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INTERVIEW:”The Major Thing I Want To Do Going Forward Is The Restructuring Of Shippers’ Council”…. Barr. Akutah

Executive Secretary Nigerian Shippers' Council, Barrister Pius Akutah Ukeyima

The Executive Secretary , Nigerian Shippers’ Council, Barr. Pius Akutah Ukeyima recently, spoke with some selected journalists during a 3 day retreat for senior staff of the council in Abeokuta Ogun State. The media parley with the Chief Executive Officer focused on the activities of the Council vis a vis the how to achieve the mandates set aside my the federal ministry of Marine and Blue Economy and how to resolve some of the challenges faced in the maritime industry. ROLAND EKAMA was among those selected for the interaction.

Excerpts

While speaking earlier, you talked about the need to employ more staff meanwhile it was reported that you laid off some staff when you came in. Can you tell us what happened?

There are rules guiding employment process. The news was making the rounds but at first, I didn’t want to comment because it is an internal thing but I think one of the newspapers came to me in the office and I granted an interview which I suppose has actually calmed everybody down because I have not heard much about it after then.
The youth corps members who had served with us were asked to leave because they had finished their terms and we have more NYSC coming in and we needed to clear the backlog so that we can have the new ones accommodated and that news reared up its head but there was an approval to employ 45 people in the Council but the process had started but hadn’t ended as at the time some of them received their letters of appointment.
And when we came in, we met some petitions from the union and we decided to go into it and we set up a committee which looked into that and recommended that the persons should be asked to step aside pending when the process will be concluded fairly. We noticed that some of the persons that were recruited did not even participate in the written examination which was not in line with the policy of the Council. The Council is a fair Council and when people have written exams to enter the council, they should be considered and not seeing people on the streets and giving them appointments.
So, this is what happened, nobody was sacked, these people were not properly employed and were just asked to step aside. The Council is considerate to invite those people to that interview and exams to come back and participate again and if they are able to pass the exams, they will be offered the appointment. Nobody is being victimised.

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You said the Council would go paperless in August, how prepared is the Council to achieve that?

The Council has long before now been implementing the ECM policy of the federal government. It is not new to the Council to the extent that this has been implemented over the years. All that we need to do is to further improve the technology.
As I speak to you, we have structures on ground and all we need is the culture change initiative and train our people. We just need to leverage on what we have and improve on it.

You signed performance bond with the Minister of Marine and Blue Economy recently which also formed the KPI and how will this be achieved with the Retreat for staff of the Nigerian Shippers Council?

The performance bond is very key to pushing us to achieve our mandates of what is expected from us as a council and much on what we do in the council . Now this retreat is in one of those gathering aimed for us to rob minds and to guide our activities in line with the vision of Mr. President our mandates.
Under the performance bond that we signed with the minister of Marine and Blue Economy, there are certain roles that are assigned to the Shippers’ Council. The role of developing a policy for the Marine and Blue Economy is actually assigned to the ministry.
The Nigerian Shippers’ Council is only a contributor to that role. The minister is already working on that role and we have had series of stakeholder-engagements, retreats and conferences in respect of that, and the policy is being developed as I speak to you.
The minister has always said that he wants a policy that is workable. For instance, if you talk about port renewal or reconstruction of the Nigerian port, it is quite huge resources that are needed for that development. This is not the kind of investment that the Nigerian government will want to put its money into at the moment.
All that the minister and every agency under him have to do is to provide that enabling environment to attract the private sector, so that investors can come in and develop the port sector. So, we are working hand-in-hand with the minister.
Now, talking about legacy, the major thing I want to do going forward is the restructuring of the Shippers’ Council. Shippers’ Council is no longer what it used to be because the mandate has changed drastically.
Now we have the mandate to be the port economic regulator, meaning that in the economic activities happening within the port, we are responsible for regulating even the players. So, we are not just about looking at the welfare of shippers, the issue of tariff adjustments and all that, we are looking at the overall economic benefits that will come from that sector.
How do we drive that? We need to have a law. The swift passage of that law will enhance every other thing that the Nigerian Shippers’ Council will be doing going forward. Once that law is passed, the next thing is that the Shippers’ Council will truly become an agency that is raising revenue for the government.
We will implement the ICTN, and at the end of the year, see how much we have contributed to the national GDP. I want to be able to raise the profile of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, so that by the time I am leaving, it will be contributing meaningfully to the national GDP. That is one of the major achievements I want to attain.

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How visible is the Shippers’ Council in the ports?

The Shippers’ Council is visible in the port. We are not outside the port, our officers go there for enforcement regularly, and I must say that the PSTT (Port Standing Task Team) is also working very well. The coordinator of that taskforce, Mr. Moses Fadipe, is here with us and is still working with his team, nothing has changed.
I need to say that we have not had the gridlock that has been happening within the port corridor for some time; it is because of the activities of the committee, and it is still working.

How do you intent to achieve the funding of 1% FSF to displace subvention from port development levy?

This is the right time for us to drive the issue of funding for the Shippers’ Council because the Oronsaye Report is very clear about what the Shippers’ Council should do. As much as the other agencies have been merged, and some completely disbanded, the Nigerian Shippers’ Council under that report is supposed to generate its revenue and be self-funding. So, more than anything before, it is now that the Shippers’ Council should be able to raise its revenue profile and begin to raise its funding.
The 1% Freight Stabilisation Fee is statutory funding for the agency, and the agency has not been able to implement that fee. So, now is the best time to implement it. The 2% from the 7% port development levy, which we have been using now as source of funding for the council, we can leave that because, according to the Oronsaye Report, we are not supposed to be given any subvention from that sub-head.
So, once we achieve our 1% freight stabilisation fee, which is statutory, we are not going to ask for the port development levy anymore. We will just confine ourselves to what the report said we should do, and then begin to look for other sources of funding, which I believe we have certain responsibilities to raise money, not only to fund the agency but as well contribute meaningfully to the national GDP.

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Do you think it’s achievable setting standards for uniform cargo evacuation time at the port terminals?

We set the standards, and the shipping companies and terminal operators are supposed to work with the standards that we have set. We have the turnaround time, dwell time for cargo from entry point where they move out of the ship to the terminals, and when they are cleared and taken out.
All of these standards have been set by the Shippers’ Council; what we intend to do is to continue the enforcement, and continue our engagement with stakeholders, so that they know the value of improvement within the port sector.
It is for their own good; the good of the economy, the good of their businesses. So, if you waste too much time, you delay the business from moving (they say time is money). If you don’t put in place efficient processes that will move cargo and reduce the turnaround time according to international standards, then we are doing it to ourselves, including investors in the sector.
So, ours is to enforce the standards that we have set, so that within the ambit of these standards, people can operate, but when you go outside these standards, we try to bring you back to line.
We have to look at our regulations as well and see how they can be business-friendly because all what the Shippers’ Council will be doing going forward is to ensure that we raise our revenue and contribute money to the federal government. So, our regulations will be very friendly as we take up the role as a revenue-generating agency and let the businesses in the sector also make profit.

“All that the minister and every agency under him have to do is to provide that enabling environment to attract the private sector, so that investors can come in and develop the port sector. “…….. Akutah

Your reactions to the traffic flow at Tin Can-Mile 2 corridor?

When we visited the (Tin Can Island Port) terminal and they raised the issue, it was the PSTT that still went back to work, and you can see that that corridor is free already, and we will continue to do that, as much as possible, to ensure that the corridor is free for traffic.
At the launch of Fadipe’s book, the representative of Apapa Local Government did say that if not for the activities of the committee, there was a time the local government was planning to move its secretariat out of Apapa. So, you can see the benefit of having that committee working.
Again, our own enforcement team within the council is also working hand-in-hand with the committee to ensure that we keep that corridor free, because we have no other option. Until we are able to achieve the inter-modal transport system, we have just these roads and must ensure that they are clear.

What is the timeframe for the 1% statutory freight stabilisation fee?

The minister had given us a timeframe of two weeks. That has expired, but we are working hard on that. Within the council, we are developing a cost-benefit analysis so that when we talk about this, we should be able to show the cost-benefit, because people might think that it will add to the cost of doing business if we insist on taking the 1% FSF.
Actually, if you look at the cost-benefit analysis, you will know that it doesn’t add to the cost of doing business. Rather, it is a statutory provision and it also helps the Nigerian Shippers’ Council to carry out its mandate. Not carrying out its mandate will create more problems for the sector than the 1% fee.

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On the issue of more IDP Construction versus utilisation what is the position of the Council?

The Inland Dry Ports is also one of the policies of government to bring about port efficiency. We are under the African Continental Free Trade Agreement and there are opportunities for Nigerians in that agreement, and if we open up our markets for the whole of Africa, then we should be willing to also export from Nigeria.
So, the IDP project basically targets bringing shipping services to the hinterlands, closer to people who needs it. Rather than bringing your goods to the seaports for export, you can export them right from where your farms are, where you are producing whatever it is.
We also decongest the ports by that singular action and at the same time promote international trading activities in the hinterland. So, it is important for us to develop that policy and continue to move in to possibly flood our hinterlands with dry ports, but they must be actively engaged in business; people must use them, it is not just to construct.
But then, the Nigerian Shippers’ Council is not bringing money from government coffers to build IDPs, they are public-private partnership business enterprise, so people, sometimes state governors, come to us and say they want to develop IDPs. We have to see the locations and how viable those projects are for import/export business.
For instance, in Enugu State, we have a vehicle transit area to be located at Oboloafor and we are insisting that we should invest in a vehicle transit area in that location because it is already a transport hub where vehicles (transporters) travelling between the north and south break to rest and refresh before they move.
So, it is better for us to establish a vehicle transit area there than an IDP since Onitsha (inland port) is just down the line, where trade and business activities are already going on. If we have an IDP within that radius, it might not serve the purpose as much as possible. So, we consider all these, we are not just engaging in construction of IDPs but we want them to be effective, efficient and contribute to international trade within our country.

“We will implement the ICTN, and at the end of the year, see how much we have contributed to the national GDP.……… Barr. Akutah 

What is actually delaying the smooth commencement ICTN?

Actually, the ICTN has been up before now, but you will recall that there was an attempt in the past and some processes had commenced but had not come to conclusion before the end of the last administration. Now we are trying to bring the stakeholders together and see how we can resolve some differences among them and then be able to move on quickly.
That’s the process we met on ground, and we must make the best out of it, and by that I mean that we have to bring everyone on board to be able to discuss, iron out differences, and only at that point can we move forward. We are trying to avoid situations that will stall the whole process, so all that we need to do is to make sure that the stakeholders are on the same page and resolve their differences and we move forward.

National Transport Commission Bill and the conflict of control?

We at the Shippers’ Council are more concerned about repealing the Shippers’ Council Act CAP N133 2004 and enacting a new Nigerian Shippers’ Council Act which will give us the mandate as Port Economic Regulator. I don’t think the other bill is still pending anywhere in the National Assembly.