Rivalry among freight forwarders is unhealthy, counterproductive — Jime

Emmanuel Jime, a lawyer, politician, former Member of the House of Representatives and former gubernatorial candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Benue state, is the Executive Secretary/CEO of Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC). He was appointed into the NSC position by President Muhammadu Buhari on June 25, 2021. In this interview he speaks on how he intends to reposition the Council to perform effectively as the port commercial regulator, among others.

What is the state of affairs at the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) when you took over the mantle of leadership?

The Nigerian Shippers’ Council, we must understand, was set up principally to serve as what I term to be a consumer protection agency. By that, I mean it was essentially set up to be an agency that was saddled with the responsibility of protecting shippers. And in this case, we are talking about protecting the interest of importers and exporters on matters relating to the movement of cargo from point of origin to the point of destination. It is also meant to protect the shippers in the area of freight rate, the standard of services, and local shipping charges. This has been the case up till 2014 when the Federal Government enacted the reforms that we have in our maritime domain now. In other words, the concessioning of ports to private operators. So, the government in its wisdom now discovered that there was a vacuum that had existed in the course of the reform that was considered; there wasn’t a regulator as far as the commercial activities in the port are concerned. Therefore, the government now appointed the Nigerian Shipper’s Council to be the port economy regulator in 2014. Now, the implication is that as an economic regulator, Shipper’s Council’s activities now moved towards regulating commercial transactions of users and providers of services in Nigerian seaports. And this essentially was to enable the Council to prevent arbitrariness and also to improve the standard of service delivery in our ports.

Considering your professional background, do you really understand the issues in and around the maritime industry?

Thank you so much. First, yes, I am a lawyer, thankfully. I should also add that before coming to the Shippers’ Council, the government has found me worthy of an appointment to serve as the Managing Director of the Nigerian Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA). So, that in addition to the fact of my profession, I think has naturally disposed me to be interested and involved in an area and environment that actually is governed by rules of engagement that has to do with commercial practice. So, I think that my experience in serving in that capacity, and like I said in addition to the fact that this is an environment that engenders commercial practice, is an added advantage. There are rules of engagement; there are standards of operation that have to be in place. All of these are governed by regulations. And to be modest, I think a lawyer should understand that in order for you to provide regulation, you must have the necessary reservoir of knowledge as far as legal issues are concerned to be able to navigate your way as far as the provision of regulation in the commercial environment is concerned.

Do you have sufficient adequately trained manpower to drive the operation of the Council?

Well, that is a very valid question. First, let’s understand that the Shippers’ Council, as I mentioned earlier, when it was conceived had a very narrow mandate so to speak; simply just to offer protection to our shippers. Of course, we have moved so many ways and now there is an enlargement of the mandate. But the total staff strength of the Shippers’ Council, at the moment a lot of people may not know, is less than 600. I mean given the enormity of the work that is meant to be carried out by this agency – that for me is already an indication that as far as manpower requirement is concerned, we are short-staffed. But it is also a function of the budgetary provision that we have. And so, by government requirement, there is a certain amount of fund that you are allowed to expend such that your recurrence does not exceed a certain amount of resources that the government is allocating to us. The Council at the present time is strictly dependent on an allocation that comes directly from the government coffers. It means that we are not able to provide the sort of staffing requirements. So, to answer your question directly, I’m privileged and fortunate to have met here in this Council, a group of technically proficient members of staff who have aided and supported me all along since I arrived here. And there is a saying in the maritime industry that if you are actually looking for an agency that would do the work for you, go to the Shippers’ Council.

For more than 20 years, the Council has been trying to promote the development of inland container depots in the six geopolitical zones of the country, but none of these ICDs has been operational. What are the challenges encountered in getting them off the ground?

Let’s get the record correct. The inland dry port, first we have to recognize, was conceived by the Shippers’ Council as a critical infrastructure as far as the connectivity of seaports to the hinterland is concerned. At the moment, let me inform you that the Kaduna Inland Dry Port is already in operation. As a matter of fact, it is not only in operation, it has actually been designated as a port of origin and port of destination. So, it is not totally right to say that 20 years after, ICDs are not operational. I also like to inform you that the progress of work that has been made at the Kano Dry Port, Dala, within the shortest period of time as far as the record shows; the Kano Dry Port should go into operation latest at the beginning of the first quarter of next year. This is the same as Funtua Dry Port. There is also a very wonderful story today of the Ibadan Dry Port where the process of concessioning has virtually been concluded and China Railway Corporation Limited has been engaged in the delivery of the port. As I said, the processes that are needed to be in place, the concessioning, other procedures, and all that we are waiting for now is the final approval of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) for the Ibadan Dry Port to take off. So, I think that is one area we should be beating our chest as far as the Council is concerned in the area of activities of promoting critical infrastructure. It is not totally right to say 20 years after, nothing has happened. Does that mean there are no challenges? No, there are challenges. First, we have to understand that the module of development that we have put in place for the delivery of the inland dry ports is the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) module. This means we need a lot of stakeholders to get involved in the process. Remember that most of these dry ports are located in states. It means now that we need the support of the state governments for the dry port to be warehoused.

Nigerian Shippers’ Council was set up to be on the side of shippers to moderate freight rates. But it appears you’re unable to achieve this because freight rates have been on the rise. Why so?

Well, I find this question very interesting. However, first, you have to understand certain perspectives on this issue of freight. The first issue is that the time has come for us to recognize that the question regarding freight is one that is governed really by a commercial environment that is dependent on the rule of engagement that I referred to previously as the economic imperatives of how to arrive at these rates. Freight is governed by rules of demand and supply. That in itself is a challenge as to how you are able to determine freight rates. I mentioned earlier that the Council was established in 1978 with one main mandate which is to protect the interest of the importers or exporters on matters relating to the movement of cargoes from point of origin and to, of course, moderate freight rate and most especially to also determine the standard of services and then local shipping. This was obviously the case until 2014 when we were appointed port economic regulator.

Source: Ships and Ports News