NTC bill heralds new dawn for transport sector
WITHOUT doubt, the transport sector advertises the stark underdevelopment quagmire that defines Nigeria. The mismanagement of the sector is obvious in the disjointed nature of the various transport modes. There is no connectedness, no synergy, whatsoever, between the various modes of transport as obtained in the developed world.
The transport industry is largely in private hands without standards. Vehicular transportation by road is chaotic and largely run by touts. The skeletal water transport along the creeks and rivers is largely in the hands of untrained hands that care less about safety. While the railway system is comatose with skeletal services, not even the aviation sector that ought to operate by international standards is in anyway better. Delays, cancellation of scheduled flights without notice and poor services are the orders of the day.
The Nigerian transport sub-sectors operate independently of each others. Disjointedness is the norm. There is, for instance, no connection or link between aviation and rail or road transport. People disembark from an aircraft at the airport and have to struggle to get a taxicab or other modes of transport. The rail system is completely out of the question and not to talk of water transport. Nothing connects our dysfunctional rail system with the airports or seaports for journey facilitation. Each transport subsector is managed haphazardly.
It is against this backdrop that the recent passage of the National Transport Commission (NTC) bill comes as a welcome development, to, at least, for the first time, create what would serve as a common platform to regulate the entre transport spectrum and make it more service oriented in line with approved international standards.
Senator Gbenga Ashafa (APC Lagos East), who is the chairman of the Committee on Land Transport, reportedly said that the NTC Bill, when signed into law, is capable of setting the transport sector on the path of positive development. He said, with this bill, we would successfully create a multi-modal economic and safety oversight regulator for the transport sector.
The two arms of the National Assembly (NASS) have already passed the bill, which is now awaiting presidential assent. The Senate passed the bill in March, 10 months after the House of Representatives passed it. The bill seeks to “provide efficient economic regulatory framework for the transport sector, mechanism for monitoring compliance of government agencies, transport service providers and users in the regulated transport industry with relevant legislation and to advise government on matters relating to economic regulation of the regulated transport industry.”
The thrust of the bill is efficient economic regulation of the transport industry. The National Transport Commission is conceived to be an effective, impartial and independent regulatory authority in the transport sector and to set out the objectives, functions and powers of the commission. It will also promote the implementation of the National Transport Policy that is unknown to many.
The import of the transport sector cannot be overemphasized. The transport sector is the wheel that keeps the economy in motion. President Muhammadu Buhari should expedite action in signing the bill into law without undue delay. A transformed transport sector would count as part of the change that Nigerians need for economic development. Once the bill is signed into law, it will provide the legal basis for setting up of the commission to see its implementation. That takes us to the next level, which is under which framework the commission would operate. Is there going to be a brand new agency/commission or an existing agency would do the job? Skeptics are raising these questions. But first, stakeholders in the transport sector are excited with the new development. Being aware of the nitty-gritty and what it entails, they are seemingly in agreement that the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), a parastatal under the Federal Ministry of Transport is well positioned to assume the new role. The NTC is coming with new prospects and opportunities in the transport sector. The challenge is in having a smooth takeoff, which won’t present any problem with the NSC on ground.
It might not necessarily be a matter of exactly assuming a new role as the council is already in the saddle. Four years ago, precisely in 2014, the Federal Government appointed the NSC, as a temporary measure, to perform the economic regulatory functions at the ports for the purpose of entrenching efficiency in the industry before the NTC bill is enacted into law.
It, therefore, means that the NSC is already bearing the responsibility of performing this economic regulation in the maritime sector. By virtue of that role, the NSC might have gained the experience, has the infrastructure and capacity needed for a smooth transition to the new commission. As a former staff of the National Clearing and Forwarding Agency in Apapa, I had the opportunity to have a firsthand insight into the operations of the NSC also located at Apapa.
The concern that the NTC may be bugged by undue bureaucracy that could stifle its smooth takeoff would be removed if the NSC, which is already in the saddle, assumes the full role of the commission. Hon. Aminu Sani Isa, while commenting on the bill had observed that the NSC Act, to a great extent, shares the same functionality thrust with the NTC, which is also economic regulation. According to him, the transmutation of the NSC will save cost and avoid duplication of agencies.
As a matter of fact, it makes a lot of sense that instead of creating a new agency with all the paraphernalia of offices and other perquisites that will entail fresh budgetary costs, foisting the responsibility on an existing agency that performs similar functions is novel. It will cut the cost of governance which is an ideal being canvassed by Nigerians.
The NSC, established in 2004 with headquarters in Lagos has a functional liaison in Abuja and offices in the six geopolitical zones as well as area and port offices across the states of the federation. It is even better that stakeholders and port users are the ones canvassing for the NSC to transform into the NTC based on observed good performance of the Council. The people will flow with government when that is done. Finally, it is also noteworthy that the Minister of Transport, Chibuike Amaechi, reportedly said that allowing the NSC to take up the duties of the NTC will address the issue of duplication of functions and save scarce resources. That will be an achievement under him.
It is hoped that that the Federal Government will take cue from what has been said and complete action on the NTC bill when signed into law. There should be no room for mistakes. The law will definitely open a new dawn for the uncoordinated transport industry in the overall interest of the economy.