Hassan Bello, executive secretary of Nigeria Shippers Council (NSC), in a chat with TayoOladipupospoke on the council’s activities and moves to make Nigerian ports productive and competitive. He also emphasised the need for all stakeholders both public and private to key into Federal Government’s drive on the Ease of Doing Business in Nigeria.
In a developing economy like Nigeria’s, how would you rate the contribution of transportation to national development?
The transport sector is critical to the nation’s economy. Everybody is coming to the economic table with something that will advance national growth. Agriculture is making a point, even communication is making a point, Nollywood is making a point too. The transport sector is very key to the economy like all these other sectors.
Transportation holds a lot of potentials as you know. It is important and it behooves on you the journalists to galvanize the talking. One day, somebody went to Seme Border to Nigeria Shippers Border Information Center. He met the place empty. The Nigerian journalist went there and found nothing. A month ago, I talked to the journalist that we have presence at the border so he came to me that he will do an exposure and I said do it.
We want people to tell us the truth about our organisation. This will help us do better. If you tell us the truth about ourselves, even if it appears unfavourable, it will make us improve on our duties.
Some time we talked and we don’t do what we say. We made the center, we even sent somebody with the vehicle to formalize the training that is going there, but when the custom saw it they gave us another site.
Without journalists, I would have been relaxed here. We need you to be critical in the sense that when we say dry port, people just echoed it but you should go to a dry port to spend a day and see what is happening.
Emerging dry ports in the country are not linked to rail. Is anything being done about this?
We just talked to the concessionaire of the dry port on the need to link the dry ports with rail. They said it is the responsibility of the government to do the rail. If the concessionaire put the rail, they would transfer the cost to the government. This is what we just finished now because if we say we are going to connect rail to the port, why not the dry port too?
The gap in infrastructure is very much but it is the transport sector that drives the economy, no matter what other things do, if there is no transport it can’t work well.
How will the truck parks add value to businesses and the economy?
We need a modern truck park that leads to the port so that the terminal operators with the shipping companies will only grant the trucks access electronically.
If I have ten trucks going, I will need to know which trans-park have a space at the time, from there we can track cargo, from there we track the truck too. The truck parks will have tracking system, many other things like shopping malls, food vendors and other ancillary facilities.With that we will obey the road transport protocol.
The truck parks would be modern; there would have hotels, police stations, car repairs, clinics tec.
We need to be modern just like many other countries. We can have up to one thousand people working in a park; people could go there to do car wash and so many other things
Aside regulation which is a new function of Nigeria Shippers Council and its traditional role of protecting shippers, what other trade facilitation function has the council embarked on?
Our neighbor, Niger, for example is trying to bring its cargo through Nigeria . We have roles to play in this international interface. We have been dealing with the terminal operators and shipping lines in court, but as far as I am concerned, we are working together. You know we have to work for the terminals.
Nigeria Shippers Council is made to work for the private sector; our work is to make a conducive atmosphere so that the shipping terminals, and the shipping companies make profit.
For purpose of controlled access and orderliness, how would you do profiling of trucks coming to the nation’s ports?
We are working towards having a modern truck access control system.
We have to certify truck, companies and a place where we can track them and see what they are doing. They may be called up in batches of ten or fifteen trucks at a go.
Transport is the backbone of Nigeria economy. When we get transport right all other things will be added into it. There are innovations in modern transportation, like collapsible container. A container that can be collapsed is in use, you know how that will effect shipping.
As a country, what areas do you think we need to improve in line with global best practices?
Nigeria’s dependence on oil can be reduced through improvement in transportation infrastructures that will increase her potential. We have to put in our best to achieve this.
This is why we are soliciting the support of everyone to achieve it. We are working towards a time when you will sit in your home and clear your goods from the Nigerian ports without necessarily coming to the port. A time when things will be done electronically and payments are made, cargoes delivered seamlessly. That is modern port operations and we will get there.
There are three main challenges, which include reactions to shippers council by the operators at the sea port, support of other government agencies and change of attitude internally.
What structural change have you deployed in the NSC to achieve your goals?
We have restructured the Shippers Council from five departments to seven. We have been able to re-organize Shippers Council so that we can perform better.
We are also working to ensure our staff members do work in line with the drive and vision of the Federal Government and the council. We are in sync with the Presidential Enabling Business Council (PEBEC).
What has been your greatest challenge on this task?
There is resistance to anyone who wants to bring order or change. If you go to any park, you see people playing ball and they enjoyed themselves, but there’s no rule, some time they use their hands to score the goals.
Suddenly the referee appears, blow the whistle and say this game should be according to the rule, but they will not like the referee.
Everyone will be regulated. Both government and private sector stakeholders come under regulation now. Some who like going to board a ship when it’s comes to Nigeria will not do that anymore. There will be adherence to Standards Operating Procedures.
The cargo clearance processes makes port operations more transparent and you have NPA, NIMASA, and everybody working together.
What area of infrastructural improvement do you think we need as a country to improve our inter-modal transport system to make our ports function better and seamlessly?
We have three solid years that port will never remain the same again. Pipeline is also a means of transportation, if we have improved pipeline transportation, pressure on our roads will reduce.
According to World Bank, 5,400 trucks enter Apapa everyday, the World Bank tells us what we need is 1,400, this is because there is no modern traffic system in the port.
We have done the study and plan and we are taking it to NPA .In eighteen months time there will be a modern traffic system in Apapa The port gate will only be open to trucks electronically approved to access the facility