Emmanuel-Lyambee JIME, the Executive Secretary and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Shippers Council is a graduate of Law from the AHMADU BELLO UNIVERSITY (ABU) Zaria.
He was Speaker of the Benue State House of Assembly from 1992 to 1993.
He was at a time the Managing Director at the Nigeria Export Processing Zone Authority, NEPZA, and a two-term member of the House of Representatives representing Makurdi/Guma Federal constituency between 2007 and 2015.
The Federal Government of Nigeria announced the appointment of Emmanuel-Lyambee Jime as the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Shippers Council in 2021 less than a week after Barrister Hassan Bello completed his two terms as Chief Executive Officer.
He completed his two years in office this June. Recently he spoke with DFCNews on the experience so far and how he intends to leave the industry better than he met it amongst others. Enjoy
This is your second year in office, how would you describe the journey so far?
This is my second year in office. I assumed office in June last year. The journey has been interesting but very challenging one, because of the peculiarity and complexity of the industry and also most importantly because of the very strategic nature and position of the maritime industry in the life of any nation.
We are very lucky, I must say, because we have this coastline that borders over stretches of kilometers. Imagine if we are a landlocked nation, what those challenges would be. We are blessed by nature. I like to refer to Nigeria all the time as being the trigger, if you like, of African development. I think nature made it so clearly that even on our location on the map of Africa; we sit exactly at the point that if you see the picture as a gun, where the trigger is located. I am the one telling everyone especially foreign investors that if you have not come to Nigeria, then you have not come to Africa yet. A land with 200million people and very fertile agriculture and with rich mineral deposits, I don’t think any nation on earth is as blessed as Nigeria is. But having said that, you must recognize that as data showed, over 90percent of international trade is conducted through shipping, so that represents in my opinion, the strategic location of Nigeria as far as maritime activities are concerned.
The Shippers Council that I have the privilege and honour of working as the CEO has the enormous responsibility of course, of being the umpire in the industry. So, if you situate the particular mandate of the Nigerian Shippers Council as port economic regulator, over sighting what I describe as most strategic sector of the Nigerian economy, then you can begin to appreciate the nature and mandate of the role that we have. It is a very huge task but I also have come to accept it as a challenge.
In all my public life, I have always taken every responsibility as a challenge that must be overcome. In my particular example with the Nigerian Shippers Council, I work with very committed public servants, knowledgeable and this particular industry is knowledge driven. Here in the Nigerian Shippers Council, we want to pride ourselves as the most knowledgeable group of people working in this industry.
So, I got immediately thrust into an environment where I have been supported very well by the work scheme that is available and the tools that are needed in order for us to be able to work as effectively as we can. In the time frame of two years, we have recorded some notable successes, this of course because we have very strong administrative backing from the supervising ministry and of course the federal government in its totality. To also mention that we have the support of sister agencies in the maritime industry and of course other stakeholders. We have gotten very harmonious environment that has enabled us to give the best we can as far as an economic regulation agency is concerned.
You obviously met some challenges on ground when you assumed office, what are they and how did you overcome them?
When I came here, the first thing I noticed was the paucity of the funding lines for the Shippers Council. Don’t forget, this is the ports economic regulator. What that means is that because we regulate an industry which like I said has the skill set that will require that our workforce is skilled, tooled sufficiently enough to be able to regulate the industry, meaning, that we must be one step always ahead of the industry. The funding challenge has made it impossible for us to efficiently develop those tools that we needed to be able to be effective in the way that we have conducted our business here. The statutory revenue of the Nigerian Shippers Council is that we are entitled to one percent of the freight stabilization levy, that is what the law says. You won’t believe it, in the life of this agency since it was established, that source of funding has never been accessed. That would represent to you immediately what the challenge has been.
In the moment the government in its wisdom decided to place us on a stop gap financial source which is 2 over 7 percent of what is called the port development levy. If you look at it that, it comes to a very paltry sum of what comes to the coffers of the Nigerian Shippers Council in a year. That to me represents an immediate challenge that we faced here.
The second issue for me has been the legal framework. The legal framework has not given us the proper tools of a proper economic regulator. Let’s remember, when the port reforms were put in place, it took almost nine years after that a port economic regulator is put in place. What that means is that the port has taken years and ran for nine years without an economic regulator, and then suddenly we are thrust into the fray. The tools we would have needed if it was in place right from the word go, were not there. The presidential orders that have given us some of the powers that we are working with, particularly the economic regulatory mandate is not actually codified in what I would call the substantive legal framework in the Nigerian Shippers Council. I find that a bit uncomfortable. That has been the environment in which we are functioning till now. Good a thing, the temperament, the know-how, the ability of those who have been on this sit before, ability to manage the circumstances, in a way that has brought the industry to recognize the port economic role of the Shippers Council gives the impression as if everything is okay. But I am sitting here, and I can tell you that my concern is to make certain that the legal framework of the Nigerian Shippers Council is further strengthened and that is why today we are exploring, processing a draft legal framework that is in the national assembly and we are putting a very robust regulatory regime that once it passes through the crucible of the national assembly’s searchlight, we will now sufficiently strengthen it to be able to build it more than what are doing presently as port economic regulator.
There are of course a couple of other things, but when you don’t have the funding, your staffing is also inadequate because at the moment the government again in its wisdom gave us headship of the implementation of the Nigeria Port Processing Manual (NPPM) and then of course there was also the Port Standing Task Team that was put together that was put together by the federal government, led by the Nigerian Shippers Council to supervise the implementation of the NPPM. That is the tool that has become the beautiful bride of the industry because at once, all of the standard operating processes in the port has been encompassed, encapsulated in a document which has now provided some clarity as to how this industry should run. To be able to do and to implement it effectively, outside of the Lagos port, don’t forget we have ports spread all over the country …Rivers State, Cross River, new ports are coming up , so there is a need for the staffing strength to be up scaled to be able to meet the demands of the industry.
I needed to point that out in order to show why it is important that the funding structure of the Nigerian Shippers Council is addressed in a manner that would then allow us to be as efficient as we should be.
Have you made any effort towards addressing this issue since you became the CEO of the Council?
Indeed we have. Thanks for reminding me. When I got here, the first thing I did was to put our team together to advise me and we have raised a memo that justifies that the Nigerian Shippers Council must earn that source of revenue. We presented our case, very well articulated to our parent ministry and the honourable Minister actually constituted a ministerial team that sat down with a group of experts to look at this matter holistically. Sadly, the process would not conclude as at the time of his departure but the comfort that I have is that the work that has been done and the level which we are at this moment, there is just a little that is left as far as the processing of that request. So I am hopeful that in the shortest time possible, we will be able to begin the process of accessing that source of revenue.
So how did the people that were here before you get through without proper funding?
They probably were magicians, because if you see the development that has taken place here, look at the offices that we occupy, the structures and then if you put it side by side with the budget, you will be shocked to your bone marrows how they were able to do it. Again it just showed that we had some very prudent managers of resources who have taken us to the point that we are and we have continued in that tradition of making sure that the best of our abilities are harnessed but of course that does not take away the necessity that we need to be further enhanced as far as funding streams are concerned.
The shipping companies have posed a big challenge for anyone on this sit as they carry on in our country as lords that cannot be regulated. The argument is that there are powerful Nigerians behind them, and touching them means stepping on these powerful toes which would surely backfire. How have you been able to contend with this monster?
As I said earlier, this industry is complex. There are different interest s, very diverse, that are involved. It is a multimillion dollar industry; naturally you would expect that it will come with all of its complexities. I think the advantage that we have had (those that have worked here before me and hopefully I can say that for myself, also) was that we were able to use knowledge driven expertise that has allowed us to be able to relate with the industry from the point of knowledge. Of course, that also means that we then had been able to interface with stakeholders in the industry in a manner that is there is now a buy in. Initially when the Shippers Council was given this mandate of port economic regulator; there was resistance partly because people did not understand what the role of the Shippers Council was meant to be, but I think also because of mischief. The truth of the matter is that a lot of people will prefer to operate in an environment where there is no clarity of regulation because that benefits some at the expense of the common good. That’s part of the reason why that resistance was there. But by the time the operations came, the implementations of the legal framework and of course like I said, the expertise of the group of individuals who populate this institution, it enabled us to put in place policies and framework that have then given us the advantage working very closely in an environment of harmony with stakeholders in the industry. So I think to answer your question, what we have done is that we have been able to manage the diverse interests in a way that shows, one, that we are not a biased umpire, that was very key . The truth of the matter is that if you trace the origin of the Nigerian Shippers Council, when we started we were simply a consumer protection agency. In Some ways in the industry, in other words, we were more interested in the welfare of Shippers but our present role puts us in a position where we have become an umpire. So we are now acting in the interests of both the providers of shipping services and the consumers of shipping services as well. That then means that we have to deliver services and establish a regime that gives everyone the comfort and the recognition and the understanding that there is now a regulator whose interest is the common good, and to enable the conduct of business in our port to conform to what I would like to describe as international best practices. Because we have been able to sort of enact a regime in the industry that has given a clear picture that our interest is international best practices that has brought both the providers of the services and the consumers of services on board.
Yes we still have challenges; we have difficulties both for most part because of the way we have been able to mediate in the industry, I think there is a buy in now that has allowed the Nigerian Shippers Council to be a proper regulator in the true sense.
Going forward do you still see yourself doing anything much more visible in transforming the industry?
Yes, very much so. You see, the Federal Executive Council recently approved for us the reintroduction of the cargo tracking note at the same time it appointed the Nigerian Shippers Council to supervise the implementation of the project in the country, that’s new. New in the sense that it is now being introduced as, though not entirely a new phenomenon in the industry, but for over seven years, it has been in abeyance. Cargo tracking note is going to bring monumental development in our industry. For instance the fact that the federal government decided to also include wet cargo as part of the package in the supervision of the cargo tracking note implementation means that we can now as a nation begin the process of fighting crude oil theft because the tools that are going to be available for the implementation of the cargo tracking note will actually enable our security agencies with first class knowledge an information about the movement of vessels in and out of our waters. That’s one advantage I see already.
This morning, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) visited me. One of the things we discussed was the availability of tools to assist them to track the movement of illicit drugs which you know also presents a challenge as far as the health of our people is concerned and of course the Nigeria economy as well. Why is that, again because of the tools that will be deployed we are now able to trace the content of cargo of all of the vessels that are coming in. So it is no longer going to be business as usual. I mean, obviously the NDLEA will now have first hand information before ever a vessel arrives in our waters. This is what this particular vessel is carrying. You can see how effective that tool will be.
There is also the other question of under declaration which has become part of the challenge of our port system. That obviously is a huge dent on our capacity to generate revenues for the nation. Again this is going to help, so the Nigeria Customs will take advantage of this tools we are going to deploy in order to have properly declared cargo that is coming in into our waters. These are in my opinion monumental advantages in a way that will truly guarantee the efficiency of our ports.
Part of the challenge we have now is the manner in which we process clearance procedures at the ports which constitutes a major obstacle to the ease of doing business which makes it even more expensive. You can hear every time about how expensive our ports are and these are the variables that lead to the costly nature of doing business in our ports. Cargo tracking has those kinds of advantages built in it. The reason why I am excited in it is that the federal government in its wisdom has found the Nigerian Shippers Council worthy of this responsibility, so that’s a development I am looking forward to with some kind excitement.
Like I said, this is going to be a game changer in our maritime industry and of course to the nation’s economy at large. We should understand that if we introduce this thing… Like I said it covers both wet and dry cargo, so that’s a new development on its own. We are also working with the Ministry to ensure that the Nigerian Shippers Council Act is very well equipped with the proper legislative powers that will allow us to effectively discharge our mandate. So this is new development that we have in store, going forward and I can look forward to this with a lot of excitement. You already asked me a question about our source of revenue. We are already processing that and so I believe that the future is bright as far as the Nigerian Shippers Council is concerned. All we now have to do is to put all hands on deck and make certain that we are able to achieve within the next couple of years that one has in this office.
Are there other limitations to your performance that you can point to?
As far as limitations, I believe that the major limitation is again double fold…funding, legal framework, every other thing else dovetails into this. As soon as we are able to address this twin challenges that the Council is taking, what then is left is to ramp up our activities more rapidly and then of course achieve our principal goal which is that the Nigerian Shippers Council comes out as the best regulator as far as the maritime industry is concerned. As far as limitations those really are the major areas and something is been done about it already.
How would you describe staff motivation and training under your tenure?
The relationship between staff and management has been very cordial. I have to say that I am very happy and proud of the group I work with in the Nigerian Shippers Council. Just yesterday, the president of the union was sitting in that chair you are sitting and we had some very brotherly, meaning and useful discussions as to how we can move our Council forward. Clearly, the issue of staff welfare is top priority for me particularly. I have always said that a well motivated staff constitutes the basis for the success of the objective of every organization, so when the staff are happy, then you can be rest assured that productivity will also be reflected in that happiness.
We have been concerned with the tools that are available for our staff to be expertly. I have already described the nature of this industry. It is knowledge based and those who regulate it must always be given the skill set that enables them to really regulate the industry. So training..I don’t know whether my colleagues in The Shippers Council are making me pigheaded but the impression I am given is that in my period, the training facilities and the training that have been available for staff has been the best for a very long time. That motivates me. I feel we could even do more. There was a time the Nigerian Shippers Council officials went abroad to the best transport institutions worldwide to get the kind of knowledge. That is why if you look at the top echelon of the Council, when you speak with them, the knowledge that oozes out of them is a clear indication of the training and the tools available to them.
We want to replicate that. We want to continue on that platform because ensuring that as far as staff training is concerned, we can only increase the rate at which we are doing what we are doing right now and of course other areas of staff welfare. I like to be remembered as (I hope you don’t mind my using that word), the man who came here and made things a lot better for the Nigerian Shippers Council. So, that many years after I am gone, some reference will be made to my tenure in this office. Staff welfare is my top priority as far as my objectives in the Council is concerned.
How has the Council been able to handle the issue of multiple charges that is dumped on shippers by the service providers?
Let me make a claim here, I hope that I am right. I believe that the issue of multiple charges in our ports has actually scaled down somewhat. Before now, the numbers of local charges that were thrown left right and centre were in very huge numbers. But because we have managed the charges and tariff rate in a much efficient and in a much better effective way, I think I can now lay the claim that we have actually scaled down especially the number of tariff heads that we used to have in the past.
I think the story most recently has actually changed somewhat. The providers of services have come to terms with our existence as a regulatory board. As I told you earlier, there is a buy in of the Shippers Council mandate as a port economic regulator, so much so that as at today, every stakeholder in the industry, recognizes us that for you to increase a penny, you have to get our approval and using the Council negotiation expertise we look at the economic parameters and that is what drives the minimum that we are able to allow for an increase.
But having said that, let’s also be honest about our situation in the country at the moment. We know that inflation has actually been galloping somewhat lately. Those challenges, we know that. Some of them are temporary challenges and sooner than later most of the variables that make economic sense will begin to play in a way that will give us some stability. At the moment there is actually this fluctuation that is pretty much noticeable and that really has impacted in a way that business has been impacted in the port.
At the same time there still recognition that there is no way are you able to introduce any additional charges without seeking the Shipper Council’s approval. If anyone try to do that, I can promise you that we have the ability, the capacity to bring the hammer and make sure that we do not allow that to happen. As I speak with you, there are negations ongoing. Terminal operators have approached us in a number of cases and some other stakeholders who are seeking a review of their charges but we are getting down looking at all the indices that make sense so that in the end whatever approvals we give, we take account of the Nigeria interest and make sure that the shipping community in this country is not made to suffer unnecessarily.