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The Gradual Decapitation of Shippers’ Council under Jime.

Arguably, the Nigeria Shippers’ Council is gradually losing its bite.
The council, which was bequeathed to the present Executive Secretary of the agency,  Emmanuel Jime, by the vibrant and energetic Hassan Bello, its immediate past  CEO, is becoming a lame duck, a toothless bulldog that is gradually losing the sting, ferocity, and vibrancy it acquired under the immediate past helmsman.
Unfortunately, Jime, a politician, who took over the mantle of leadership when his predecessor honourably bowed out of service, is presiding over a whimper of a council, which is gradually becoming colourless in character and hollow in value.
The current face-off between the freight forwarders and the shipping companies has exposed the extent to which the council has lost respect, character and bite within the short period that Jime took over, and these are the vital attributes that the retired Bello has built into the agency.
Before Bello took over the council and shortly after it transmuted into the industry economic regulator, Shippers Council was greatly incapacitated with a voice not more than that of a whimpering child: muffled, shaky, devoid of life and confidence.
But immediately Bello, widely regarded as one of the best and finest technocrats to have passed through the industry, took over the whimpering child, he polished the colourless agency into a formidable, respectable and effective regulator whose words were order to which the powerful but arrogant shipping companies have come to defer and hold in reverence.
But after the exit of  Bello, the Shippers’Council she bequeathed is gradually losing its taste and value for which it was known.
The face-off between the shipping companies and customs brokers has brought this unfortunate reality to the fore.
In October this year, angry freight forwarders issued a two-week ultimatum to the predominantly foreign shipping companies in the country over their unbridled and mindless extortion perpetrated through numerous illegal charges.
They listed their grievances which they wanted to be addressed without which they will ground port operations.
Even though the contending matters are within the sphere of influence of the Shippers’Council, it was the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding Practices in Nigeria(CRFFN) that took the initiative to broker peace between the two feuding parties when it convened a peace meeting.
The Shippers Council, the economic regulator, was only coopted into the peace meeting when it became glaringly clear that it has lost the initiative to be proactive.
Notwithstanding the presence of the Council which is their regulator, the arrogant shipping companies snubbed the peace meeting when they refused to attend.
Undaunted though, the CRFFN, which has clearly seized the initiative from the laid-back and lacklustre Shippers’ Council, reconvened the peace meeting last week Friday with the Council tagging along with other agencies like a lame duck.
Once again, the shipping companies, even though reluctantly sent representatives, didn’t accord much respect to the conveners of the meeting.
With annoying arrogance, the service providers partially conceded to one out of the numerous demands of the aggrieved freight forwarders when they agreed to give them six days period of grace for demurrage instead of the 14 days grace the freight forwarders asked for.
Even, the six days grace period was not clearly defined but dumped on them with you- can- go- to- hell -if- you- don’t want- it – attitude.
Expectedly, neither the Shippers’Council nor the CRFFN could do anything as the meeting was deadlocked.
The outcome of this issue has clearly defined the present state of the Shippers’Council.
It has clearly exposed the council under the present leadership as one which lacks the capacity to protect the interests of shippers it was created for.
It has shown a council that has lost the initiative to act and one which is not proactive.
It has lost the verve, glamour and the springy movement it was known for under the past leadership.
The freight forwarders themselves have expressed their lack of confidence in the ability of the  Council to resolve the lingering issues and stave off the impending strike which the customs brokers have vowed to embark on at the expiration of the new ultimatum, given the deadlocked peace meeting.
Although the shipping companies are not better in character and temperament under the past leadership of the council, Bello was still able to rein them in with his high level of interaction, engagement, consultations and high wire diplomacy that made the  Council achieve a considerable level of compliance and cooperation among the service providers.
Though the battle was tough and long-drawn as the recalcitrant shipping companies resorted to litigation to entrench their operational impunity, they however found the sheer determination, resilience, passion and uncompromising attitude of Barrister Hassan Bello too strong to break.
Does the present ES possess such attributes that helped his predecessor to succeed?
Only time will tell.
But the signal of lethargy, despondency, and lack of direction exhibited by the council so far in handing its core mandate in the early days of the current leadership, gives no reason to cheer and the situation was compounded by the equally visionless public affairs department of the council which is headed by a person of similar professional incompetent genes.
It clearly shows that Jime has inherited an oversized shoe.
The highly exploitative shipping companies may want to take advantage of the lack of will of the present leadership of the council to renew their onslaught on the users of their services.
They may want to exploit lack of experience in the workings of the industry of the present helmsman at the Shippers’ Council to unleash operational terror on the weary freight forwarders.
The present face-off between them and the freight forwarders is a test case.
If the Shippers’Council and the CRFFN fail to broker a truce between the two warring parties and stave off the impending service disruption, then Jime would have failed his first assignment as the Chief Executive officer of an economic regulator which has failed to tame one of its constituents.
Then and unfortunately too, that will signal the beginning of the descent of the council into the pre-Bello era when the agency was a toothless bulldog, which could only bark but shy to bite.
The reason for the sudden dip in the fortune of the council may not be far-fetched if we look at the antecedents of all the agencies of government where top appointments were used as political patronage to rehabilitate politicians, especially those who suffered political setbacks.
Unlike his predecessor, Barrister Hassan Bello, who is an industry man that rose through the ranks in the Shippers Council,  Hon. Emmanuel Jime is a thoroughbred politician and former APC governorship candidate in Benue State whose passion for ruling the state may still have an overring place in his mind.
That has always been the fate of government parastatals which are headed by active politicians as all other assignments will take a back seat in the pursuit of their political goals and ambition.
The same scenario is playing out at the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) where an active politician heads the agency whose 2022 budget proposal was recently dismissed by members of the Senate committee who described the presentation of NIWA’s  Chief Executive as incoherent and inconsistent with the figures presented.
Contrast this with the cheering performance and runaway achievements being recorded at the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) whose Chief Executive, just like Barrister Bello, is a  ”home boy”, a home-grown, thoroughbred professional.
Or better still juxtapose that with the impressive runs of the helmsman at MAN, Oron who is also not a politician but professional.
You can call them a tale of two cities. One headed by politician and the other by professional.
The success of the present ES in his onerous task of steering the ship of the Council will however depend on the willpower, cooperation and commitment of the Directors he inherited who were part of Bello’s roaring success.
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Commentaries

APC Primaries:  Who wins Isuikwuato/Umunneochi Federal constituency mandate?

CHIEF LILIAN OBENWA
By Fred Uwaoma
 As the stage is set for All Progressives Congress(APC) primaries for different elective positions,  aspirants are adopting deft political strategies to woe delegates to give them the enabling vote to emerge as the party’s preferred candidate. This is because APC appears sure to beat any other party because PDP which is the ruling party in the state has received bashing for poor performance and lacklustre governance.
One interesting zone of the contest is the Isuikwuato /Umunneochi federal constituency of Abia state primarily because the aspirants are all women.
Again the incumbent legislator occupying the position, Hon. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha has stayed for four terms and is still nursing the ambition to occupy the position for the fifth term which the other contestants consider not only abnormal but gluttonous clutch at the power which must be broken.
Another argument is that the constituency which belongs to Isuikwuato and Umunneochi has by implication been annexed by the incumbent who is from Umunneochi for almost 16 years not minding the feelings of the other side.
Perhaps this is why the two other aspirants are from Isuikwuato.
HOW THE CANDIDATES STAND:
The battle line is drawn between the incumbent, Hon. Nkeiru Onyejeocha, Dr. Onyinye Kay Rufus-Obi and Dr. Lilian Obenwa.
HONOURABLE NKEIRU ONYEJEOCHA

53-year-old Hon. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha from Isuochi is the incumbent candidate representing Isuikwuato/Umunneochi at the Federal House of Representatives.
She was first elected member of the Federal House of Representatives in 2007, and later re-elected in 2015, both under the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
She defected to the All Progressives Congress, APC in 2018 after coming under intense pressure from her former party leaders to drop her ambition for a return ticket to the house. In 2019, she won her re-election bid for a fourth term in Nigeria’s Green Chamber. She is one of the longest-serving members of the house.
In 2019, Onyejocha contested for the position of speaker of the male-dominated Nigeria’s Federal House of Representatives against Femi Gbajabiamila from Lagos State nominated for the position by her party – APC. Onyejocha’s major campaign issue was to zone speakership position to the South-East for a balanced distribution of key federal powers among the six geo-political zones of the country. But she stepped down less than 24 hours before the election.
Onyejocha was previously Executive Transition Chairman of Umunneochi Local Government Area of Abia State in 2002. In 2003 she served in the executive cabinet of Abia State as commissioner for Resource Management and Manpower Development. At the National Assembly, she served as the Chairman of Women in Parliament and Chairman, the House Committee on Aviation. Her legislative interests border on sponsoring bills that will enhance the standard of living for children, women, youths and the less privileged, education and infrastructure including the health and aviation sector. She believes her target achievements include ‘delivery of good and lasting democratic dividends to her constituency and Nigeria at large through responsive legislation.’
She goes by the chieftaincy title of “ADA-EJI-AGA-MBA 1” of the Umunneochi Local Government Area.
Arguments For:
As a ranking and active member of the House, she stands a high chance of being re-elected by the constituency
She is one of the big bigwigs in the state and so has the party hierarchy at her beck and call
Arguments Against:
She is said to have overstayed at the House and should give way for people with fresh ideas to occupy the seat.
If the latest policy by the party not to allow any candidate that has stayed for three terms to contest for the same position pulls through, Onyejeocha stands disqualified.
Analysts are saying that she should not wait to be disgraced before bowing to the wish of the people to give way for fresh minds
She is considered power-hungry for stopping at nothing to cling to the position even when she has used four terms for Umunneochi at the disadvantage of the Isuikwuato part of the constituency.
She is regarded as arrogant and believes that her access to the party structure in the state guarantees her victory any day.
Grapevine says that she has concentrated efforts on developing only Umunneochi by attracting Federal presence while leaving Isuikwuato marginalised.
Dr ONYINYE KAY RUFUS-OBI
Dr. Onyinye Kay Rufus-Obi is the daughter of a pharmaceutical mogul, Rufus Obi of the Rufus Obi Chemists fame in Aba, Abia commercial city. Rufus Obi, with the famous title – Enyi Abia is recognized even in death ( posthumously) by the  State.  Dr Onyinye is the Managing Director and CEO of Ureccon Ltd, Home Essentials Ltd and sits on the board of several companies including Mogjan Nig Ltd which is executing the security of the railways in Nigeria.
She is on the board of Rufus OBI Chemists & Co Ltd, a 48-year-old pharmaceutical company established by her late father, an Oxford University UK graduate and trained Pharmacist.
She is a seasoned Optometrist from the prestigious University of Benin, Nigeria.
She had her Master class certificate from London Graduate School
Dr. Onyinye Kay Rufus- Obi is an astute and experienced business gold fingered Mogul and Entrepreneur, who works tirelessly to fuel developmental progress through her extensive work with the people in authority and leaders in government. She has since successfully executed projects that served as catalysts for great developmental strides in the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Amazingly, she is currently working on providing security on the newly established railroad lines across Nigeria to solve the problem of vandalism and threat to lives and property on the railways.
She is a kind-hearted philanthropist and kingdom financier whose life mission is to empower less privileged communities. Her works and interventions have assisted thousands in improving their standards of living.
In 2019, she was appointed the Executive Special Assistant Finance to the Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission. She aided the agency in the enrichment of the oil-producing Niger Delta region of Nigeria in ways too numerous to mention and got a lot of projects injected into the NDDC budget for Abia State with special emphasis on the Isuikwuato Local Govt Area for 3 consecutive years.
Analysts believe she is an ICON with tremendous, inborn love for her people.
She is a very devoted and dedicated mother to her children.
Arguments for:
Research showed that she had early exposure to politics through her father who always takes her around while visiting the likes of Chief Michael Okpara and other notable juggernauts in the state for political meetings.
She is given to philanthropy and her records show that she does not discriminate whether the person is from Umunneochi or Isuikwuato, Yoruba, or Hausa.
Although she is regarded as quiet, which is a minus politically in this clime, she is calculating and not flippant. She is not arrogant and respects elders but is highly principled.
She is a go-getter by nature prompting analysts to believe that she will dwarf Onyejeocha in achievements by all standards.
She is urbane. As a child, she spent her vacations abroad and got good exposure way back.
One should think that being born with a silver spoon would have made her proud and arrogant but the opposite is the case. She is humble and down-to-earth.
Growing up, she spent her vacations abroad (Europe and America) traveling with her parents.
She has been exposed to wealth early, has enjoyed life, and would not have reason to divert people’s money because of her good upbringing and genuine heart for the people.
Analysts believe she will definitely do better than Onyejeocha.
CHIEF LILIAN OBENWA
Chief Lady Lilian Chinasa Obenwa popularly referred to as Ugo eji eje Mba is from Ekebe Eluama in Isuikwuato local government area.
She had her primary and secondary education in Owerri, Imo State. She is a holder of a bachelor of arts degree in mass communication from Imo State University.
 Obenwa is a recipient of several Awards and chieftaincy titles from communities around SouthEast states. She has been conferred with the titles of Ugo Eji Eje Mba 1 of item, Bende local government, Abia State, Igolo South East, Onu na ekwuru umu-nwanyi, Achala Ugo Nwanyi.
Reports show that she was in 2019 recognized by the government as the Imo State Director of Importers Association of Nigeria, IMAN special taskforce.
Her emergence then was made official by the IMAN Director-General, Amb. Chijioke Okoro in a letter dated 19th July 2019 addressed to both Imo State government House, and Imo State Police command, respectively.
In the letter, the Director explained that the reason for her appointment was geared towards the organization’s mission of combating the illegal smuggling of firearms and substandard goods into the country.
This obviously shows that she has played in the public space.
Arguments for:
She has a high desire to represent the constituency at the House as this ambition has remained in her since the last elective season.
She will try to make an impact at the house because of her trait of wanting to get popular.
Arguments Against:
She is not well known like the other two so could be regarded as a dark horse.
She appears not to have a solid structure and lacks attention to details judging from her latest circulating campaign poster.
Although she is a degree holder, analysts believe that her public speaking ability is not well tested, so this may work against her at the House.
She is regarded as loud, and friendly but alleged not to be trusted in business relationships. There are allegations that people that have had political dealings with her complain that she eats their money and doesn’t distribute the bounty given to them.
She ran against Onyejeocha in 2019 but couldn’t make much impact. Analysts think it was all bark and no bite, which made the Abia Political godfathers to tell  her to step down.
She lacks the war chest to mount a sustainable campaign programme.
CONCLUSION
Looking at the three how and they stand, Onyejeocha has the incumbency factor going for her.
But the odds are against her for overstaying at the House and the party moguls may already be frowning at this.
Dr Onyinye who has the advantage of already staying in Abuja and at the same time connected to the grassroots with mass following is well favoured to carry the day.
Because of the current campaign for more women in power, her emergence is likely to be total with the low performance of PDP in the State.
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SON’s despicable desperation to return to port.

The Director General of SON, Mallam Farouk Salim

On October 26th, 2011, there was a Presidential directive that pruned down the mushroom government agencies at the ports to only eight.

The directive issued by Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the erstwhile Minister of Finance, was consequent upon the multiplicity of agencies whose operations made clearance procedures at the ports painfully slow, cumbersome, and unwieldy.

During this period, there were government agencies in excess of 14 in number whose operations made the  Nigerian ports the most expensive and inefficient on the African Continent.

So, the 2011 presidential order recognised the following government agencies to domicile at the ports.  The Nigerian Ports Authority(NPA), Nigeria Customs Service, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency(NIMASA), Nigeria Police, Department of State Security((DSS), Port Health, Nigerian Drugs Law Enforcement Agency(NDLEA) and Nigerian Immigration Service.

While others not mentioned on the list were consigned outside the ports, those whose services are still required among them in the course of port processes such as the Standards Organization of Nigeria(SON) and National Food and Drugs Administration Control(NAFDAC) are to be called in whenever the need arises.

However, this Presidential directive was obeyed in the breach as those evicted agencies stayed put at the ports.

In February 2018, as a result of its desire to ease the cumbersome nature of doing business at the ports, the Federal government, through its committee charged with sanitising the operations at the ports, the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) headed by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, gave the Nigerian Ports Authority(NPA) the matching order to enforce the 2011 Presidential Directives.

So all the outlawed government agencies were effectively weeded out of the ports.

But because of the allure of the filthy lucre at the ports, the evicted agencies launched aggressive lobbying, using instruments of blackmail, half-truths and outright lies to get the sympathy of the government in their bid to return to the ports.

Both the NAFDAC and Immigration used these tools of blackmail and lobbying to get themselves smuggled black into the port.

A few months after this directive, the NAFDAC lobbied the presidency and succeeded in its plan when the Federal government recalled the agency to be part of resident operatives at the ports.
The Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON), one of the evicted agencies, is currently taking this same inglorious route to come back to the port where their operatives have regarded it as a honeycomb.

This development has therefore emboldened the SON to step up its own campaign to return to the port.The agency, in recent times, has tried all the tricks in the book to gain the sympathy of stakeholders and the government to regain its entry into the ports.

It is on this plank we are advising the Federal Government not to once again succumb to the antics and yield to the pressure of SON and its paid agents.
It is unfortunate that the government allowed itself to be hoodwinked by NAFDAC and Immigration.Falling for the same gimmicks by the SON would be most grievous that will give other evicted agencies justification to also want to come back to the ports.

As it were, those numbers of agencies permitted to be at the ports are still unwieldy as the processes at the ports have not significantly improved to the point all stakeholders would have wanted them to be.

Allowing SON to join the fray will further compound the problems.
We are yet to see any reason why SON is making subterranean moves to come back to the ports.The excuses being bandied about by its paid agents are as ludicrous as they are ridiculous.

The agency claimed that their absence at the ports has allowed fake and sub-standard products to gain access to the ports and same cleared into the market.

This argument flies away in the face of the component of the presidential directive that any of the agencies not resident at the ports should be called whenever their expertise is needed in the course of goods clearance procedures.
We, therefore, have no reason not to believe that the Nigeria Customs Service, which is the lead agency at the ports and goods clearance procedures, does not heed this aspect of the directive.We also strongly believe that SONCAP, a pre-shipment verification exercise adopted by the agency should have detected and taken care of such sub-standard products at the point of shipment.

SONCAP is a pre-shipment verification of conformity to standards process used to verify that products to be imported into Nigeria are in conformity with the applicable NIS or approved equivalents, and technical regulations before shipment.

Under the SONCAP regime, imports are required to undergo verification and testing at the country of supply (Exporting) and a SONCAP Certificate (SC) issued demonstrating that the products meet the applicable standards and regulations or a Non-Conformity Report (NCR) where the goods do not comply.

The conformity assessment elements undertaken in SONCAP include but are not limited to physical inspection prior to shipment, sampling, testing and analysis in accredited laboratories, audit of production processes and systems, and documentary check of conformity with regulations and overall assessment of conformity to standards.

Having gone to this extent to profile all imports at the points of supply to make sure that fake and sub-standard products are not even shipped into the country, this extensive procedure has nullified any need for SON to come back to the ports.

We can safely conclude that their passion to come back despite the stringent conditions of SONCAP is simply to engage in other uncharitable activities such as extortion.

We also want to believe that the deluge of the  Nigerian markets with fake and sub-standard products is a screaming testimony that the SONCAP regime of the SON has failed.

It, unfortunately, gives credence to the widespread belief that the SONCAP Certificates are not necessarily issued to importers on merit but given to the highest bidders.

We advise SON to shelve its ambition of coming back to the ports but instead concentrate on performing its statutory duties at the ports on demand.

The agency should also insist on strict enforcement of the SONCAP regime to stem the high tide of the influx of harmful products into the country.

Government should make it mandatory for customs to call operatives of SON whenever regulated products are being examined and also to ensure that they have the exclusive right to determine the genuineness of any SONCAP Certificates submitted by importers.

This is imperative because it is not within the competence of customs officers to detect fake or genuine SONCAP Certificates.

On Thursday, April 14th, 2022, SON however took its desperation to a dizzying level when it gathered stakeholders in Apapa, Lagos to renew its incessant calls to return to the port.
The gathering, which was ostensibly meant to sensitise stakeholders on the evil of fake and substandard products, was used by SON to demonise the Customs which it accused of blocking the agency from receiving alerts on fake and substandard products and gain the sympathy of gullible stakeholders who began to campaign for the return of SON to the ports.

The  Director-General of  SON, Mallam Farouk Salim, had at the forum, accused the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) single-window portal of blocking SON from registering alerts on suspicious imported items.

Salim had claimed that the inability of SON  to trigger alerts through the  Nigeria Customs Integrated System (NICIS II) portal to stop a suspected cargo has exacerbated the influx of fake and substandard products into the Nigerian market.

Dr. Salim declared that the only solution to the problem is for the agency to return back to to the Port.

Curiously, all the stakeholders in the forum, including the two leading freight forwarding associations, the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) and the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), all chorused the banal reasons why SON should return to the port.

We are aware that NAGAFF has been the campaigner- in Chief of SON’s desperate bid to stage a comeback.

But in recent times, the agency has recruited more stakeholders into its large army of lobbyists.

The latest is the ANLCA which has joined in the fray to railroad SON back to the port.

Curiously, these same associations have accused SON in the past of its unwholesome practice of illegal taking product samples for examination.

 “Other agencies and parastatals of government in the ports like Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) among others, operate outside their mandates as stipulated in the various acts establishing them. In fact, it has been a whole lot of confusion in the ports and their environment.

“This ensuing confusion over the years has been capitalised on, to rip off port users, consequently, this makes Nigerian ports most expensive and unfriendly in sub-Saharan Africa,” NAGAFF once said of the activities of SON

The Coordinator of its 100 percent Compliance team, Ibrahim Tanko, in 2021 has accused the same SON of indiscriminately taking product samples for examination.
If the agency that hasn’t been permitted into the port could be behaving in this manner, what happens if it is eventually readmitted into the Port.
We are also curious about the sudden love of SON by NAGAFF which has vilified the reckless nature of the SON’s officers at the port.
We are equally miffed at ease with which the ANLCA bit the bait of SON’s inordinate campaign.
We believe that SON’s clamour to return to the port is self-serving and uncharitable.
The return of the agency will further complicate the cargo clearance procedure and encumber the cargo examination process which the government is assiduously trying to unbundle and simplify through the use of scanners.
 
Concerned stakeholders, who are not among the paid agents of SON, have queried the continuous and almost unending clamour of SON to come back to the port.
 
Eugene Nweke, the former National President of NAGAFF, has described the clamour of SON to come back to the port as unnecessary, distractive, uncharitable and unnecessary.
He said the agency should rather channel its energy and focus on how to discharge its core mandate.
We advise the management of SON to deploy into good use the scarce resources it was wasting on lobbying  and campaigning for its inordinate ambition of coming back to the port

Rather than allow SON to come back through the back door to further muddle up the already complicated processes at the ports, it won’t be out of place if the government finds a way of removing any resident agency whose functions could be carried out from outside the port.

It is through this that Nigerian ports will become more efficient, cost-effective, competitive and gain ascendancy on the World Bank Ease of Doing Business index.

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The Sunken “NIMASA- BARUGU” Vessel: Matters Arising

The distressed vessel
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