Bolaji Sumola is the President of the National Association of Stevedoring Companies (NASC).
In this interview with SHIPS & PORTS DAILY’s Uju Ozoeze, Sumola said that diversification is the best call for stevedores in the face of the hardship posed by the tariff hike on rice and some other imports. He said that stevedoring operations is not limited to rice handling. To weather the storm, he advised stevedores become creative.
What is the current membership of the association like?
We have on paper like close to hundred but there is a difference between having paper membership and contributory membership. Members contributing to the purse and progress of the association are just between 20 and 30.
Some of your members have complained bitterly about being idle following the 110 percent tariff increase in rice?
Of course there is always a concurrent response to any action. Just like it is said, when there is an action there will be a cause and to a cause is an action. Government in its own decision, as advised by people close to them, decided to increase the tariff of rice in order to curtail importation with the aim to boost local production. It’s not a total ban to the best of my knowledge; it’s an increase in tariff. Of course, importers want to do business with their consignment and they do not bring them in to stock their warehouse. So one thing that scares them is not being able to sell their consignment and of course this has direct effect on the volume of cargo coming into some parts of the ports. Certainly, the increase in tariff of rice and even fish affects our operations. Maybe government is studying the situation but of course cargoes of those categories have affected our members operationally. And it is only when these cargos start coming in that they can be put to work. All we are concerned about is that those cargos are not coming in and this has a direct impact on our productivity.
Has your association taken any measures to draw the attention of the government to the dangers of the rice policy to its members’ operations?
It is an area that we have to be very careful because we always want to thread on the part that the government has set out as its regulations. Don’t forget they still regulate our operations and it is the path at which they say we should go that we go. It would have been good if our opinion was sought before the implementation of the policies then we would have been able to look into the impact of the decision and look at the totality of its benefits. Yes we want to protect local industry but at the same time we are losing employment and we are losing some valuable indices to the key sector of the Nigerian economy, maritime. Nobody now has being able to put a figure to the losses this has cost the nation and that is the saddest part of it. I want to be practical and want to deal with figures. How much are we losing in terms of imports? How much are the locals losing in terms of non patronage for their products? And how much are we losing in terms of putting our people gainfully to employment? If such decisions are going to be taken, the totality of all the stakeholders within this arena should have been sought so that a once-and-for all decision is taken. As much as I sympathize with the government in terms of trying to promote the local production, it has to look into this with the stakeholders.
A member of your association, Micura Services Limited, has called on other stevedores to diversify into other business areas if they are to survive the harsh situation posed by the government’s recent rice policy. Are you for this?
Of course! Like I say, the bandwagon effect in Nigeria is too much. One area is thriving, everybody goes in that direction. Nobody wants to show any creativity. Nobody wants to show any ingenuity in terms of developing products to see what else they can do. Cargo coming into Nigeria is in the excess of billions of dollars, what quantum of percentage is rice and fertilizer of this? What is the volume of total imports in Nigeria and what category of products are they? There is so much room occupied by bulk, liquid and general cargo not just rice. That leaves us with a big volume of what stevedore can do.
What is the relationship between NASC and the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria like lately?
It is symbiotic, in the sense that we are coming to realize the nature of our industry. In the past, an average employer has been blackmailed to the position that they are not fit enough to render the services that is required of them. But then, if you look at the global ways of doing hardly do we have companies that go into areas whereby they can outsource their services. Stevedoring is one critical area which because of the enormous investment that is required for standardization and capacity in the business, not one company can decide to have its own stevedoring department. Whereby you outsource for experts, it now beholds on the experts to carry out the profession to the utmost standards. So that is where the employers come in and take up the financial and human resources responsibilities package them together. The employer can now deploy his workers to where he deems fit. That is why I say it is symbiotic. You work for me, I take care of you.
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