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Much Ado About Amendment of Nigerian Shippers Council Act: Integrity Group Endorses Initiative

Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) Logo

On Monday, May 27, 2024, the House of Representatives Committee on Shipping will hold a Public Hearing on the proposed amendment to the law setting up the Nigerian Shippers Council with a view to giving it the requisite legal and administrative instruments to effectively become an economic regulator in the maritime and transport industry. The Marine and Blue Economy Integrity Group, a non-political platform of longstanding stakeholders in Nigeria’s maritime sector, led by its Coordinator, Elder Asu Beks, has endorsed this initiative.

Introduction

With six port complexes spread across Nigeria’s 853 kilometers coastline and the ports accounting for the more than 90 percent for the transportation of import and export goods, the country ticks all boxes for classification as a maritime nation.

With the unique status, Nigeria has been engaged in processes to evolve policies and programmes that will enable her derive maximum benefits from the handling of vessels for inward and outward cargo traffic. One of the products of the policy evaluations over the years is the birth of the Nigerian Shippers Council in 1978. Apart from the Council, there is the National Maritime Authority (NMA) as it then was before its enabling law was review and upgraded and the agency renamed the Nigerian Maritime and Safety Agency (NIMASA) as well as the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA).
Although the Nigerian Shippers Council was given the responsibility to protect the interest of Nigerian shippers by promoting fair trade practices and ensuring shipping companies comply with approved standard operating procedures, its capacity to diligently undertake such crucial responsibility has been hamstrung by the limited legal and administrative instruments available to it.

Strengthening the powers of the Council

Stakeholders in the maritime industry have been unanimous in their verdict that the core task of protecting the indigenous shipping community is still a long shot despite the best efforts of chief executives and officials of the Council.

In 2018, it was established that Nigeria loses $9.1 billion yearly to the nation’s failure to effectively harness the immense opportunities in shipping industry as attested to by Mr. Hassan Bello, Executive Secretary of the Council at the time. Unfortunately, a significant portion of the annual loss is accounted for by the unfair practices of ship owners through unilateral imposition of surcharges, high container deposits and unapproved levies by shipowners and carrier companies.

Although the Council had always contested such impositions, its success has been limited by the absence of the legal and administrative framework for the challenges to be wholesome and effective. While this has been going on, there has several half-hearted efforts to remedy the situation.

As longstanding operators in the shipping industry and with the commendable focus of the administration of His Excellency, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu to revving up the blue economy, we, Marine and Blue Economy Integrity Group, are convinced that this public hearing offers a veritable opportunity to truly address this regulatory shortcoming that has held the indigenous shipping community hostage.

We fully endorse the proposed amendments and reclassification of the functions of the Council to wit:

 

  1. Establishment of the Nigeria Shipping and Ports Economic Regulatory Agency as an economic regulatory body.
  2. Establishment of a regulatory framework for the effective and efficient economic regulation of regulated services and related activities, for the control of tariffs, rates, and charges to guard against arbitrariness;
  3. Promotion of the implementation of Government policies as they relate to the mandate of the Agency;
  4. Monitoring of compliance of regulated service providers, and users in the regulated sector with the provisions of this Bill and advise the Government through the Minister, on matters related thereto;
  5. Creating an enabling environment for private sector participation in the provision of regulated services in Nigeria;
  6. Promoting the implementation of relevant trade facilitation instruments to ensure seamless movement of cargo across trade corridors;
  7. Promoting the automation and digitalization of all cargo reception and handling processes and procedures.

We are convinced that with the proposed amendment, the Council will be a more responsible and responsive organization in advancing and protecting national interest through curbing the rip-off of shippers in Nigeria by entrenched foreign interests.

Reactionary forces

We are aware that due to the interests at stake, the entrenched groups benefitting from the rape of the indigenous shipping community have also activated their machinery to frustrate the proposed amendments.
Using local surrogates, they have been making spurious and unfounded claims on how the proposed amendments will not serve the desired interest. One of such groups actually recommended that the Nigerian Shippers Council should rather engage in “cargo sharing” without explaining the nature of cargo to be shared to whom or how.

The group falsely claimed that the proposed amendments proposed repeal of the NSC Act will lead to “collateral damages inimical to shipping, import and export, and the allied logistics value chain” without any explanation. It is clear that they are either ignorant, mischievous or both and should be ignored.

 Conclusion

The challenge in the task of shielding Nigerian shippers from undue exploitation is that despite its touted job as the port economic regulator in the maritime and transport industry, the Nigerian Shippers Council presently does not have the legal framework to enforce the measures needed to sanitize the appropriating and fair costing of shipping services and handling of cargo for shippers.

We of the Marine and Blue Economy Integrity Group earnestly plead with the Honourable members of the committee to thread the path of righting the years of monumental exploitation of the national economy through the willful exploitation of shippers.

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