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We want ports that are modern, clean and transparent — Bello, CEO, Shippers Council

Hassan Bello, the Executive Secretary/Chief Executive Officer, Nigerian Shippers Council, NSC, spoke to our Maritime Correspondent, Godfrey Bivbere, on several issues mainly on the progress of the Inland Container Depot (ICD) projects across the country, as well as the ports liberalization and the state of the port access road.
Excerpts:

IT is in the public domain that
the Kaduna Inland Container Depot (ICD) is almost ready for commissioning, what is the state of the others?

In Kaduna we have done most of the infrastructure which includes the traffic, the roads entrance and exits which the Kaduna state government is going to construct, the basis being that we want to correct the issues that we still have with the sea port. The dry ports should be modern, they should be automated, there should not be issues of congestion, there should not be issues of demurrage and there should not be issues of cumbersome clearing procedures. We want our ports to be in accordance with international standards and that’s why International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations, FIATA and even International Maritime Organisation, IMO are helping the Kaduna ICD to obtain standards. The issue of doing business with ease is important to us; the Kaduna ICD will not only be a dry port but a modern dry port.

What measures will be put in place to ensure that the cumbersome clearing, especially at the Lagos ports,   does not replicate itself there?

Exactly, that is a brilliant question. We want automation so that you do not need to be physically present at the port to conduct your business from the word go. We want absolute departure from our tedious physical appearance at the ports that is breeding corruption, breeding sabotage and so many other things. We want a port that is modern, we want a port that is clean and transparent, a port that would give revenue to the government and guarantee the investors of their investment but also provide employment for the people and boost the economy from where they are allocated.

What is the state of the Jos ICD?

Jos ICD is 62 percent completed. The beauty about Jos is that there is already a technical agreement between the operators of the Jos ICD   and some operators to carry substantial tonnage that would be able to sustain the Jos port. You know Jos is an agricultural centre, it should be obliged a free trade zone so there can be industrial clusters to it to make it free export zone.

We are having meetings in Jos this week to see the progress they have made. In fact in June the minister of transportation was supposed to go back and inspect the progress. I know there is the issue of rail siding at the terminal. This is a challenge and we are discussing it. But Plateau state government, just like Kaduna State government, has been very supportive of the dry port.

What about the one at Isiala-Ngwa?

Isiala-Ngwa, there has been an agreement signed between the concessioners of Isiala-Ngwa and they recently signed agreement with their technical partners from Canada with the Governor of Abia State witnessing. So we expect construction to start soon and if it starts, it should finish in 18 months because Shippers Council would give you 18 months to complete, if you do not then we may actually revoke the concession we have given to you.

Ibadan ICD?

Ibadan is also a very strategic place because of its proximity to the port in Lagos. So we are looking at many options and I think it is premature to say so but all the ICD concessioners are working very hard,   including that of Funtua and the one in Kano. You know the mistake of the Shippers Council was saying we can do it all together but now we have identified places where there are seriousness and we encourage them. The concessioners of ICD in Isiala-Ngwa are very serious people, so also Funtua and Kano. So we expect them to do that in their own pace, some have challenges with their State government and that is outside us. We can only intervene and encourage state governments to support. So they cannot be on the same level but we have also issued a warning if they are not able to complete at a certain period, then the concession is threaten.

What is the time frame?

The period is 18 months that’s what we are looking at for all of them but some like Jos, you cannot say 18 months because they are up to 62 percent but what is even more important is the interest and the enthusiasm the minister of transportation has shown in these projects, you could see him going to inspect these projects because he is concerned about the employment content of that projects. So also the governor of Kaduna state who on the spore of the moment approved so many things for the dry port in Kaduna. He is our number one senior supporter of the project. Now what we are doing is that there must be in synergy with other government agencies. We are bringing Nigerian Custom Service, NCS, in. They are part of the ICD project.

The Comptroller General of Customs is very enthusiastic about the ICD projects and also the Nigeria Ports Authority, NPA, were there in Kaduna when we did the inspection because they are very strategic. There must be synergy between the sea port and the dry port and of course the shipping companies. Some of them were in Kaduna when we first got to Kaduna to see what they could do on the interface between the sea ports and the dry ports, the shipping companies are also very enthusiastic.

Rail connectivity is very important to these projects; how is the master plan for rail across the country connected to these facilities?

Yes, with the rail connectivity now in the master plan all activities (concerning the ports) would now be linked with rail so when the ship comes in (Consignments) would be loaded on the rail bound for the inland ports and straight to the inland port. That is the beauty of it and we have got the support of the Senate and House of Representatives committee on transportation on this.

You were in Benin, Edo state recently to discuss the establishment of a dry port there; what stage is the project now?

We went to Benin to inspect the dry port that has been proposed by an indigenous investor. We are satisfied, this is a starting point. We have seen the governor of Edo State, a very enthusiastic man and an economist to the core and who readily understood the implication of dry port.   We have applied for a land. I think it is being processed.

I heard that Shippers Council is considering a Truck Transit Park, TTP in Benin?

The Truck Transit Park, in Benin is in the making now, we have resumed regulatory oversight on the project because we would soon deploy our engineer. We would give him the model and when that has been done, we are going to talk about the road, the infrastructure, the lighting, security, water, fire service, warehouses, with refrigerated warehouse also and a lot of things. We want to develop within that period; it is located in the outskirt of Benin City.

The recent directive of the NPA liberalising the port for discharge of oil and gas cargo seems to have sparked off some controversy, what is your view on this?  

There is no problem. The foundation of port operation is competition. There should never be any monopoly. The monopoly was when NPA was in charge, that was public monopoly and we cannot replace public monopoly with private monopoly. The issue of oil and gas cargo is not known to the concession agreement it is the right of the shipper to nominate where his cargo should be discharged or loaded.

In making that decision which is economic factor, you would take into consideration the length of stay, how much it is going to cost you, the efficiency in the process of evacuating your cargo from the port and the access road and so many other things. So it should be left to the shippers to determine, it should not be based on any policy and monopoly. It is not something that should be tolerated in this age.

Should consideration not be given to the capacity of the port or terminal to handle specialised cargo?

Maybe some specialized cargo even that we could have one or two of them so it would not be only one terminal and that is why I always say that our terminals have improved considerably from the time we were before the concession. All terminals are making so much investment in infrastructure, in machineries and in equipment. You can see that automation is gradually gaining ground, this is what the terminal operators have introduced into Nigeria, they have revolutionized the way we do business and it can only get better.

What about the port access roads?

The roads as you know, are not good. This is because of our over dependence on them as access to the ports. The ports should have many access including rail. Predominately, rails are inland transport as well as pipelines. That is why you see the tank farms, you see a lot of tankers coming to the tank farms but there should be a pipeline, a means of transportation to take the refined products to stations maybe Kaduna also. That should be enhanced.


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