There is a need to pass into law the Ports and Harbour Bill, which is currently on the floor of the National Assembly, according to experts. This is owing to the need for a commercial regulator in the port industry to regulate the excesses of the industry players.
Similarly, operators in the nation’s shipping sector say it has become necessary to transform an institution such as the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) into a commercial regulator to curb the illegal charges being imposed on Nigerian importers by the multi-national shipping agencies and terminal operators.
At the public hearing on ports organised by the National Assembly, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, minister of finance, highlighted the need to sustain the port reforms by early passage of the Ports and Harbour Bill, saying the bill would make the Harbour Authority the technical regulator and promote private participation.
John Adebowale, a shipping consultant, who attributed the progress made in the telecoms industry to the existence of an effective regulator, said Nigerian ports require a commercial regulator like the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) which has greatly improved the telecoms industry. The body so created, he said, should be fully equipped in terms of international tariff regulations, expertise in ports operation as well as the problems suffered by importers and exporters as a result of the excesses of multinational shipping companies and terminal operators.
On the need to transform the NSC into a commercial regulator, industry operators say there could not be accelerated progress in the ports industry without a regulatory body.
“I cannot see any reason why Shippers Council cannot be transformed as a regulator because they are not directly involved in any of the sides; they are neither the operator nor the landlord. They are on ground as a government agency with the interest of facilitating trade. So instead of setting up a new body, Shippers Council can be made regulator,” said Olu Akinsoji, former rector, Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN).
Similarly, a cargo consolidator, Ikechukwu Okafor, said the Federal Government through the Ministry of Transport should facilitate the transformation of NSC as the commercial regulator based on the strategic importance of the council in the industry, which has enabled it to be involved in settling disputes between service providers and port users.
Mathias Ogbodo, a maritime expert, said the Federal Government should not go too far in the search of a regulator with the presence of NSC because the council has the qualified human capital and structure to carry out the assignment.
“The Council understands the ports industry very well and knows how to make the industry efficient. It has played several roles in the past that are not different from what is expected of a commercial regulator. All it needs is that as a regulator, the law setting it up or transforming it gives it the teeth to bite so that it can set rules of the trade, sanction erring service providers, either as a terminal operator, shipping company or even consumers of shipping services,” he said.