Hassan Bello: His many battles, travails and conquests

First appointed in 2012 as the Acting Executive Secretary/CEO of the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), the Kebbi-born legal luminary is set to step down as the Chief Executive Officer of the Nigeria’s port economic regulator come 20th June, 2021 having been confirmed substantive CEO of the agency in 2013 and completed two terms. In this report, TOLA ADENUBI examines his many battles, conquests and travails:

IN 2012, following the expiration of the second term of the former Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), Capt. Adamu Biu; the Federal Government appointed the agency’s Director of Legal Services, Hassan Bello, as acting Executive Secretary/Ceo of the NSC. Hassan Bello would have his tenure confirmed as substantive Ceo of the agency the following year, and would go on to serve two terms till 2021.

 

Unreceipted charges

For most part of his first term and second term as NSC Executive Secretary/Ceo, Barrister Hassan Bello fought the illegalities that spilled out from the menace of the Apapa gridlock, without much success. A major illegality that spilled out from the traffic snarl hassles along the ports access roads was the collection of illegal charges by security agents from truckers. The bribe collection by security agents led to the jacking up of haulage rates by truckers who lift cargoes out of the ports. While Hassan Bello led many advocacies against illegal collections along ports access roads, the issue remained on the front burner all through his time as Ceo of the NSC, leading to cargo owners paying through their noses to take their consignment out of the ports.

 

Arbitrary charges

Another drama that emanated from the presence of trucks along the ports access road is the slamming of demurrage charges and storage charges on cargo owners by the shipping lines and terminal operators respectively. Due to the hassles along the ports access roads and the poor state of the road, many cargo owners found it difficult to get cargoes out of the ports, thereby increasing the numbers of cargoes that littered the port terminals. With too many cargoes eating up yard space inside the port terminals, many cargo owners were forced to pay unnecessary storage charges which constituted part of the rise in the cost of doing business at the ports. With the port terminals running low on yard space (congestion), vessels spent more time before discharging their cargoes, thereby slamming unnecessary demurrages on cargo owners. With these inadequacies plaguing Nigerian ports system, a 2017 World Bank report on its annual Ease of Doing Business, ranked Nigeria 145 among 185 countries with Mauritius ranking 32 as the best in Africa. From the report, Trading Across Borders, an indicator for measuring a country’s ports effectiveness, Nigeria ranked very low at 183 out of 185 countries.

In a bid to put an end to the negative impact excessive charges were having on doing business at Nigerian ports, the port economic regulator, the NSC in 2018 embarked on a mission to get the shipping companies to cut down charges.

The move yielded the needed results as the Council signed a landmark agreement with the shipping companies to reduce charges. As part of the landmark agreement, the shipping companies were to reduce charges by 35 per cent.

Confirming the development to newsmen, the Executive Secretary/Chief Executive Officer of the NSC, Hassan Bello, said he was hopeful the agreement would be signed.

“You know in negotiation, you can only be hopeful. We have been negotiating for one and half years. We have a small knotty problem, which we hope to resolve by next week. Somehow, I am hopeful we will conclude with the shipping companies.

“However, we will run the agreed MOU by the Ministry of Transportation, major stakeholders such as; shippers, freight forwarders, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) and Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA). This will take four days, then we will sign the MOU.

“Further, the total reduction would be 35 per cent reduction but the most important thing is we have come up with sustainable mechanism of settling dispute, which means no arbitrary or unilateral fixing of cost at the ports,” Bello said.

Besides the reduction of port charges, he said the Council had also abolished the container cleaning fee hitherto being collected by the shipping companies, just as fifteen other port charges were removed from the list of charges.

However, despite the signing of these MoU between the Council and the shipping lines in 2018, the congestion woes that plagued the ports in 2019 and 2020 would later resuscitate some of the arbitrary charges, thereby leading to lamentations by clearing agents of continuous arbitrary charges at the ports.

 

NTC bill

Following the rejection of the National Transport Commission (NTC) Bill by President Muhammadu Buhari, the Executive Secretary, Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Barr. Hassan Bello revealed that all hope was not yet lost on the Presidential assent on the Bill as disputed areas were being worked on by the National Assembly for return to the President for assent.

The NTC bill was among the five bills returned to the National Assembly by President Buhari who refused assent on the ground that it would cause distortions and bring about conflict among agencies of government in the industry.

Speaking on the issue, Bello explained that the President only directed that areas of conflict or duplications be removed from the Bill. He disclosed that following the return of the Bill to the National Assembly, the legislative body equally sent it back to the Ministry of Transport.

According to him, the Ministry of Transport and relevant bodies have eliminated the areas of conflict, including the issue of security and returned it back to the legislative body.

Bello also said that on returning the Bill to the National Assembly by the Ministry, the Senate has already re-passed it while the House of Representatives will soon follow in re-passing it. He said that the President will soon assent the Bill.

Expectations are high that the Presidency will assent to the Bill before the tenure of Hassan Bello lapses in June. In the words of a clearing agent, Smart Ozugbola, “He (Bello) has been the force behind the NTC Bill. If the Presidency does not assent to it before the NSC boss leaves office, there are fears that his successor might not share the same vision that he shares on the Bill.”

 

Cargo tracking note

At the forefront of many battles that the NSC Executive Secretary/Ceo eventually won is the re-introduction of the Cargo Tracking Note (CTN) at Nigeria’s seaports. The policy which was vehemently opposed to by industry operators, including shipping lines, importers and exporters and even clearing agents when it was first mooted in 2015 has now been approved by the Federal Government due to rising insecurity in the country.

Speaking recently on the CTN after its re-introduction by the Federal Government, Hassan Bello explained that the trade facilitation instrument has gone above CTN and now known as Advanced Cargo Information System (ACIS) currently being implemented by 23 countries including Cameroun.

Bello however said the introduction of the ACIS would not be done immediately, explaining that the ports economic regulator was fashioning out the best way to go about this.

He described ACIS as having so many benefits in cargo facilitation and addressing issues of leakages and corruption in the ports.

He said that the Council would be calling stakeholders to inform them about what is on ground.

He explained that the Council has given CTN the lowest cost in Africa since according to him, the NSC should not be seen as adding to the cost of doing business.

Bello said, “We have wanted to do the CTN. We even started and things were okay. we wanted to generate acceptability, we are mindful of the cost because we should not add to the cost of doing business. So we gave it a lowest cost in Africa because we have volume to cover that. Unfortunately, that has not materialised but I am happy to tell you that the Federal Government has approved that NSC should go on with it . But this is not going to be immediately. We are still grappling with the best way to go about it.”

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