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High expectations as transport commission bill awaits presidential assent

By Sulaimon Salau
23 May 2018   |   4:27 am
Immediately the Senate passed the National Transport Commission (NTC) Bill in March this year, all hopes were high, with expectations that the commission will herald new dawn in the much-troubled transport sector.

President Muhammadu Buhari. PHOTO: SUNDAY AGHAEZE

Immediately the Senate passed the National Transport Commission (NTC) Bill in March this year, all hopes were high, with expectations that the commission will herald new dawn in the much-troubled transport sector.

The bill, which is meant to replace the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) with National Transport Commission, is expected to propel solution to myriads of problems that have hindered progress in the transport value chain and buoys the national economy.

Some weeks after the passage, the bill is still awaiting Presidential assent and stakeholders are of the view that the earlier President Muhammadu Buhari assented to the bill, the better for the sector to kick off the much-needed reforms on a fast track.

Although, some sections of the operators were showing apathy with insinuations that the events of the forthcoming general elections might overshadow the signing of the NTC bill and many others that are waiting at the seat of power into law. President Buhari has however been charged to do the needful ahead of the elections so as to put the affected sector of the economy in proper shape.

Transport has a critical role in supporting economic growth. The country depends on international aviation and maritime links to be connected to the global marketplace. Alongside that, the government has a target of growing exports under the economic diversification agenda, hence, the need to urgently avoid unnecessary regulatory barriers to international freight and ensure that policies encourage smooth operations the ports.

Currently, the transport industry is largely in private hands without standards. Vehicular transportation by road is chaotic and largely run by touts. The skeletal water transport along the creeks and rivers is largely in the hands of untrained hands that care less about safety. While the railway system is comatose with skeletal services, not even the aviation sector that ought to operate by international standards is in anyway better. Delays, cancellation of scheduled flights without notice and poor services are the orders of the day.

In the maritime sector, disorderliness is an order of the day, ranging from indiscriminate hike in shipping fees to introduction of illegal charges by terminal operators and shipping firms. In fact, Nigerian ports have been described as one of the costliest in the world. These are issues that the Shippers’ Council has moved to control, only for its efforts to be met by several litigations challenging its powers as the port economic regulator. The signing of the bill would give NTC legitimate powers to checkmate excessive actions of the operators and save the country huge money.

For example the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), have been in litigation against Seaports Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN), and the shipping companies in separate cases bothering on “illegal” introduction of charges at the port. Going by the recent estimates over N11 trillion would have gone down the drain as a result of indiscriminate hike in charges at the port, if not for swift intervention of the NSC.

As stipulated in the bill, power of NTC to issue regulation of tariff would save the industry from the current high cost of shipping.

Part IV of bill stated: “Notwithstanding the provisions of any other law, the commission shall have the power to regulate tariffs for or in respect of prescribed goods and services supplied by or within a regulated transport industry. ‘tariffs’ include fees, price, dues, charges and rates.

“All regulated transport service operators shall file their tariffs or range of tariffs with the commission and shall not impose any tariff or charges for the provision of any service unless such tariff rates and charges are approved by the commission under section 29(2)(a) or as otherwise provided in this part.

“Every regulated transport service operator shall provide services only at the rate approved by the commission and shall not depart there from without a prior written approval by the commission of such proposed changes in tariff rates and charges”.

Without mincing words, the signing of the bill President Buhari will further empower the NTC to sanitise the sector and entrench the culture of progressive business climate. The commission will now serve as an independent commission responsible for regulating the transport industry.

Presenting the report of the Joint Committees on Land Transport, Marine Transport and Aviation, Sen. Gbenga Ashafa (APC: Lagos) stated the objectives of the Bill to include: Establishing the National Transport Commission as an effective, impartial and independent regulatory authority in the transport sector; Promoting the implementation of the national transport policy; Providing an economic regulatory framework for the transport sector; Providing a mechanism for monitoring compliance of government agencies and transport operators; and
Protecting the rights, interests of service operators and users of the transport sector within Nigeria. It also seeks to create an enabling environment for private sector participation in the transport industry.

Ashafa said the bill would, no doubt, “revolutionise and bring the needed sanity and fresh air to the sector”.

According to him, the Commission will not only regulate transport inter-modality, it will also lift the sector’s contribution to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which for a decade has stagnated at less than four per cent yearly.

The Executive Secretary, Nigerian Shippers Council, Hassan Bello, recently said NTC will be responsible for transportation-related sectors like Land Transport, Marine Transport and Aviation Transport if assented to by the President.

The Chairman of Dala Dry Port, Alhaji Ahmad Rabiu, said the NTC revolution is a move in the right direction, expressing optimism the commission would transform the entire transport value chain a round and enhance efficiency.

Managing Direct, Rail Connect, Edeme Kelekume, said: “It’s a step in the right direction. The move to review the existing laws would move the system forward. The key thing is that we are looking at putting a regulatory commission in place. That is, separating the regulator from operator, which is very important. Right now, Nigerian Railway Commission (NRC) is still a regulator and operator. That separation would trigger growth in the industry, because a regulator just like Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) would focus on making laws and stick to the laws and ensure that the standards are met.

Hassan Bello

“It is expected that investors would now come into the country and invest in the rail space. This would improve the transportation infrastructure that we currently have in the country,”

Speaking on the possibility of delaying the signing of the bill till after election, he said: “With the political calendar coming very close, we would expect that it is passed into law on time, because it is one of the laws that will give the siting government more political credit, and can be used as a tool for campaign, claiming that they have achieved what previous government’s have not been able to achieve. So one would expect that it would be signed as soon as possible.”

According to the bill, functions of the commission includes: To create an economic regulatory framework for the provision of transport services and facilities; facilitate effective competition, promote competitive market conduct and ensure that the misuse of monopoly or non-transitory market power is prevented in the provision of transport services; promote private sector participation in the provision of transport services; ensure that operators and users have equitable access to the use of transport facilities, services, channels and routes while having regard to the level of competition in and efficiency of, the regulated transport industry; and monitor the performance of the regulated sector.