Nigeria's new dawn

Governance: Nigeria is moving closer to creating a national ports authority. Credit: APM Terminals Governance: Nigeria is moving closer to creating a national ports authority. Credit: APM Terminals

COMMENT: Finally, after more than a decade of delays at Nigeria’s National Assembly, the Nigerian Ports and Harbours Bill is in the final stages of approval that will lead to its enactment.

In April, the Bill, which seeks to repeal the Nigerian Ports Authority Act and establish the Nigerian Ports and Harbours Authority (NPHA), passed its third and final reading at the Senate. It still requires approval at the House of Representatives as well Presidential approval to become law but as underlined by leading African law firm Akabogu & Associates: “Many Industry watchers in the country consider these later hurdles lesser ones.” Thus, it is reasonable to expect that the Bill will complete its long journey into law in the immediate future.

What are the implications of this? The objectives of the Bill are clearly set out, namely:

  • To provide an appropriate institutional framework for the ownership, management and development of ports and harbours.
  • To ensure the integrity, efficiency and safety of ports based on the principles of accountability, competition, fairness and transparency.
  • To encourage private sector participation in the provision of port services and port infrastructure, and
  • To promote and safeguard Nigeria’s competitiveness and trade objectives.

What this, in turn, makes clear is that the Government of Nigeria is providing legal strength to its adoption of the landlord port model in the port concession era that was initiated in 2006. In effect, the Bill’s objectives, as Akabogu Associates states, “address some of the legal issues resulting from inadequate statutory provisions necessary to support concessions".

Functions for the new Nigerian Ports and Harbour authority include developing, maintaining and implementing a national strategic port plan; providing and enforcing technical regulations on operations, construction and installations within ports and harbours; and setting the overall policy for port security, health and safety, environmental protection and coastal conservation, among other responsibilities.

The overall intention of the new Bill is evident: for the NPHA mainly to act as a regulatory body and landlord while port operations - notably cargo handling but also potentially extending beyond this - will be carried out by the private sector. In this context, it is also interesting to note that Section 34 of the Bill empowers the NPHA to grant concessions. However, no concession exceeding five years may be granted by the Authority without the approval of the President.

Not surprisingly, the Bill is generating some negative reactions, especially from labour who see it as being the source of new job losses. It has already sparked stoppages organised by the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria, MWUN and Senior Staff Association of Communications, Transport and Corp, Maritime Branch.

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