‘Nigeria’s Admiralty Law practice is now internationally recognised’
Mr. Hassan Bello is a senior lawyer and the executive secretary of Nigeria’s Shippers Council (NSC). The Council as part its corporate responsibility annually organizes maritime seminar for Nigerian judges in Admiralty Law practice to update them on new developments in this area. On the strength of this, he, in this interview provides insights to this year’s seminar and what is expected. He also speaks on the activities of his Council including the role of the maritime sector in diversifying Nigeria’s economy and the council as the appointed ‘Ports Economic Regulator’, which it earned from the Federal Government in 2014. IBE UWALEKE captured the essence.
What are the highlights of this years’ maritime seminar for judges?
This years’ Maritime Seminar for Judges is beginning from May 31 to June 1, 2016. As you know, there are lots of contemporaneous issues that have come up which our Judges must know. The essence of this seminar is to update the knowledge of our Judges on contemporary issues in admiralty law, so that they will be conversant with the law. When we have an investor, he will look at how quick or how timeous our Judges will determine or resolve commercial disputes when they arise. What they will do in this very complex issue of admiralty law. Because of the training the Judges have received through this seminar, Nigerian judgments are now very well respected internationally and I think that we have achieved that purpose. But the idea is that we are always bringing new challenges to the Judges and I am sure that everybody has acknowledged that this seminar is not just a talk shop, it is a seminar that has influenced policy, it is a seminar that has influenced law and it is also a seminar that is made for the domestication of international conventions.
What surprise will make this particular seminar unique?
In this edition of the seminar, we have a lot of issues to discuss. As usual we start with introduction to maritime law, admiralty Jurisdictions for new Judges of Federal High Court. We also have electronic evidence in admiralty practice which is a very novel issue in e- commerce. We want to see how e- commerce is jumping more than legislation and how we have to adjudicate on this. We have a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Olumide Shofowora who will speak on this. We also have a topic on addressing African Cyber challenges which will be discussed by the Commissioner, African Maritime Safety and Security Agency, We have the role of the Council as a port economic regulator. What is even more important is the continued international adaptation of this seminar. For example, we have the Chief Justice of Sierra Leone, the Chief Justice of the Gambia, the Chief Justice of Ghana, all coming for this seminar. They have already indicated their interest. The Minister of Transportation, Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amechi will give the Keynpote Address while Chief Ernest Shonekan will chair the event. So we expect a very robust seminar this year.
Considering maritime as an international business, how do international conventions, protocols and treaties affect and influence Nigeria’s domestic maritime trade?
We are talking about international domain, but first of all we always talk of a Nigeria that is for the unification of maritime laws. If maritime trade is international, then its laws have to be unified. You can’t have different countries operating different legal regimes. So what we do is that we negotiate among countries about the laws, trade or carriage conventions that are appropriate tools for our own nature . We are a cargo owning country for now and so, we have to support those international conventions that will give priority to cargo, which will favour the cargo owning countries. For example the Hamburg Rules, Nigerian Shippers Council has helped in domesticating the Hamburg Rules. The law is in application in Nigeria now. But there is still another convention, the Carriage of Goods wholly or partly by Sea which is called the Rotterdam Rules. Nigeria negotiated this convention with other countries, but it is yet to come into force in Nigeria. If it does, it will be a better convention. In fact there is going to be a colloquium in Senegal on the Rotterdam Convention of which the Nigerian Shippers Council will take part. So we are always seeking for an appropriate convention that will reflect what is our economic interest. The NSC is also involved in the Safety of Life at Sea ( SOLAS) Act which brings out container weighing. That containers must be weighed the Shippers Council is at the top of it, together with the Federal Ministry of Trade, Industry and Investments. The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) is also very busy engaging in other conventions such as the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) Conventions and others, so that we will be able to adopt the correct conventions for our economy.
How do you appraise Nigeria Shippers Council as the Ports economic regulator?
The journey has been extremely eventful, the duty of a regulator as the name suggests, is to find a balance between the expectations of the government and the expectations of the private sector. A regulator is supposed to create a good working environment for the private sector to thrive. The private sector, especially in maritime industry, is the engine room. Government has no business in business. Since the government knew this, it went ahead to privatise the ports to private sector and from that time, the history of maritime sector in Nigeria has changed positively.
What are the positive impacts of the privatisation of the maritime sector in Nigeria?
There a lots of changes and positive results flowing from that commendable exercise. For example, terminal operators, the shipping companies, have all changed the way they do business in this country positively. We have recorded efficiency in our services but then, there is still a lot of work to be done and I dare say that this work is actually in the domain of government. The government has a duty to provide the right atmosphere for the private sector to thrive. I think the government still has a lot to do and that is why the Nigerian Shippers Council continues to say that the government has to provide the enabling environment, government has to protect and guarantee the protection of the investments of the private sector. On the other hand, the private sector on its own, must be reasonable and responsible.
Why do you say this?
Some of the actions of the private sector need to be reciprocal and proportionate to what the government has been able to do. The terminals have been operating without the electricity, for example, they generate their own electricity, there is the question of access to the ports, there is the question of the gridlock and so many other things that have not made our ports not too friendly and it is the responsibility of the government to come and solve these problems. I advocate that the government would sit down with the operators, the shipping companies, the terminal operators, the Freight forwarders and all the stakeholders in order to fashion out a marshal plan for the ports .
What do you mean by this?
It is only when you are competitive that you become efficient. What is important is for us to realize that we are in competition with the ports in our sub region and we have to get our cargo back, so that they will come through our ports, if we do that then comes the issue of diversification of the economy which is placed within that context. The maritime industry, if it is made attractive and sustainable, will be a good area to start the diversification of the economy. It will create jobs, it will be an avenue to provide modern infrastructure. In the overall, it will improve the economy, create wealth and connect Nigeria with international investors. We have come to the point where we either diversify our economy or we perish and we are talking about a robust port. A port that is not only for import, but a port that is also ready to encourage the exportation of our commodities.
You have always canvassed reducing the cost and time of doing business at Nigeria’s ports, are there breakthroughs in this direction?
We are mindful of our global standing, World Bank standing, rating and ranking. Nigeria has to increase her global and index of doing business at her ports. Stakeholders should come together so that all of us will brain storm and have the same target, we must work as a team. But for now, we are going about it in different ways and I think with more empowerment of Nigerian Shippers Council, we will be able to bring this together . The crux of the matter is automation. Our ports need to be automated, so that we don’t do things manually. Even the presence of people at the ports is a source of friction and corruption.
If systems are deployed, you will see that everything is transparent. Transparency means that all payments are seen, all transactions are seen, you will be able to assess, you will be able to evaluate , you will be able to see what everybody is doing at the same time. If it is a matter of inefficiency, you immediately pick the relevant organization that is responsible for that. The port is a lineal place, the port is a transit place for cargo, it is not meant for cargo to dwell. The deployment of appropriate technology, the deployment of transparent culture and business ethics, will free our ports from disorganization, make our ports more business friendly, competitive, more attractive and more efficient in conformity with global standards. And through that you will see that the maritime industry will make its appropriate contributions to the economy.
You had canvassed an effective and efficient multimodal transport system as sine qua non to a viable port system, how far have you gone in achieving this?
You could see the remarkable job that has been done through the rail system. We want to see that there is rail to rail link to all our ports including the new ports. If we have the rail system in our ports, it will be cheaper, it will reduce the pressure on our roads and guaranty safety. We are opening up the dry port in Kaduna which is now operational. We are just trying to get external recognition for it. We are just trying to work out the modus oparandi. Very soon the minister will set up a committee to work out these things. So we are opening up the economy, we are looking at other inland ports, which means the port economy you find in Lagos, in Port Harcourt and Calabar, will be replicated in Kaduna in Isiala Ngwa, Kano, Funtua and other places. It is important that we review the sector holistically and I can assure you NSC is at the centre of it.
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