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Shippers’ Council loses steam under Jime

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An office worker trying to wear really big shoes for him.

Since the appointment of Emmanuel Jime in June, 2021 as the Executive Secretary  of the Nigeria Shippers’ Council, the once vibrant agency under its immediate past Chief Executive, Barrister Hassan Bello, has gone to sleep.

This is because the new helmsman is said to still be learning the rope six months after his resumption.
This inertia has therefore reversed the gains achieved under the energetic Barrister Bello.
For six months, the industry is still waiting  for Jime.
For six months, the players in the industry are still in the dark about  who really is Jime because he  is obviously shy to engage with the critical stakeholders.
The President- General of Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN), Prince Adewale Adeyanju, recently slammed Jime over what he described as his strange work attitude, accusing him of shunning engagement with stakeholders.
This revelation is the reflection of the recluse nature which the Benue-state born politician has adopted since he assumed office.
He had to pay a hurried visit to Adeyanju after that attack.
But that has not changed the narrative from what it is, that is, Jime is timid to meet with stakeholders.
Unfortunately this attitude has made the Nigeria Shippers’ Council to be gradually losing its bite.

The council, which was bequeathed to him 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.

Sadly, 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 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 incompetent  professional genes.

It clearly shows that Jime has inherited an oversized shoe. He too acknowledged this fact when he resumed duties about six months ago.

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 or otherwise 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.

Does Jime  have the capacity and acumen required to harness these rich human resources at his disposal to equal the success story  of his predecessor let alone surpassing it?

© 2021, maritimemag. All rights reserved.

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