Time to prop­erly reg­u­late Nige­ria’s ship­ping sec­tor

Daily Trust - - SPORT -

Last Mon­day, the “In­ter­na­tional Sea Trade and In­vest­ment Con­ven­tion 2015,” with the theme “Ex­plor­ing New Trade Fron­tiers” and ex­pected to last three days, com­menced in La­gos. One of its key par­tic­i­pants is the Nige­rian Ship­pers’ Coun­cil (NSC), the “In­terim Reg­u­la­tor” of the coun­try’s ship­ping ac­tiv­i­ties.

The out­come of this con­ven­tion should at­tract the close at­ten­tion of the author­i­ties in Abuja in so far as they want their oft-stated com­mit­ment to the diver­si­fi­ca­tion of our econ­omy from its overde­pen­dence on oil to be taken se­ri­ously. How­ever, the sta­tus of the NSC as merely an “In­terim Reg­u­la­tor” of the coun­try’s ship­ping ac­tiv­i­ties de­serves even greater at­ten­tion.

The rea­son is pretty ob­vi­ous; ship­ping, as a live-wire of the coun­try’s econ­omy, is prob­a­bly the least reg­u­lated sec­tor in Nige­ria. Other “lu­cra­tive” sec­tors like telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion, broad­cast, bank­ing, in­sur­ance, pen­sion and even the most cor­rup­tion-rid­dled of them all, the oil sec­tor, all of them have fairly strong reg­u­la­tors.

True, ser­vice de­liv­ery to con­sumers in most of these sec­tors has been far from sat­is­fac­tory. But in­vari­ably the prob­lem has been that the lead­er­ships of these reg­u­la­tors hardly gave a damn about their pri­vate in­ter­ests con­flict­ing with those of the public they are paid to de­fend.

Such con­flicts of in­ter­ests, how­ever, do not, and can­not, in­val­i­date the need for strong eco­nomic reg­u­la­tors. For, as even the most ar­dent pro­po­nents of free mar­ket economies would ad­mit in their mo­ments of self-can­dour, it is dan­ger­ous to al­low the mar­ket’s so-called in­vis­i­ble hands to op­er­ate with­out re­strain, as we have since seen in, for ex­am­ple, the col­lapse of the free-wheel­ing global bank­ing sec­tor in 2008.

Ac­cord­ing to ex­perts, over 80% of Nige­ria’s trade in goods is by sea. The key com­po­nents of this trade are the ports and their in­fra­struc­ture, the ships and ship­ping com­pa­nies, and the goods and car­goes. The aux­il­iary com­po­nents in­clude freight for­ward­ing, truck­ing, in­sur­ance, cargo sur­vey­ing, bank­ing and in­for­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy (ICT).

The ac­tiv­i­ties of the ac­tors in all these ar­eas had re­mained un­reg­u­lated since In­de­pen­dence un­til last year when the NSC, which had ex­isted since 1978, was granted the sta­tus of “In­terim Reg­u­la­tor.” The pre­dictable con­se­quence of the freefor-all in this crit­i­cal sec­tor is that the cost of the ship­ping busi­ness in Nige­ria has been among the high­est in the world.

Take de­mur­rage, for ex­am­ple, as a com­po­nent of this cost. Whereas in Nige­ria the free pe­riod for de­mur­rage is three days, in the nearby Benin Re­pub­lic it is 10, in Ivory Coast, nine, and in Ghana, 7. Take again the ter­mi­nal op­er­a­tors’ charges be­tween Nige­ria and Benin Re­pub­lic. Whereas the “ac­conage,” i.e. Ter­mi­nal han­dling, Cus­toms Ex­am­i­na­tion and De­liv­ery Charges, for a 20-foot con­tainer in Nige­ria is about 63,000 Naira, in Benin Re­pub­lic it is 24,000. The same charge for a 40-feet con­tainer is nearly 88,000 Naira in Nige­ria and 48,000 in Benin Re­pub­lic.

Lit­tle won­der then that many im­porters into and ex­porters from the coun­try pre­fer the ports of our neigh­bours for their busi­nesses.

The ab­sence of proper reg­u­la­tion in this sec­tor has also con­trib­uted in large mea­sure to the grid­lock along the La­gos Lo­gis­tic Ring (LLR) on Apapa-Ijora-OrileMile 2-Tin Can-Apapa cor­ri­dor be­com­ing worse than a night­mare. A study of this cor­ri­dor has shown that be­tween 5,000 and 7,000 trucks ply it daily. This is more than three times the ac­tual num­ber of be­tween 1,500 and 2,050 that the ports and tanks in La­gos can han­dle.

A strong reg­u­la­tor of ship­ping ac­tiv­i­ties in the coun­try would, of course, not be enough on its own to solve these prob­lems of, among oth­ers, ex­ces­sive ship­ping costs and night­mar­ish ports and roads con­ges­tion. For that the reg­u­la­tor will also have to be com­pe­tent and ef­fi­cient and, even more im­por­tantly, it has to pos­sess in­tegrity.

How­ever, even though a strong reg­u­la­tor is never enough in and of it­self to make ser­vice pro­vi­sion in its sec­tor ef­fi­cient and cheap, it is an im­per­a­tive for such ser­vice pro­vi­sion. As a reg­u­la­tor of ship­ping in the coun­try with less than two years ex­pe­ri­ence, the NSC prob­a­bly pos­sesses in­suf­fi­cient skills and equip­ment to do its job well. With time and enough re­sources this can be easily over­come.

More im­por­tantly, how­ever, its sta­tus an “In­terim Reg­u­la­tor”, i.e. a tem­po­rary reg­u­la­tor, gives it in­suf­fi­cient clout to com­mand the re­spect and co­op­er­a­tion of the ac­tors in the sec­tor it needs to carry out its func­tions prop­erly. The law mak­ing it a reg­u­la­tor may have given it pre­cise func­tions but in a world where im­age seems to have be­come more im­por­tant than sub­stance, names do mat­ter.

Now that we will soon get a Min­is­ter of Trans­port, the NSC will, hope­fully, get the sta­tus it needs to prop­erly reg­u­late ship­ping to and from Nige­ria so that the sec­tor can be­come a net rev­enue earner for the coun­try rather than the big drain which it has been vir­tu­ally since in­de­pen­dence 55 years ago.

Re: Ha­jiya Bilk­isu: she was too good AND true Sir, Thank you for your thought­ful and ex­cel­lent me­mo­rial on late Ha­jiya Bilk­isu. I am sure there is no other per­son to ex­tol Bilk­isu’s per­son­al­ity than your­self given the lit­tle, yet much, that I know about the pro­files of both you. I have had the self in­dul­gence of keep­ing watch over the many highly suc­cess­ful friends - distin­guished for­mer stu­dents - in whom I am very well pleased and lucky and priv­i­leged to have been as­so­ci­ated with in my early ca­reer as a univer­sity lec­turer at the Ah­madu Bello Univer­sity, Zaria. Late Bilk­isu had been one of these blessed per­sons.

Oc­ca­sion­ally I had run into Bilk­isu at the La­gos and Abuja air­ports and we would not only ex­change pleas­antries but also would get en­gaged in in­tel­lec­tual dis­courses. Bilk­isu had sent to me two sets of publi­ca­tions of Re­search Projects in which she was in­volved and which I read usu­ally with learn­ing and ful­fil­ment. The last of such publi­ca­tions was on the elec­toral, party and gov­er­nance sys­tems prepara­tory to the 4th Re­pub­lic which was sup­ported by a Swedish or Nordic NGO.

These in­tel­lec­tual prod­ucts ar­guably as­sisted the INEC in deal­ing with the com­plex and dif­fi­cult Nige­rian po­lit­i­cal process in the past 15 years. Ob­jec­tively, not spir­i­tu­ally, Bilk­isu’s death in the most holy pil­grim­age site, lo­ca­tion or venue of prayers is a most painful loss to the in­tel­lec­tual and ded­i­cated ac­tivist com­mu­nity of Nige­ria. She was an em­bod­i­ment of good­ness with a true per­son­al­ity. I ex­press my heart­felt con­do­lences to her chil­dren and close fam­ily net­work. May the Good Lord re­ceive Bilk­isu’s de­parted soul in ado­ra­tion. Prof Sam Oy­ovbaire prof.oy­ovbaire@ya­hoo.com Sir, I ap­pre­ci­ate your write up on our late fel­low un­der­grad­u­ate in the then Depart­ment of Gov­ern­ment (now Po­lit­i­cal Science and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies), ABU, Zaria, 72/75. Given your close as­so­ci­a­tion with her as a pro­fes­sional col­league, I am of the con­sid­ered opin­ion that you are in the best po­si­tion to com­ment on her re­mark­able life.

I was al­ways ex­cited any­time I met her in her nu­mer­ous en­gage­ments, which was only (for me) as re­source per­son in train­ing work­shops for gov­ern­ment func­tionar­ies and some­times as pa­per pre­sen­ters in aca­demic con­fer­ences. Ha­jiya usu­ally came across as in­tel­li­gent and pun­gent. She never crit­i­cized with­out of­fer­ing op­tions.

Although a com­mit­ted Mus­lim, she sep­a­rated her re­li­gion from po­lit­i­cal dis­course. Like old class­mates, we were al­ways ex­chang­ing ban­ters. Bilk­isu was re­served with­out be­ing aloof. She al­ways car­ried her­self in words and deed with re­mark­able deco­rum. She had in­flu­ence, but never threw her weight around. As Dr. Ha­keem Baba Ahmed com­mented, Ha­jiya could not have wished for a bet­ter place to meet her Maker than in a place of supreme wor­ship to Al­lah (SWT).

We shall all miss her. May Al­lah grant her Al­janna Fir­dausi..

Prof. Rauf Ayo Dun­moye, Dept. of Po­lit­i­cal Science and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, A.B.U. Zaria.

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