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Port Registration War: Will Bello Capitulate?

Steadily but unswervingly, the wave of opposition to the recent introduction of operators’ registration fee by the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) has continued to rise in a crescendo, apparently drowning what can be regarded as prior divergent views in the emerging cacophony of voices.
The Executive Secretary/CEL of the NSC, Barr’ Hassan Bello, the man in the eye of the storm is not only regarded as port administrator per excellence, but indeed, the face of innovation and critical economic development builder. He has since the introduction of the controversial port registration come under intense pressure.
 The latest and seemingly most dramatic of the anti-Bello war is coming from the Tin Can Island Port Chapter of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to sack the NSC boss and the entire management team led by him for what the union described as the Council’s inability to steer the growth ratio of the port industry as the economic regulator, with the further allegation that the Council has contributed to some of the industry’s bottlenecks in the past six years.
Although it is too early to predict what the outcome of the Bello-Must-Go protest would be, the call is considered the rarest and most far reaching by any port union, least of all an important one like ANLCA. Chapter Chairman of the TCIP, Mr. Olufemi Olabanji who made the call yesterday in Lagos during a media chat, said as an economic regulator, it is not the place of the NSC to impose or collect levies from port users, while accusing the Council of abdicating its core mandate and delving into what he described as illegal into rent collection.
His words, “How can we say the Council is a regulator when a whole command like Lilypond and KLT are dying? To me, Mr. Hassan Bello who is in charge needs to be sacked because he is not serious on how to tackle the challenges in any way as the boss and the regulator”. 
At the beginning of the protracted protest, the immediate past National President of the ANLCA, Prince Olayiwola Shittu voiced his worry over the lack of understanding by port users for the introduction of the port fee, and enjoined freight forwarders and customs clearing agents to show understanding and be part of efforts to ease regulation processes of the port system.
He argues that as the nation’s port economic regulator, the agency has the responsibility of profiling industry players for obvious reasons, noting that the proposed registration fee is not way out of the Council’s purview, and would also help in maintaining a data base of industry players. 
His words, “I think the reaction is coming because money is involved. Shippers’ Council has the right to register those operating in the system because the Council is the commercial regulator of the port industry. They must know those they are regulating, so the registration is not the issue, people are reacting because of the monetary aspect of it, the truth however is that the Council is looking at it as a measure of control.
“The influx of people in the port is because of the lacuna with the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding of Nigeria, CRFFN, which recognized everybody as a freight forwarder. You just register with CRFFN, they give you their ID card, they show you to Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, they give you port pass, you are now in the port. They ask you say you are an agent, agent of what?  If you are a ship chandelier, you register as a ship chandelier; if you are transporter, you register as a transporter.
This is even as the Council has affirmed its mandate to implement the registration fee policy after due sensitization and consultation with stakeholders, for possible input on how best to drive the policy and achieve the intended gains for all players. Reacting to opposition against the proposed port service providers registration fee, the Executive Secretary/CEO of the NSC, Barrister Hassan Bello said the Council have in no way veered into the purview of other agencies as it is erroneously been propagated by some stakeholders; and maintained that the Council is acting within its statutory purview.
Hassan said, “It is a mandate given to us by the federal government. There is no clash of interest; it is a law of the federal republic of Nigeria.”
Although a number of critical stakeholders including the National Association of Freight Forwarders and Air Consolidators, NAFFAC, Association of Maritime Truck Owners, AMATO, have opposed the proposed policy, citing official trespass amongst other reasons; almost all of them turned around later to embrace the idea, including the two leading freight forwarding and customs clearing agents national headquarters, ANLCA and National Association of Govt. Approved Freight Forwarders, NAGAFF .
Despite apparent interventions and solidarity statements by maritime personalities and groups, the protest seem to gaining momentum and taking some rather dramatic dimension, with the recent call for the change of the Council’s leadership. An astute port development builder, a defender of liberal port processes and efficient port services, and by no less a progressive and patriotic technocrat, many regard Bello as the best thing to have happened to the port industry in the past two decades.
As part of its efforts to streamline tariffs which were often duplicated and multiplied under all sort of nomenclatures, the Council had to set up a committee which has so far succeeded in reducing such nomenclatures from 26 to about 20 thereby reducing cost of shipping in Nigeria.
It is also presently working assiduously to streamline clearing processes to ensure the institutionalization of a 24-hour clearing process having already secured a reduction time frame for refund of container deposits from three months to 30 days, and reduced storage and demurrage periods to between five and 10 days.
Meanwhile, Hassan was on Monday nominated by the Editorial Board of the Beam Media Group (BMG), publishers of the Beam Magazine as its Man of the Year 2018.
A statement by Editor-in-Chief of the newsmagazine, Ubon Akpan disclosed that the nomination followed a comprehensive audit perofmance of the Nigerian shippers’ Council under Bello’s watch as the ‘number one defender and protector of the interests of Nigerian Shippers in the year 2018.
The statement further noted that in the past three years, the Council has taken giant steps to bring to life projects and programs already on the templates of the agency, re-energizing them and getting them go to work in the industry, adding:
“Complaints desk as a first port of call for shippers with genuine complaints about improper trade conducts and disagreements between providers and consumers of shipping services and products.
“For instance, in the Hassan Bello years, the Shippers’ Council Cargo Defense Fund has stepped up its operations to support shippers with genuine support while seeking solutions to their import/export problems. The Fund was set up to assist indigenous shippers pursue legitimate claims on losses or damages of their cargoes either on transit or at the port of destination and is implemented with the support of the Nigeria Insurers’ Association (NIA), the Chambers of Commerce and other stakeholders who noticed the large number of shippers who abandoned their claims due to lack of financial and legal support”.
His reforms initiatives and anti-exploitative arbitrary charges by shipping companies and terminal operators stands out as the most port friendly crusade ever by a government official, in recent history.  Will this twist in opposition to the port registration protest make him back down? Only time will tell.

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