By Innocent Anaba
Mr Hassan Bello, was recently appointed Acting Executive Secretary of Nigerian Shippers Council, NSC. He was Secretary to the Council and Legal Adviser of NSC, before his elevation.
In this interview, he spoke on efforts to review obsolete laws governing the Maritime Industry, which he noted will make the sector compete and become the best in the West African sub-region.
What is your appraisal of the role of the National Assembly in response to law making for the maritime sector?
The National Assembly as constituted is very active in this respect. They are conscious of their roles. The Senate Committee on Marine Transport and House of Representatives Committee on Marine Transport have diligently worked with us and you need to see the quality of people and presentation that are made in these committees.
You will recall that during the last maritime seminar for judges, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Aminu Tambuwal, suggested the setting up of a committee for law reforms generally. We have been talking with Nigerian Maritime Lawyers Association and House Committee on Marine Transport and soon, we will set up a committee to look at all our laws, so that obsolete laws in the sector, which hinder speedy economic development, could be reformed.
Such reforms would not only lead to rapid socio-economic development, they will most importantly, assist us in the domestication of international conventions that are appropriate and relevant to the development of our maritime law and industry, because for the maritime industry to thrive, it needs appropriate and modern legal frameworks.
Is the committee going to examine maritime law alone or will it consider other archaic laws in our statute book?
It will be a holistic approach to reviewing of our maritime laws and very practical too. For instance, we cannot domesticate a convention if it does not have any thing to contribute to our development. We cannot promulgate laws that do not translate to economic advancement of our people. Laws must be relevant and most importantly, they must guarantee the economic advancement of our people.
We need only laws that will boost our economic activities, facilitate the integration of Nigeria into the world economy and we must have laws that are meaningful, and applicable to our peculiar situation.
What is the role of Nigerian Law Reform Commission in this?
There are so many agents of change of which Nigerian law Reform Commission is one of them. The law Reform Commission is an omnibus commission. It had been very active, if you have been following their activities. What we will do is to liase with them, because they may have their specialties, such as criminal laws, constitutional laws among others, but admiralty law is a specialised aspect of the law, which is also intricate.
So, that the committee of Nigerian Shippers Council, Nigerian Maritime Lawyers Association and National Assembly Committee on Marine Transport would, at one point or the other, rely on Nigerian Law Reform Commission to effectively discharge their mandate.
To what use have you put the benefits of the 2012 maritime seminar for judges.
The Maritime Seminar for judges was watershed in the sense that the seminar is moving towards the economic aspect of the maritime industry. We brought in big time shippers, such as Alhaji Aliko Dangote. We brought in big time maritime lawyers on the issue of ship arrest. We had ship owners, who came and talked about the danger of frivolous arrest of ships, which we believe is not good for the maritime sector.
We had judges and so on. But we have the committee for maritime seminar for judges, which oversees the realisation of the communiqué, so that the seminar is not just a talk shop, but remains a policy driving seminar and right now, it is working on realising the positions adopted by the communiqué as soon as it is possible.
How would you appraise the importance of Dry ports to the country?
They are very strategic infrastructure. Dry ports are supposed to solve the lingering crises of ports congestion. They are long term solution to ports congestion. The dry ports are also ports; the only thing is that you don’t see water. They are supposed to be designated legally as the ports of destination and origin and that is being done right now.
The moment we have such designations and such regulations branding them as ports of destination or origin as the case may be, they will become the trend. The concept of the dry ports is also a modern concept because it supports the door to door delivery of cargo.
It is also one of the ingredients of the modern carriage conventions, the United Nations carriage of goods wholly or partly by sea, otherwise known as the Rotterdam Rules. Nigeria has no supporting legislations, but is also providing the real infrastructure to support modern transport system and the potentials for dry port are so enormous that when they come to fruition, which we hope will be very soon, it will be so visible and provide employment.
They will employ so many people. The underlying use of the dry ports is their export potential, they should be a place for consolidation of cargo, for group page of cargo and for export. A place for evacuation of all our exports, not only imports, if they are well managed.
Who is responsible for their management?
The concessionaries carry enormous responsibilities here because it was done on a Private-Public Partnership, PPP basis. Hitherto, they have been carried along, however, I think their problems are financial and now is time for the concessionaries to be alive to their responsibilities. The Shippers Council will also be alive to its responsibilities, because we can’t have white elephant projects. These dry ports are very important and we must work together to see that they become operational.
We read of reforms and efforts to ensure 24-hour operation of the ports. What is the role of NSC in these reforms?
Many things are happening along this line. That is why I said 2013 is the year of consolidation. It is the year of actualisation, 24-hour ports operation would bring a lot of growth to our economy. Apart from speedy cargo clearance, it will bring the ports alive with the Customs playing their role and the clearing system being electronic.
Even the traffic in the ports and ports areas would be affected. The single window system means a lot of responsibility for freight forwarders and NSC in particular. The Shippers Council had always advocated this, because if we have more hours in operations, you have quick clearance of cargoes.
You won’t have much port congestions. You will have shorter dwell time for cargoes, turnaround time for ships and our port will become more competitive because you cannot decree a port to be (a hub of ) a port of priority by importers. It is a function of competition and operations, if we have 24 hours clearing operations, then that will make our ports have the potential of being the best in the West African sub-region.
A 24-hour port operations is on the way. It is workable. It is doable and I am sure that if everyone is alive to his or her responsibilities, it will be realised soon.
You had maintained that multi-modal transportation was the key to unlock the treasures in our maritime industry. How far has this happened in the sector?
We are going there now. We have seen the reactivation of the rail transport and the importance of rail transportation in global economy cannot be over-emphasised, because everybody appreciates the role of rail transport in the economy. So, the resuscitation of the rail transport system is important for the economy and is a landmark development, because this is the beginning of the emergence of many other modes of transport.
Multi-modalism is the reliance on many modes of transport, from water transport to Inland Waterways. We also have the roads, the air and the rail, however, what is important is not so much about multi-modalism as in the intermodalism because there must be some connectivity.
There must be some interface between these modes of transport, so that we have a seamless transport system. Goods transported by sea are shipped to the owner of the cargo through rail transport, road transport and so on. The co-ordination of these modes of transport is very important. So, all these things have been done in the past two years and that the Federal Government is now consolidating and I am sure that 2013 will be a good one for the maritime industry.