Delays and conflicts of interest in the preparation of maritime bills to the National Assembly is endangering the industry, writes John Iwori
It is indubitable that a house divided against itself cannot stand. The conflict of interests in the passage of the bills that will shape the maritime industry and make Nigeria derive maximum benefits from the maritime industry stands out like a sore thumb in the mouth. No one doubts the fact that the shipping sector has what it takes to boost the Nigerian economy.
The potential are enormous. There is unanimity by stakeholders on this. The bone of contention is the ways and means of achieving the desired goals and objectives. This is due to the fact that it remains the only viable alternative to drive the sector to the extent that Nigeria and Nigerians can be taken seriously in the comity of maritime nations.
It is on record that it is this quest for the best kind of methodology or strategy to use in attaining the set objectives that has torn key players in the sector, especially at the National Assembly and the Federal Ministry of Transport apart. It is obvious that the two bodies are not on the same page on the passage of these maritime bills.
The discordant tunes being played by the key actors have remain the bane of the industry over the years. To say the least, those championing the passage of the maritime bills are divided.
Just as a house divided against itself cannot stand, there are fears in some quarters that if the key decision makers in the legislature and executive do not jettison their personal interests and vigorously pursue national interest, these bills that have been in the making for years would not be passed in the present legislative year.
Top among the bills waiting for passage are the Port and Harbour, National Transport Commission and the Nigerian Railway Corporation. The absence of oneness and unity of purpose between the legislature and executive have resulted in each of them giving different positions and perspectives on the true state of things on the much awaited bills. Initially, when words started going round on the actual state of the bills, no one believes that it was true.
This is due to the fact that for long, not a few stakeholders were made to believe that the executive has worked on the bills and forwarded them to the National Assembly for passage into law.
Indeed, many stakeholders in the maritime industry had thought that these bills have started undergoing the requisite legislative procedures at the upper and lower chambers of the National Assembly.
Sadly, it later turned out to be a wild goose chase as this was not the case in the National Assembly. The bills were nowhere near the National Assembly, let alone in the hallow chambers.
They are in someone drawers somewhere gathering mountains of dusts while stakeholders in the maritime industry were made to be to believe that members of the National Assembly were working on them. THISDAY checks revealed that the bills have been with the executive arm of government for a very long time.
The executive was said to be working on the bills without an eye for time. It is working on the bill as if it has all time to itself and every other person or institution must wait for it. In short, it was working at a snail speed.
It never gave a thought to the clamour and agitation of stakeholders who have been using every avenue to call for the speedy passage of the bills which are germane to the reforms that the shipping sector of the economy badly need.
This snail speed and lackadaisical attitude of top government officials on the passage of the bills have damped the hope and expectations of maritime industry operators that the bills would be passed into law during the life of the present administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. It was a mere wishful thinking.
Evidence of the fact that the legislative and executive arms of government were on a parallel lines on the passage of the bills came to the fore when the Minister of Transport, Senator Idris Audu Umar and the Chairman, Senate Committee on Marine Transport, Senator Zainab Kure spoke at the just concluded 13th edition of the maritime seminar for Judges in Abuja.
Kure made it clear at the occasion which attracted participants within and outside the maritime industry that the bills are still with the Federal Ministry of Transport. This differs significantly from the position of Umar.
The Gombe State born politician who was at various times a member of the House of Representatives and the Senate maintained that the all important bills are still “being processed”.
Findings by THISDAY revealed that the minister did not say all he knew about the bills. His remarks at the august gathering that the bills are “being processed” beg for questions. What does Umar actually meant by the bills are “being processed”? Who is processing them? Where is the processing point? When did the executive start the processing of the bills? Which day, week, month or year will the processing end? What kind of processing is Umar talking about and for how long?
As a former member of the National Assembly, Umar knows the importance of carrying legislators along in the scheme of things, especially in the passage of the bills. Was the National Assembly carried along in these maritime bills? If yes, why will the legislators contradict Umar on the present position of the bills?
It must be noted that Kure, an erstwhile first lady of Niger State used the same forum to counter the minister. She started her speech by calling on the minister to send the bills to the national assembly, saying that the national assembly has been waiting for them to work on.
Her words: “This reminds me. The Honourable Minister of Transport, I would like to say that the Marine Transport Committee has been waiting for those bills to work on. They have been anxiously waiting for those bills that have a bearing on the ports especially the Ports and Harbours Bill…so that they will be a thing of the past.”
Controversy from birth
It safe to say that controversy is the middle name of the Ports and Harbours Bill. It has been embroiled in confusion and controversy from birth. In fact, since the conclusion of port concession in 2006 by the federal government during the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, controversy has trailed the Ports and Harbours Bill.
It must be noted that the ports reforms which was midwife by the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) led to the handover of the nation’s seaports to concessionaires. This was sequel to the divestment of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) from the day to-day-running of the nation’s seaports.
It must be noted that the delay in the passage of the Ports and Harbour Bill can be liken to the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) in the oil and gas industry. Just as the PIB, it has been with the National Assembly since the last legislative assembly.
Another attribute the Ports and Harbours Bill share with PIB is the fact that it has more than one version. So far, two versions of the Ports and Harbours Bill are in public domain.
One version emanated from the National Assembly. It is sponsored by Kure and had passed through second reading in the upper chamber. It has even scaled through a public hearing before controversy with the other version from the executive arm of government stalled its passage into law.
THISDAY had reported that controversy between the executive and the legislature over the bill blew open during a joint public hearing on the auction of overtime cargo organized by the three joint committees in the House of Representatives. They are the House Committees on Finance, Marine Transport and Customs. The public hearing took place at the National Assembly in Abuja.
Trouble started when the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Transport, Mr. Nebolisa Emordi, who represented Umar at the event while making his presentation hinted that the Ministry was putting finishing touches to the Ports and Harbours Bill for submission to the National Assembly.
His words: “The Federal Executive Council will soon submit a bill to the National Assembly, which seeks to repeal the Nigerian Ports Authority Act of 1999 and enact the Nigerian Ports and Harbours Act.
"This Act envisages the provision of ownership, management, operation, development and control of ports and harbours. This makes the Ports and Harbour Authority the technical regulator in the maritime industry just as it seeks to promote private participation in the sector."
Not a few feathers were ruffled by the position of the Federal Ministry of Transport on the Ports and Harbours Bill. As if the position taken by the Senate was not bad enough, it was the turn of the House of Representatives to take on the ministry.
Apparently miffed by the stand of the ministry, the Chairman, House Committee on Marine Transport, Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi argued that the ministry’s action was nothing but a duplication of the efforts of the legislators.
Questioning the rationale for the ministry’s action, Ugwuanyi said: "Why is the executive producing another Ports and Harbours Bill when we already have one here at the National Assembly? Are you people not aware that there is a Ports and Harbours Bill here sponsored by the Deputy Speaker and co-sponsored by me and which has passed second reading in the House? So, is it your own that the Senate will approve or the one sent from the House to the Senate?"
From the foregoing, it is clear that it will be a miracle for the Ports and Harbours Bill to be passed into law during the life of this legislative assembly. This is not unconnected with the fact that while confusion and uncertainty now surrounds the one being prepared by the executive, the one being pushed by the lawmakers is not given the desired attention.
This is understandable. The lawmakers are politicians. They have ambitions. They have ambition to return to the National Assembly or occupy other positions in their states of origin or elsewhere. With elections round the corner, these legislators will travel more frequently to their constituencies.
They will be going into more nocturnal meetings to fine tune their strategies for re-election and other programmes and activities geared towards the fulfilment of their individual and collective ambitions.
It is obvious that as the date for the 2015 general elections draws nearer and nearer, working assiduously to pass these bills into laws among other statutory functions of the National Assembly will take the back seat.
In other words, in the weeks and months ahead, there will be less work in the National Assembly and more politicking. This is not strange. Calculations and permutations for various interests and positions rather than the passage of bills into laws shall take the front burner.
It is against this backdrop that not a few stakeholders in the maritime industry have averred that all hands must be on deck to ensure that they rally round the National Assembly to ensure that they did not relegate the passage of the maritime bills, especially the Ports and Harbours Bill, and the National Transport Commission Bill to the back seat.
This is very vital because if they come together and support the National Assembly, especially members of the Senate and House Committees on Marine Transport, these maritime bills will be pass into law during the life of the present legislative assembly.
Moreover, key players in the shipping sector of the economy should avoid the controversy and confusion that have trailed the bills over the years. They should stick to the one by the legislature and see to its passage instead of waiting endlessly for the one “being processed” by the executive.
This is because Umar did say how long the processing will take. The maritime industry cannot afford to wait for him and his team. The huge potentials in the maritime industry need to be maximise for the benefit of the citizenry.
Time is of essence in achieving this because the world is not sitting idle waiting for Nigeria and Nigerians. They are moving ahead to develop their own people and economy. It is crystal clear that Umar and his team are not in a hurry.
They have all the time in the world to process the bills. A country that is in a hurry to develop and catch up with the rest of the world cannot afford to waste precious time in doing the right thing and ensuring that is strictly pursued for the benefits of its citizenry. The time to push for the passage of the maritime bills, particularly the Ports and Harbours Bill is now!