More than seven years after the completion of port reform programme and coming on stream of private terminal operators, strong indications emerged that the Federal Government may have appointed the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) as commercial regulator for the port system on an interim basis.
The Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), which is also the landlord of the ports had emerged technical regulator, which is in charge of all technical issues such as pilotage, channel management and other marine service –related issues while the commercial regulator is expected to regulate charges, fees and other allied matters.
A competent industry source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, hinted that the decision of the government to appoint the NSC as a temporary regulator follows the failure of the National Assembly to pass into law neither the Ports and Harbours Bill nor the National Transport Commissions Bill, which are pending before it in the lastseven years.
The source also said that Shippers Council will perform the commercial regulatory functions in the industry pending the harmonisation of both the National Transport Commission (NTC) and the Ports and Harbour bills both at the National Assembly, which will culminate in the emergence of a substantive commercial regulator.
“In appointing a temporary commercial regulator, the government is desirous of bridging the regulatory vacuum created by the absence of a commercial regulator, which is the standard norm in a landlord port model such as Nigeria’s”, the source said.
According to him, the government wants to ensure adequate regulation of the industry especially by checking arbitrariness of the private terminal operators, which had led to the imposition and increase in the levies, fees and general prices of services at the port without recourse to the lease agreement signed with the government.
It was gathered that that the thinking of the government is that this development significantly to the problem of cargo diversion neighbouring countries’ seaports as shippers are afraid that Nigerian ports are expensive and so they opt to use neighbouring seaports even for consignments destined for the Nigerian market.
On earlier speculations that NPA might also be made to double as a commercial, the source hinted that government’s thinking is NPA one agency cannot double as both technical and commercial regulator, arguing that NPA has comparative advantage in technical port issues while the NSC is good at commercial regulation, especially considering the reasons for setting up both agencies and their roles and functions.