NTC bill her­alds new dawn for trans­port sec­tor

The Guardian (Nigeria) - - OPINION - By Luke Onyekakeyah

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.

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