Amiwero: Government right to seek private capital, expertise to sustainably manage ports
President, National Council of Managing Directors of Customs Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), and Managing Director, Eyis Resources, Lucky Amiwero, throws more light on controversies trailing the Nigerian Ports and Harbours Authority Bill in this interview with SULAIMON SALAU. He advised maritime unions to approach the National Assembly and articulate their positions properly as core stakeholders in the sector.
How germane is the Nigerian Ports and Harbours Authority Bill at this time?
The bill might not be necessary if we look at the whole thing, but what is very essential in the bill is the concession component, and the operation of concessionaires. This is of great concern in the bill because since 2006 we have been operating a concessioned port system. The bill was actually drafted to legalise the concession programme. I was at the Senate the other time when the lawmakers were considering the bill. If you are operating a concession, the concession must have three components, which are regulation, port operations and landlord components, which is in the marine.
These three are components that have their respective structures in terms of operations. The regulatory component is that you must have an arm to regulate the economic interests of the ports. When you talk about ports’ operations, you are referring to private entities, who are concessioned, the landlord refers to the people who own the land, like the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), and who operate what they called marine services, which involves clearing of the channels, the buoys, and all that. They do that and provide pilots and other issues. So, the concept of ports concession is to make sure that the country owns the land and still owns the ports. The ports are concessioned because the Federal Government does not have the capital to invest in the port system. So, it is bringing people’s capital to develop the system, and since it does not have the expertise, it also needs to bring people to take over the place so the place can run effectively. Since it is not a political thing, experts must be allowed to make inputs into the Nigerian Ports and Harbours Authority Bill because if that is not well done, the government will continue losing out in the whole process because once you concede your ports, you have many things that will be conceded such as labour, infrastructure, traffic, and tariff.
If there was no such law when concession of ports took place, on what legal support was the concession programme based?
What the government did was a lease agreement and lease is limited. Government is trying to see how things can now be put in proper perspective to create better concession arrangement now. Here, government should be ready to concede employment of labour, infrastructure, traffic and tariff because that is why it is called concession. Having been designed by the World Bank, the labour union and the port management ought to have sat down and brought in experts to look at it, because if it is not done properly, you will continue to have leakages, conflicts and infractions in the process. That is the truth.
What the maritime workers are saying now is that there is nowhere in the bill that their employment is protected, and that by the time it comes into effect, most of them would be laid off.
For their information, we are supposed to be seeing them more in the National Assembly (NASS), but they are not coming to the NASS. When legislation that may affect you is going on, you should bring experts to look at the laws so that they can advise you where you have interest. Legislation is not political, it is only in Nigeria that we look at laws and politicise them. Legislation is to make for good governance. Most of the time, the unionists stay in Lagos instead of engaging the lawmakers, only to come and carry placards later. It is not about carrying placards. Personally, I have been in Abuja in the last two months intervening in bills, which are in sections. I sponsored myself to make sure that we have a good bill at the end of the whole thing. So, I would advise the union members to take a look at the bill, see areas they have problems, and make those areas known. Yes the maritime workers’ protest might be in line, but what we have in Nigeria currently is a sort of concession, the bill is just to back it up. The area we have problems in the port is the port regulator, which has been assigned to the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC). And the Federal Government has approved that the council should transform into National Transport Commission.
Don’t you think labour unions should also be invited because they claim they have written letters to the National Assembly with no response?
No, it is was actually a public hearing and everybody was welcomed because it was advertised. I was there, and I have been in Abuja for almost two months working on about seven or eight bills. As a leader, you don’t just sit down in Lagos and say you were not involved. How can they say nobody invited them? They were invited. The labour should have been there to try to protect themselves, because there might be some components that might not be in their interest, so it is the right of the labour union to do some justice to that. The management might not be able to say anything, but the labour has the right to say something. I have done it before and I am still doing it today, nobody can tell me that they were not invited.
These maritime workers also alleged that the bill could compromise the nation’s security because if tally/dock workers are converted to private operations, their employers’ interest may override that of the nation, especially as it relates to contraband goods?
As I said earlier, since 2006 till now, the ports have been operated as concession ports, so that argument does not hold water. In other words, the ports have been going through operational concession, but the legal concession is what the government is trying to put in place now so that things can be done properly.
What about the onboard security men and the tally workers?
That is one of what the maritime unions should have canvassed. They have the right to do what they want to do by articulating their positions properly and sending them to government, or going to the National Assembly to defend them because they are core stakeholders in the whole process, but it depends on leadership. It is good to carry placards, but you must articulate your issues adequately and make your position known. The unions need to do a lot of work urgently because the bill can be passed anytime from now. However, even after the passage, if it is not in the interest of the economy, the Federal Government will not assent to it.
Lets see examples of what is practiced in other advanced nations, or even within our regional terrain. Ghanaian ports are managed by a consortium -Meridian Ports Services Limited, which comprises Ghana Ports and Harbour, Bolore Logistics, and APMT. Bolore Logistics, and APMT have a controlling 70 per cent share, while the Ghanaian government has 30 per cent. However, it is trite to point out that Ghana and Nigeria are actually Anglophone driven economies having been earlier ruled by Britain. We have management and employee buyout in Britain.
While countries like Singapore and South Africa are using the commercialisation model, Nigeria elected to settle down with the Landlord Port Model, which has three major components, thus: operations, regulations and landlord. In this mode, the port operations go to the terminal operators, the regulation goes to the Nigerian Shippers’ Council and the marine services goes to the NPA.
Some terminal operators are advocating for the privatisation of scanners. Do you also support the idea?
No because scanners are security tools. And this is a government project. Scanners are not under terminal operators because they are bought by government.
Does that means the Nigerian Customs Services (NCS) will still be in charge, even as the service was alleged to be responsible for damaging the scanners?
I don’t think so. The problem was that the contract terms were not followed, and that is where that defect stemmed from. I was the sub-committee chairman, so I can talk more on that. It is not the NCS that destroyed the scanners. The contract is supposed to have followed the system of transition. There was a transition committee that was supposed to have implemented that thing. And after handing over, the service providers were supposed to stay for another six months with spare parts and other things. The handover process had some shortfalls and not the NCS.