Maritime lawyer says port system now cost-friendly, efficient, safe
A maritime lawyer, Mr Osuala Nwagbara, on Thursday said port reforms had made the port system friendly in terms of costs, efficiency, predictability, safety and security.
Nwagbara made the remark in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lagos.
According to him, since 1996 when Nigeria embarked upon port reforms, the nation’s port system had witnessed a series of developments.
He said, “There is no doubt that nearly ten years after the leasing of port infrastructure to private entrepreneurs in Nigeria, there has been a remarkable improvement in port development and service efficiency.’’
Nwagbara, however, said users of port services had complained that concessionaires of Nigerian port infrastructure had not kept to the terms and conditions of the tripartite agreement between them, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE).
“This has brought to the fore the need for shippers to show interest in all issues of port reforms, for a New Port Order in Nigeria.
“Shippers must be seen to be active participants in policy formulation and policy implementation.
“In all issues affecting the interest of shippers, they must be seen in the front row in identifying such issues and suggesting solutions in the form of policy advocacy,’’ the maritime lawyer said.
He urged shippers to rise and challenge in court any move which could exclude them or reduce them to a non-active group.
The maritime lawyer spoke on controversies over valuation of goods, adding that duty on imported goods shall be based on the value stated by the seller, on the seller’s invoice.
He said that such invoice was usually authenticated by the exporting country’s Chamber of Commerce.
“Where there is a good reason to doubt the veracity of the value stated on the invoice of the seller, then recourse is made to the value of identical goods from the same country of import, of same quantity, within a maximum time lag of three months,’’ Nwagbara said.
He said that this was in a bid to determine the value, so as to have the appropriate customs duty charged on the imports.
The maritime lawyer talked about the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (Local Shipping Charges on Imports and Exports) Regulations, 1997, which empowered the council to negotiate all future reviews, modifications and increase of Nigerian Ports Authority tariffs and rates.
He said the NSC, pursuant to the powers conferred on it by the local shipping charges Regulations, 1997, had successfully negotiated storage charges and related matters, which were in force as at May 1, 2009.
On dock labour, Nwagbara said, “Surely, an organised, well-remunerated, fully complemented labour will ensure safe, secured, and speedy port operations’’.
He said this would result in predictable, efficient, safe, secured, cost effective and time-saving port operations for the NPA, ship owners, shipping company agents, terminal operators, importers and freight forwarders.
“Before the current dock labour reforms, labour contractors unleashed an unfair treatment on dock labour and this resulted in restive dock labour in the Nigerian ports.
“Poor remuneration, 90 per cent casualisation, half of normal gang being used to work a shift, inadequate rest, and non-existent welfare package, all combined to create wharf rats (stealing), produced ceaseless strikes, unsafe and insecure work environment, and slow operations,’’ the maritime lawyer recalled.
Nwagbara added that in the past, all these issues translated to high costs of operations in Nigerian ports.