June 24, 2021
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Hassan Bello bowed out of the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) at the weekend, putting an end to eight years of service at the nation’s ports. In this report, TOLA ADENUBI highlights the issues that are already waiting for the next NSC Executive Secretary.

With Hassan Bello stepping down as the Executive Secretary/CEO of the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), having served two terms in office, a feat not matched by many of his colleagues at the helm of affairs of other maritime agencies; many economic issues remain unresolved at the nation’s port. While many will laud Hassan Bello for his penchant in speaking truth to port operators as regards charges and arbitrary deductions, expectations will be high for his successor to either match what has already been put in place or surpass it.

As the industry awaits the announcement of a substantive Executive Secretary/CEO of the NSC by the Federal Government, observers are of the opinion that an insider should be asked to step in to maintain the tempo of activities at the agency and possibly complete the many unresolved economic issues confronting the nation’s economic regulator.

High and arbitrary charges

Notable among the unfinished businesses that Hassan Bello started was the effort to have shipping companies sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that would have slashed shipping charges to 35 per cent. However, despite mulling the idea since September of 2019, the shipping companies refused to sign the MoU till Hassan Bello finished his second term in office as NSC boss in June 2021.

With the expected announcement of a successor at the NSC anytime soon, by the Federal Government, clearing agents are of the view that slashing high and arbitrary shipping charges should be top on the agenda for whoever would be called to take over from Hassan Bello.

Speaking to the Nigerian Tribune on issues of shipping charges, a clearing agent, Chukwuemeka Nonso explained that, “The cost of doing business in Nigeria ports ranks amongst the highest in the world with the ports notorious for high demurrage charges as a result of the delay in cargo clearing process; high insurance premium on Nigerian bound cargoes by foreign vessels coming to Nigeria, and arbitrary fees attached to container deposit regime.

“Due to insecurity in our waters, the foreign ships are already slamming huge cost on cargoes that they bring to our waters. The cargo owners bear these costs. Also, after arriving at our ports, due to congestion issues not caused by the importers, these shipping firms also slam huge demurrage charges on cargoes. Again, the cargo owners bear these costs. And finally, if the cargo owner fails to return the empty container within the stipulated time giving to him due to no fault of his, he is again slammed additional charges. These charges are too much and that is why our ports remain the most expensive ports in sub-Sahara Africa.”

In a statement released by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) recently, the agency stated that war risk insurance premiums incurred by Nigeria bound cargoes transiting the Gulf of Guinea was $55.5 million in 2020 alone.

“The total cost of additional war risk insurance premiums incurred by Nigerian bound cargoes transiting the Gulf of Guinea was $55.5 million in 2020 alone, and 35 per cent of ships transiting the area also carried additional kidnap and ransom insurance totalling $100.7 million,” Director General of NIMASA, Bashir Jamoh lamented in the statement.

With foreign shipping lines refusing to sign the MoU that would have slashed shipping charges since 2019, the next Executive Secretary of the NSC already has his job cut out as regards addressing the rising cost of shipping charges on Nigerian bound cargoes.

Inland dry ports

Inland dry ports, otherwise known as Inland Container Deports (ICD’s) or Containers Freight Stations (CFS) are equivalent to a seaport located in the hinterland. It receives containers by rail or road from the seaport for examination and clearance by Customs and other competent authorities. The dry ports have all the loading and off-loading equipment needed to handle containers.

The concepts of the dry ports gained prominence in Nigeria due to congestion woes rocking the nation’s two busiest ports, the Apapa and Tin-Can Island ports. With a study revealing that most cargo owners from other regions of the country still preferred using Apapa or Tin-Can as their port of destination, the NSC under Hassan Bello championed the establishment of seven inland dry ports across the country in order to bring shipping business closer to the cargo owners.

The dry ports were expected to achieve the following among others: Bring shipping services to the doorstep of shippers across the nation; assist in decongesting the seaports and make them more user friendly; provide the impetus to revive and modernise the railway as a primary mode for long-distance haulage; and assists in the overall costs of cargo to hinterland locations as well as transit cargoes to landlocked countries.

To ensure national spread, the seven dry ports promoted by the NSC are located in places like Isiala Ngwa in Aba; Erunmu, Ibadan; Heipang, Jos; Zawachiki, Kano; Zamfarawa, Funtua; Jauri, Maiduguri and ICNL, Kaduna. These seven approved locations for Inland Container Depots were concessioned to private sector operators by the ICD Implementation Committee of the Federal Ministry of Transport.

However, despite various advocacies by the Hassan Bello led NSC to ensure the dry ports come to fruition across the nation, many have suffered due to various reasons and have not seen the light of the day aside from the Kaduna inland dry port which was commissioned for business by President Muhammadu Buhari in January of 2018.

While some of the promoters of some of the inland dry ports pulled out citing various reasons, others simply remained under-developed due to demand for a certain percentage of equity by their host state governments.

For the inland dry port in Heipang, Jos, Plateau State, the concessionaire, Duncan Maritime Ventures pulled out of the project, citing business reasons. Ever since Duncan Maritime Ventures pulled out of the Jos inland dry port, the NSC is yet to announce another concessionaire for the project.

While the NSC is still shopping for a promoter for the Jos inland dry port, the dry port located in Ibadan has not fared any better following the demand by the Oyo State Government for a 15 per cent equity stake in the project and issues over allocation of land.

Speaking recently after a meeting with the Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde, at the government house in Ibadan, Minister of Transportation Rotimi Amaechi said the allocation of land for the Ibadan Industrial Park and the Ibadan Dry Port halted the development of the Ibadan dry port project.

“The construction company handling the Ibadan dry port said that they were yet to get approvals to utilise certain portions of the land because the Oyo State Government only made available 44 hectares available when 90 hectares are required for the project,” the Minister of Transportation had told newsmen after the meeting.

However, in his own presentation, the Oyo State Governor said that the state was interested in having a 15 per cent stake in the project to ensure the viability of the investment and sustainability, irrespective of subsequent changes in administration.

Like the Jos and Ibadan inland dry ports, other dry ports across the country (aside Kaduna) have not achieved much as many still remain an expanse of open land overgrown by weeds. With the expected announcement of a substantive helmsman at the NSC, much is expected to change as regards the other six inland dry ports scattered across the country.

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