For sometime now there has been serious agitation by stakeholders for the Federal Government to come up with a commercial regulator for the nation’s port industry.
The agitation is hinged on the opinion that there has been no appropriate pricing system in the port industry, adding that a commercial regulator will to large extent address issue of price discrimination in the industry, since the regulator will come up with yardsticks to determine what is chargeable.
It is to be noted that a large chunk of stakeholders in the industry are favourably disposed to the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) being named as the commercial regulator.
Those supporting the NSC to be named as the commercial regulator are of the view that the NSC will perform better given its present role, which is mainly to protect the interests of Nigerian importers and exporters.
The NSC in turn has been pushing this move vigorously in any forum through its Executive Secretary/ Chief Executive Officer, Capt. Adamu Biu, who is at the vanguard of ensuring that the council becomes the commercial regulator for the industry.
Apart from the NSC, a sizeable number of stakeholders are pushing for the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to become the commercial regulator.
Those opposing the suggestion of the NPA to become the commercial regulator are of the view that the NPA is already a technical regulator, and, under the present arrangement of port concession that transferred cargo handling operations to private terminal operators, otherwise called concessionaires, the NPA is seen as a landlord, and that someone cannot be a landlord and still regulate itself.
And taking a swipe at suggestions of either the NSC or the NPA becoming the commercial regulator, factional National President of the National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Mr. Lucky Eyis Amiwero, said that neither the NPA nor the NSC is fit to become the commercial regulator for the port industry.
Amiwero’s position is seen as a deviation from the other opinions, because, in place of the NPA and the NSC, the frontline freight forwarder has suggested the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).
The NCMDLCA boss, who stated this in a chat with journalists, said that NIMASA is better positioned to perform the role of a commercial regulator considering its present roles in the meriting industry.
According Amiwero: “In the whole maritime agencies, NIMASA should have been better to handle it, because, when you are talking about an independent regulator, NIMASA actually acts as an umpire to do that work. And when you look at their legislation, NIMASA is better focused to do that than any other agency. For instance, NPA cannot regulate itself. Shippers’ Council can only regulate nothing but shippers. There is no where in the world where shippers’ councils are involved in regulation; they don’t have what is takes to carry out regulation. NIMASA has what it takes, because they have been technical regulator to the industry. And when you look at their law, their law is very clear, their law actually extends to shipping. And they are the people who can register terminal operators. And when you go to places like America, the terminal operators are under MARA, and that is what NIMASA is supposed to do. And NIMASA has the competent staff to handle it, not NPA or Shippers’ Council.”
A number of stakeholders have ruled out Amiwero’s suggestion on the basis of not only that it is an unpopular opinion, but that NIMASA has not been able to execute its current brief, therefore adding another will amount to belabouring the organisation.
Even as Amiwero was yet done with his argument, the National President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Prince Olayiwola Shittu, added another twist to the issue when he said at a function in Lagos that officials of the Federal Ministry of Transport are bent on frustrating the proposedestablishment of a commercial regulator for the port industry.
Shittu said that rather than officials of the Federal Ministry of Transport supporting the transformation of the NSC to a commercial regulator, the ministry allegedly wants to create a department within the ministry to become the commercial regulator.
“Let me say here that the problems of the port are defying solutions as a result of the ministry of transport interfering in processes that will solve the problems of the port. This also came to fore as at yesterday (on Monday) when we discover in a meeting in Abuja that all efforts to make the Shippers’ Council a commercial regulator in the industry today is being thwarted by the civil servants in the Ministry of Transport. I can tell you honestly that the Ministry of Transport also came with a decision that a department in the ministry should serve as the regulator for the industry. Imagining people sitting in Abuja and regulating the charges to be paid inside the port! So it is government himself that is making it very difficult for us to get to where we are going. All the laws that they have made, they have always made sure that the Nigerian Shippers’ Council do not have the teeth to bite and the icing on the cake is that there is a recommendation that it should be scrapped,” Shittu said.
From the foregoing, it seems there are discordant tunes over the establishment of a commercial regulator for the port industry by stakeholders, including the Federal Ministry of Transport that is supposed to spearhead such move. This obviously is not the best for the port industry. For as long as there are discordant tunes, this initiative will not be realised and the industry will continue to cry over price discrimination.
It will be good if all stakeholders in the maritime sector to rally round and garner support for the emergence of a commercial regulator. A commercial regulator will no doubt do the nation a lot of good considering the role, particular in the structuring of prices.