By Ubon Akpan
After careful deliberations the Editorial Board of the Beam Media Group (BMG), publishers of the Beam Magazine, has elected Barr Hassan Bello the Executive Secretary/Chief Executive Officer of the Nigeria Shippers’ Council as its Man of the Year 2018.
This followed a careful yet comprehensive audit of the performance of the Nigeria Shippers’ Council as the number one defender and protector of the interests of Nigerian Shippers in the year 2018.
In arriving at the decision, the Editorial Board had taken a long look at the history of the Council from its formative years under the foundational leadership of Dr. B. U. Ekong through the leadership of Dr. Kingsley Usoh, an astute technocrat; to the days when the doyen of African maritime managers, Chief Adebayo Sarumi held sway and came to the conclusion that indeed, the Hassan Bello years was the icing on the cake.
For years, the Nigeria Shippers’ Council had suffered a crisis of identity with not a few, including key maritime industry players, often wondering what the Agency was all about.
This, clearly is no more the situation today as the Council has not only redefined its roles but asserted its place as a serious protector of the rights of consumers of shipping services and products.
It has also moved ahead to position itself as being not only ready to rise to take responsibility
as the apex regulatory agency for the maritime industry but the entire transport sector in Nigeria.
To achieve these, the Council, under Hassan Bello has, in the past three years, 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.
It also set up a shippers’ 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.
Under the leadership of Hassan Bello, the impunity of international shipping companies has come under increasing checks by the Council which has, in the last three years, been known to have compelled the shipping companies to reverse arbitrary charges and refund illegal levies running into hundreds of millions of dollars.
Indeed, a couple of these companies which insisted on the course of impunity even after court orders have been obtained, have had their terminals sealed up and their operations shut down by the Council which left a clear message that the days of impunity are over.
To achieve these, the Council has in the past three years been quite active in ensuring that only economically viable tariffs are worked out, harmonized and implemented in the shipping industry. Indeed, the Council is about to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with shipping companies on tariffs having already achieved this feat with haulers early last year.
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 from three months to 30 days for container deposits and reduced storage and demurrage periods to between five and 10 days.
To achieve all these, Barr Hassan Bello has had to consult, collaborate, interface and network with a wide range of industry and economic players within and outside the industry including the security agencies, the NIA, the Nigeria Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), government parastatals, departments and Agencies.
And above all, the Nigeria Shippers’ Council has been operating as a responsible, responsive and law abiding system in these days of impunity by government and its agencies. It has done this by promptly responding to all lawful inquiries on its operations including the Freedom of Information (FOI) Law.
All these, apart from repositioning the Council has also placed it in good stead to prepare to transmute into the Nigeria Transport Commission (NTC) which law is presently awaiting presidential assent.