Ports: Stakeholders Accuse Service Providers of Moves to Stifle Regulation

Shipping stakeholders have called on the federal government to consider quick intervention that will bring about intended efficiency in the ports system by empowering the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), which was appointed the Ports Economic Regulator with enough legal instrument and political will to carry out its assignment without blemish.

The stakeholders who spoke during a book presentation at Rockview Hotel  Apapa said the call became necessary because of what they described as moves by some service providers to stifle regulation in the ports system.

Such intervention, according to the stakeholders, would be to urgently consider the opinion of legal experts who have canvassed for more laws for the Council to enable it execute its current roles as a regulator.
A maritime consultant, Chief Denis Ojei   said that beyond the present laws empowering the Council as an Economic Regulator, government needs to pass laws that will put the Council in the same level with the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) which has been regulating the communications sector for more than a decade now since the deregulation of the sector.

Ojei argued that the Regulator may continue to suffer some challenges in executing its mandate as an umpire in the ports sector except with more legal instrument that will put it in no disputable position to stop illegalities in the ports sector.

Insisting that the shipping industry is filled with some unscrupulous businessmen, he said the knowledge of such background   should be enough reason for the government  to do the needful in the area of  adequate powers  for the  Council   to change the wrath in the  ports system.

He  commended  the Council  for the moves already made at correcting the  ills in the ports system, adding that  the steps taken so far give Nigerian importers the hope that very soon the cost of doing business in Nigerian ports would come down.

He said that when this happens, there would not be any need to smuggle goods into the country through the neighbouring port of Cotonou because of high  charges in Lagos  ports.
 Ojei   however added that while  more legal  instrument is  awaited, government should also have the political will to  allow the Ports Regulator deal decisively  with some of the  service providers in the  ports system.

He accused the service providers of deliberate efforts to stifle regulation in the ports, adding that Nigerian importers were the ones paying for this problem, while the multinational agencies continue to post millions of dollars to their home countries.

Another stakeholder and customs broker, Mr Tunde  Ogunlana,  also said that  beyond equipping the Council with more powers, government  should give free  hand to the Ports Regulator to deal decisively with the  service providers who do not want to obey trade regulations of the federal government.

Ogunlana who also was of the  view   that the service providers were out to stifle regulation, added  that surprisingly, these multinational agencies cannot oppose such regulations in their own countries except in Nigeria where they enjoy certain patronage from some highly placed officials.

He said that government should be aware that what is being collected from Nigerian importers in terms of high illegal charges were not used in developing the country, but repatriated.

Prominent lawyers in the maritime industry, including former Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration  and Safety Agency (NIMASA) , Mrs.  Mfon Usoro,  Mr. Louis Mbanefo (SAN),  Mr. Mike Igbokwe (SAN),   had  early this year  called on the federal government to   give  the regulator  enough legal backing in its new responsibility.

 Usoro said that for the Council to succeed, it  needs to be  fully armed with powers  of the law to execute its statutory functions.

She called on   President Goodluck Jonathan  and the Transport Minister, Senator Idris Umar, including the Chairman of the  Board of the Council, Gen Halilu Ibrahim (rtd)  to pursue the passage of necessary  Bills  as soon as possible so that the Council can succeed.
Former Executive Vice Chairman, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Dr. Ernest Ndukwe, had  also stressed the need for strong legal framework that will empower the Council.