.

The IDPs are going to be game changers because our concern is to focus on the export trade. Nigeria cannot continue to be an import dependent country so we have to start exporting our products to earn foreign exchange. Currently, we have a lot of containers leaving Nigeria empty due to low volume of export. Kaduna state has the best ginger in the whole world, but as it is, we cannot even satisfy the small percentage of the market. The problem of transportation from Kaduna to the seaport damages some portions of ginger. So, the chain must be improved and ginger must be brought to the Kaduna Dry port for express transfer to the seaports.

There should be a cluster of industries whose duty would be to process, package and export products. We are hoping to have a two day summit to concentrate on five key issues including trade across border, infrastructure for export, and the need for refrigerated warehouses.

The economic importance of executing the TTP and IDP projects are enormous. TTP is also for delivery of goods, creating employment and supporting the economy.

Now we are in 2018, what would you say the council achieved in the outgone 2017?

The year has fared very well except for two issues that somehow affected the industry. First was the recession, otherwise the efficiency at the ports was beginning to improve. Secondly, we had had the issue of roads in Apapa, which came and messed-up everybody. The port is supposed to be connected with more than one mode of transport including rail, inland water and pipeline but here we depend solely on the road. However, the Federal Government is addressing that now and all these would soon be a thing of the past.

What should the stakeholders expect in the short and medium term?

In the medium term, we hope that the cargo manifest would be received by parties involved in cargo clearance even before the ships arrive. We are working with the Ministry of Transportation to ensure that this happens and this will minimise delays. With the Standard Operating Procedure, there would be infusion of technology at the port and there would be regulariSation of Customs procedure and the Ease of Doing Business at the port would improve tremendously with the attendant reduction in cost.