Bello Hassan is the Executive Secretary and Chief Executive, Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), the economic regulator of the nation’s shipping industry.
He joined the Council in 1998 as Deputy Director and Head of Legal Services and later became a director in the same department, before being appointed its Chief Executive. Before joining the Council, Bello had worked with Sokoto State Ministry of Justice and the state’s Investment Company Limited where he rose to become Acting Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer.
In this interview with Daily Sun at the recent Day of the Seafarer 2019, Bello stressed the need for Nigeria to have national fleet to halt the $9 billion Nigeria spends on freight annually. He spoke on efforts being made to increase port efficiency and attract more maritime trade to the Nigerian economy.
The NSC boss also gave some insight into what the committee on national fleet has gone to ensure the project comes onboard as well as strategies put in place to tackle Apapa gridlock.
Need for national fleet
Nigeria spends about $9 billion annually on freight charges because all its oil exports and import of goods are carried by foreign vessels since it does not have its own vessels.
So all what we have been doing is to depend on foreign ships where we spend an estimated $9 billion annually on freight for outbound and inbound and the figure has continued to rise over the years.
Imagine what we would be earning if the freight were done by Nigerian ships. When we say Nigerian ships, we are talking about Nigerian boats, we are also talking about Nigeria insurance companies, Nigerian seafarers, Mariners, Surveyor, Seamen and all associated industries such as sea repairs, ship repairs and ship building yards, all of which are not gaining because we don’t have ships.
So the issue is not actually whether women are going to be employed on what ships but for us to have those ships before talking about women being employed. That is very important.
Work done by national fleet committee
The national fleet committee has a three -year programme. We can’t have a national fleet that is not enduring or sustainable. We could have collected few ships and say this is national fleet and then by tomorrow they are gone because the atmosphere, the subjective and objective conditions necessary for fleet to thrive do not exist in Nigeria. There are policies, laws and taxes and there are lots of impediments but we are now cleaning the system before we can berth a strong national carrier.
Free on Board (FOB) and Cost, Insurance, and Freight (CIF) policy critical to national fleet
You know the national fleet implementation committee is working closely with NIMASA and with the national economic management team led by Vice President Yemi Osibanjo, with Ministry of Budget and we are going to have the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission. Several meetings have been held with key industries especially with the tax authority, the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) so that they would allow some incentives. We have to also incentivise the private sector and don’t also forget, government will not spend a kobo on this project since it is a private sector -led project.
So we are talking about pairs, we clean up, we incentivise the investors and then we bring investors they look at everything and say okay, now we can invest in shipping. If we invest in shipping, and we have ships carrying Nigerian goods, we have a fleet, that will become a national fleet and then NIMASA will give them the status of national carrier, and once this is done, all government cargoes including Federal Government, State Government and even Local Government cargoes will enjoy priority. It is only when they don’t have space or contract, that other foreign carriers will be given a chance.
But you can imagine all the contracts we are doing on railway, you can imagine, all the buildings we are doing, all the goods coming from government, power generation companies, generator turbines all would be carried exclusively by this national carrier. So we have long contract. It means we will have a lot of cargo to carry and we have a lot of ships. Now if that is done, it will then translate into income to the economy.
Right now, shipping as whole is contributing 0.1 per cent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Nigeria meaning that even the Nollywood contributes more. And we cannot have that! Every country should be proud to have its own ships; the national operating ships carrying the national flags. We need to have that now that NIMASA is involved and we are going to look at the national flags that is the registration of ships and reform it to make it more attractive.
We want to look at our nautical colleges, like the Maritime Academy at Oron, and others, will be integrated into this with associated industries, like ship repairs and ship building sector which are very critical. We would need to do this to avoid taking our ships to other countries for repair which can also be a drain to government purse.
That is why many of you would ask me, when we will have national fleet? It is not like buying beans cake (Akara) from the market. The National fleet is a three-year programme where we need to sanitise and incentivise the private sector.
Engaging Nigeria customs on taxes
Very well, we have the Nigeria Customs Service there also; because apart from Federal Inland Revenue (FIRS), we have Customs and the Department of Petroleum Resources because what we are saying is that duty should not be paid on the ships we are bringing That means we are giving advantage to foreigners carriers because they don’t pay that duty. Every country despite globalisation or internationalism, will have to look inward and not be deceived with this globalisation. The mother of capitalism, which is United States of America cannot be questioned about what it is doing with its steel development?
They are protecting theirs and so we have to protect ours somehow and be competitive. This is what we are doing. What we do as I said is that Government will not put in any money but will provide the enabling environment and conducive atmosphere for shipping to thrive.
Apapa road appears free now but people say its just a stopgap measure, how true is that?
Yes, it is. We are looking at the scene. You know when the Apapa issue came we have to look at the short, the medium and long term. You know, short term is what we have been able to do to restore sanity, to stop extortion, to bring orderliness on the road and that is what you have seen. But we have to also put in place a new modern traffic management system. It is the failure of infrastructure quite all right but it is also a failure of planning.
As I said Apapa Port was built to host 23 million metric tonnes of cargoes but now they are doing 83 million metric tonnes .So can you quantify what happened from 23 million metric tonnes envisaged in the 1970s? Our population was growing by 2.5 per cent every year. Why we wouldn’t think that in 20 years now, Apapa and Tin Can ports would have congestion, which is a natural thing for them to have congestion.
Nigerian population must not be static no; we are growing. Our consumption pattern has changed and we are now importing a lot of things and exporting at the same time. That is in the medium term to put a system. But in the long term it is even to have a modern term traffic management.
The Nigerian Shippers Council has carried out a study and we know what the problems are. The problem is that we are having 7000 trucks everyday in Apapa. But what you need is about 1600 trucks daily. So you have an excess of 5400 trucks doing nothing at Apapa. How can anybody allow 5000 excess trucks in Apapa? They are looking for freight. Some will be going around to be looking for cargo to carry or to truck. That is not acceptable. Nigerian Port Authority (NPA) supposed to own the whole Apapa. You cannot erect a kiosk without the permission of the NPA but Nigeria is beleaguered by so much indiscipline. Everybody could create something and then get certificate and tell you he has government authorisation to operate where he is. But what gladdens my heart is the coming onboard of the new Lagos State Government, which has been extremely responsive.
The Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, himself had been to Apapa twice. He was with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo on a visit to Apapa and he has assured us of his contribution because it is necessary to create this synergy In tackling the Apapa gridlock.
No extortion if you have a driver. Right now, we have a staging areas, we have truck base. If you look, you will see they are not parking on the bridges anymore. But is it important to sustain it. First of all, why should we have only roads as the means of transportation? That just doesn’t happen anywhere. You can’t have the roads alone, you need to have so many modes of carrying cargoes out of the seaport . The so-called tank farms, why did they exist? You just draw a pipeline from there and pipe 100 miles away, they can go there. Pipeline is a very important means of transportation for wet cargoes .Then, we have the Inland Waterways. Thank God, Nigerian inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) is waking up to its responsibilities. In fact, NIWA and NPA are working together now to have badges to convey cargo. But then we have the rail and about 30 containers were loaded and onboard trains to Kaduna dry port every week, which is how it should be.
Cargo is not supposed to spend 10 minutes at the port because port is not a storage area; port is a transit area, you just process it and let it go. But why should we have cargo staying in the port for 20, 30 days? It is not acceptable. That is why we are creating dry ports. The one in Ibadan, the construction will soon start and it will have 40000 capacity. It is going to be properly built by the Chinese company and it is a $500 million project. We have Kaduna dry port we are going to have Kano and in other places. Then also, you will see that at our port, there will not be all these problems. These are long term plans. But in the short term; we have to maintain order and discipline we have created. I have to thank the unions. Truck union who came together having seen the problems. I have to appreciate the shipping companies and Terminal operators.
Now everybody came together because we are having a crisis and an emergency. So everybody must make some sacrifices. We hope that the Apapa horror will never be repeated. In any case, we have new port in Lekki and where are the access roads to Lekki? What can we use to convey goods to Lekki? And don’t forget Lekki Seaport is there, Dangote Refinery, Fertiliser company are there. What are the infrastructures that will be there? Otherwise, we may not have anything. I don’t want Apapa problems to be repeated even for my children.
Numbers of containers now going to Kaduna Inland Port monthly
What is going there now is about 20 tons every Wednesday but depending on what they have on ground in terms of cargo. Let me 25 tons x 5. The more cargo we get the more it goes to the dry port.