The Chairman, House Committee on Ports, Harbours and Waterways, Dr. Pat Asadu, says instituting relevant legal framework to drive Nigeria’s maritime industry is the primary focus of his committee now.
Asadu, in this interview, on the sidelines of the second edition of the International Conference and Exhibition (ICE) convened by the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) in Lagos recently, said the right legal framework will protect all critical stakeholders in the industry, and boost the nation’s economy. In that vein, he talked on the importance of growing and sustaining the sector through the Public Private Partnership (PPP) model, other than continually relying on government funding.
Of important note is Asadu’s disclosure on plans for a law that will evolve a new NIWA, and another law among the proposed five to be enacted, that is meant to protect Nigeria’s fishing sector. He also talked on plans for a dedicated maritime fund for the purpose of tackling sea piracy, as well as on other issues of interest to the growth of the maritime industry.
What has your Committee done so far regarding efforts at improving the maritime industry in Nigeria?
We were appointed about a year ago into the committee because the house didn’t start totally on a perfect kill. But we did our own in-house training for members to bring them to up to speed with what the maritime sector is all about because there are professionals of different fields. We also tried to do training at the Institute of legislative studies that helps with capacity building.
Then, we had a two-day conference in Eko Hotels where we met with maritime stakeholders. From there, and what we observed from cargo issues, budgeting processes, and our competitiveness with other African countries, especially in the West Coast, there were cargo issues that we came out with the Bills for public hearing.
We were able to put eight Bills together. The Bills have passed the first and second readings and referred to the committees, the Bills have gone through public hearing hand we have finished with technical committees which just ended. We are hoping that when we resume in September after our recess, those Bills will be passed before the end of September.
What are these Bills?
These Bills are Bills meant to ease doing business in Nigeria. So, we have long gone with the Bills when the Executive started its policy, which we actually the support because we are not competing. We are not competing, not just because of lack of electricity or lack of water, but because the legal framework for anybody to invest his money and feel protected is not there, and also to protect Nigeria.
For instance, the port concessioning that happened in 2005/2006 were fantastic to some extent. But we also sat back to some extent, because basic laws that were meant to protect the terminal operator, the cargo owner and even Nigeria were not there, and those are the laws we are making now. It had provided a room for some of the terminal operators to also catch in on it, making them undercut Nigeria because when you give out your house without any agreement protecting you, that is it. We are not regretting totally though because we feel that it would have been worse.
So, we want to ensure that those who are going to invest in NIWA there is a difference.
We are not amending the NIWA Act, we are actually repealing the Act; we are enacting a brand new law to make NIWA something that can attract the private sector , that can be driven by the private sector and compete even with the NPA, because NIWA is so huge if you can have access to 28 states and Abuja through the inland waterways. So, it should not be begging government for money because a lot of people depend on the waterways for movement.
The absence of regulation, of clear-cut understanding of the law and operation of the law has created a room where it has become like an all-comers affair ;the quality of people practicing and the things they do there are not what Nigerians need. So, we think that the laws must be reviewed, and these are outcomes of stakeholders meetings and I think that the House has been very supportive. I don’t have any doubt with the quality of the technical committee that has just finished work, that those Bills are going to be laws, and those laws are going to redefine the future of the maritime trade in Nigeria.
On protests at ports?
When we read about people going to protest at the ports saying they will shut down the ports if we make laws, it tends to suggest that there is still ‘little’ mentality. In a democracy you don’t talk like that. If you don’t agree with any particular law, you will explain your own viewpoint and hear my own viewpoint, and we keep on engaging until we arrive at a decision.
You voted for us to make laws, and it is established in law that you can’t stop the legislature from making laws, no arm of government would. Then you will be threatening fire and brimstone if law is made instead of you to bring out whatever you think you are not comfortable with. But then, Nigeria is structured well because each of those protesting, have a representative in the National Assembly, and they can just go their Rep and say they are not okay with the Bill , if you cannot come to the committee, but the committee is there for you.
We need to get as much input as possible, because I am not going to operate it, but do the best for passage, to stop our goods from going to ports of neighbouring ports because we know what it means to our economy.
We are here with NIWA because NIWA is a baby that we want to stand on its own.
Has there been a form of engagement with the aggrieved group protesting?
Of course, they wrote to us and raised two concerns that, what happens to the workers after a concession? But are they saying that for voting for me to go and represent them in Abuja, I will now get them out of jobs? No. No Nigerian will enact such a law. Instead of threatening, all they needed would have been to write to us, although some people think that it best to talk tough. But, for me, nothing will make us abandon what we are heading for. The maritime sector can actually provide us alternative for the oil issues, and we must get it right.
What do you hope to see at the completion of your tenure as house Committee under the maritime sector?
We hope to see the basic laws active. Part of what came out of our retreat which held in Lagos, we saw that there are more than 80 laws and some are so obsolete that they don’t even apply to Nigeria anymore. But the key laws that will drive the sector, those key reform bills, we are sure to enact them into laws, laws that were agreed upon mutually by stakeholders; those who bring in the cargo, the shipping lines, the terminal owners, and operators like NPA, NIWA, NIMASA, Shippers’ Council. Those are the people in the field. But those of us in the parliament, we are also not living in another planet, we are hoping to leave a better legislative framework that what we met, to operate the sector.
One thing that needs to be addressed also is the fact that the Executive, not just the APC-led Executive alone, has not been able to come out with a clear transport policy. Now, when you are making a law without a guide with a policy from the executive, you are likely to make a law that the executive will disagree with on certain issues. So, we should keep on encouraging the executive to come out with a clear policy on the transportation sector.
I have also spent time with the minster saying over 10 years the Nigerian transport policy has been going back and forth, sign something and give to us, so that anybody that is proposing a law or amendment will know where government is heading.
What Bills are you working on to pass into law?
Eight Bills were proposed, but we reduced them to five because some were saying the same thing. For now, there is a Port and Harbour Bill, which will replace the old NPA Act. There was also an NPA amendment, which we are repealing. When you are repealing, the amendment is no longer necessary. The same thing happened with NIWA, so, that took care of two Bill. There was a Bill on shipping policy, which has to do with NIMASA. NIMASA has taken care of that. So we are left with five Bills that are going to be enacted into laws.
For NIWA, we are hoping to have a Nigerian Inland Waterways. We want to have a brand new NIWA that is not planned for government to fund it endlessly. We want to take NIWA away from government-owned, run and funded parastatal wholly to something that is ready to do private-sector-driven management, with protection for the investor and for government at the same time.
For Ports and Harbours, we are repealing the old NPA Act and enacting the Ports and Harbours Bill into Act. The implication is that we are protecting what should have been protected in 2005/2006, and we are making room for any other investor to know that government cannot wake up tomorrow and say they will touch your investment, and you must meet your obligations to government or be sanctioned. When they wrote the agreement for those ports concession, one of the agreements was there should be a mid-term review to see if you were doing well or not. I assure you that up till now, none have happened because there was no law that compelled anybody to do it.
Looking at the Council for Regulation of Freight Forwarding (CRFF), we said we cannot do it like street touts. We needed to have training for those who want to work on the cargo system from the point of loading until it reaches the end user, there must be regulation, so that when your goods are stolen at the port you have a system you can trace it with. Then, there must be continuous training and retraining, and practitioners must be registered. You cannot be a freight forwarder and you are not registered anywhere, so that one day you just go to the port and start causing mayhem because you are strong.
For the fishing policy, we welcome the foreigners who are in the sector, but we want to protect our country, to give the indigenous operators a change, that is why we are amending the fishing policy. Then, the cabotage has been an ongoing war between NIMASA and NIWA. Where does NIMASA stops and NIWA starts? If we want to develop our indigenous cargo, the man that is knocking together a boat in a river in Bayelsa or in Onitsha or in Warri has to be protected same way we are going to protect the man who is putting it on international waters. The problem is, are those people going to be supervised by NIWA, which is inland waters or by NIMASA, which is international waters? The good thing is that both NIWA and NIMASA agreed on what we are enact, that this is good enough for us to operate. I wasn’t there. But the moment the technical committee was set up, it did its work.
What provisions are in place to take care of sea piracy problem?
We are setting up a maritime fund that will provide for the protection of our territorial waters and our international waters. That fund is going to come from outside the regular budget because other issues have taken so much from the budget.