The President of Shippers Association, Lagos State (SALS) Rev. Jonathan Nicole, in this interview with our correspondent, Babalola Yusuf, explains that the association plans to host a conference on what he called a new port order. He also speaks on the appointment of Nigerian Shippers’ Council as interim port economic regulator, among other issues. Read on.
What role are you expecting the Nigerian Shippers’ Council to play in your program on the new port order?
The Nigerian Shippers’ Council is expected to play an important role in forming a new port order in our port because for a long time now the maritime industry has gone through a lot of processes, and we should have been having more modern ports than what we have today. But the challenges are so enormous because there was no economic regulator and people were doing what they liked, therefore, the progress was slow.
So, the Nigerian Shippers have gone through all the bad weather and we felt it is high time we came together as a unit to fight for ourselves.
We believe the pride of any country is the seaport and we want to keep that flag flying.
What should we expect from this order?
It is an order that the Nigerian ports will be fully automated and when it is, you will hardly see human traffic or see trucks lining up to load consignments because when truckers have something to load, you only need a pass and do not need any human being to attend to the trucks, so, everything will be automated.
We are all looking at a situation that from Mile 2 to the port, there will be no vehicle coming into the port; it will be exclusively for the Nigerian ports service. Though it is a herculean task, but it is achievable because we never had a monitoring unit on the movement of vehicles entering Apapa, the port access road has been turned into something else.
Ordinarily, the port (access road) ought to be a private road for only those who have business to do in the port, not that there is traffic in one place and because you want to cut it, you should pass through Apapa to beat the traffic. So, this is a very elaborate program we intend to hold so that everybody will be involved. We want to see a maritime family where everybody in the industry will be cared for. There are a lot of agencies in the sector that should be properly taken care of and everyone will at the end of the day be proud to say I work in the maritime sector. This is one of the dreams of the shippers.
Another dream is that, we should be in our homes and clear our goods and not pass through queries and snubs along the line. We believe queries will stop because with time, people will be enlightened.
With the archaic clearing system in operation at the port, do you think the new port order is achievable?
All the problems in the ports are created by man because they want to be rich overnight and that brings about rules that are not workable. And because the rules that we have in the industry had never worked, we have to generate a new concept and we will also generate money by doing things right. A situation of doing things right will be dawned in the maritime industry, so the industry will be well organised.
How are we sure the outcome of your planned conference will be implemented by the government?
Before some of us come out to speak, we are sure that we have a President that listens and understands what we are talking about. We don’t have any other profession other than the sea and as mariners we love working on top of the waters and if we say this is what we are doing, the President will buy it. Besides, we are looking beyond Lagos port, we are looking at Warri port, we call for a new port order in Sapele port, because the draft in Sapele port is deeper and it can receive bigger vessels, so we hope it works out.
The government will listen because we (Shippers) put forward our proposal and we let them know that they will also make more revenue if this vision is achieved. Revenue will not fizzle out neither will they be shortchanged, because the more cargoes we have the more government will make money, and when you have a prudent management, you will be comfortable, and everyone will.
How do shippers council come into this, do they have the capacity to implement the port order?
The Shippers’ Council is inheriting the decay and they know that it has eaten deep into the system. They will lay down a platform, they will tell us how we will go about the port order, and everybody wants to be proud and wants to be a stakeholder in this particular transaction. Shippers’ Council as far as I know, will work though they may have limitations which we all know.
Government appointed the Nigeria Shippers’ Council as port regulator but did not give it the enabling power to regulate, so how can we ask them to perform wonders. Therefore, we are asking government to regulate it properly by giving enabling power to it for their job to be done. When it has this power, it can prosecute offenders and put a whole lot of things right. The Shippers’ Council wants to do that, but it needs the whole law put in place for it.
So far, can you say the Shippers’ Council perform better as economic regulator?
We all know that there are too many sectors that make up the components called the maritime industry. We have the freight forwarders, shipping companies, terminal operators, transporters, shippers association and NSC have consulted with all these bodies. We should also not forget that the Shippers’ Council is trying to build a structure that the government will be proud of. So shippers’ council is making a lot of cross-country negotiations with satellite bodies involved in the maritime trade.
Can we say FG not giving Shippers’ Council power to regulate is the reason it has not done well?
Yes, it is one of the major reasons. Another is that it is not funded. If you want to build a vibrant atmosphere as far as we are concerned in Nigeria, you need funds to move around, call meetings, take care of those involved. The responsibility they are given now is five times what they were doing before and they are not funded.
It becomes a problem because they cannot function well. It is like saying, be a captain of a car and there is no petrol or water in the radiator, how do you think the car will function? So, right now, they are working on a very tight rope and the government is not helping matters. I don’t know why, maybe they have their reasons because we all know how government operates. Maybe it will take them time before they say okay we are releasing funds to you. And there are people who do not want the Shippers Council to be the port regulator; they will prefer a private company to come in, and I don’t understand why they would want to reap where they have not sowed. So, we have two key issues here; they are not funded, and they have no law to back them to do what they should do. These two issues must be put in place for the NSC and they will do well.
Since the beginning of PAAR, have there been changes in the clearing procedures?
I will say yes and no. The reason I will say yes is that PAAR is supporting a particular type of consignment; Customs picked certain companies that have over the years been upright in declaration and the PAAR of those companies do not delay, and my company is one of them. So I know that PAAR will solve valuation problem in Nigeria Customs and when that is solved, it means you can clear your goods today, pay your duty today and in less than five hours you can get your goods out of the ports, not even 48 hours when queries stop you. Pay your charges and by the time the bottlenecks are narrowed down, you see that you can clear your cargo between 10 to 14 hours and not 48 hours.
When this is achieved, we should be able to get up to six hundred containers out of the ports every day, and that is our target.
The roads outside the ports are in bad shape; don’t you think this is another impediment?
The road outside the ports is a different discussion, we are looking at activities in the ports, and now, we are looking at how trucks will come in, and we are having the beautiful roads that will make coming to the port stress-free without having a Policeman, Navy and other security officers that the driver have to tip; they go to the gate and the gateman will open the gate and load the truck in ten minutes and the truck is out. So, you won’t have a long line of trucks at the port, when there are 50 trucks and they are loaded and out of the terminals there won’t be problem.
Our roads are destroyed because we have more than 50, 40 tons trucks parked on a particular spot and we should not forget that the mother earth have feelings like us, and when it cannot accommodate that stress anymore there will be a tilt and the road will be bad.
What is the relationship between Lagos shippers association and other ones in the other parts of the country, and how come we are not hearing from them?
Yes, we are supposed to have 36 chapters of shippers association, including Abuja, and we must not forget that we can do this job only if we have jobs to do. We have no jobs to do; Warri port is dormant for several years now, so what do we expect the shippers association there to do? Port Hacourt port, well, maybe that should be more dynamic, but we talk less when things are more organised, that is for Port Hacourt; in a situation where everyone is happy, we talk less.
Calabar port is like a football field and if we look at the ICD’s in the north, how many of them are functional from Ibadan? Do you set up association with no job to do, not forgetting that to run an association is not a child’s play? You have to pay your staff, even in Lagos we find it difficult, and don’t forget that members are going through harrowing experiences to clear their cargoes and they are solving their problems themselves. They don’t need the association, but if all the associations in the states are functional by now, they would have metamorphosed in to a federation of shippers’ association. We will come together to form that, where we look at MAN, NACIMMA, LCCI, but now, everyone is segmented, so we want to bring them together.
We should not forget that the United Nations authorised the formation of shippers association and it is supposed to be part of the government, but cleverly, government said it is a private association. But we all know that the association must be funded because it is the creation of the government. But we will try to build them up. Kano has an air cargo section and we will build the place through that and we look at Lokoja that is supposed to be a traditional point, and Onitsha, that is supposed to be a transit point from the North to the East and that is if the rails are working.