Hassan Bello: Celebrating Excellence in Service
By Francis Ugwoke
An appointment for any government position is a call to service. In a population of over 200 people, such appointment is an honour and based on trust. However, no appointment is an easy task because of the expectations in office. Apart from the banana peels which must be avoided at all times, one is expected to have the necessary capacity to cope with the power in public office. Some would easily be swayed by their new position, becoming power drunk and probably losing direction, focus on the visions of the organisation he was appointed to serve.
In the maritime industry, leading an organisation is no doubt a herculean task considering the peculiarities of the sector. The sector is faced with a lot of challenges which could lead to hostility at some point in time. The nature of the shipping sector in Nigeria, particularly for those who have to cope with the Apapa gridlock on daily basis to do business can contribute to hostility among the people. Often times, the hardship one faces in certain businesses could force one to transfer aggression to innocent people. Therefore being the Chief executive officer of a government agency which is saddled with the statutory function of promoting efficiency in trade facilitation at the ports is indeed a big task. Such responsibility requires a man who is not just good on the job but also one who is humble in addition to other qualities of wisdom and good temperament.
About eight years ago, Barrister Hassan Bello was appointed the Executive Secretary/Chief Executive Officer of Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), an agency of the Transportation Ministry saddled with the statutory function of ports economic regulation. NSC’s elevation as the ports economic regulation came with more powers from just simply protecting the interest of shippers. But enjoying more powers in an industry like the ports sector may not be enough to achieve the desired goals.
The sector is adjudged as having a mafia setting with both service providers and consumers of shipping services ready to circumvent rules and regulations for maximum profit. The sector is also full of power brokers who are close to the Presidency and could put the job of any chief executive on the line if wisdom is not applied. And this is considering the Nigerian environment where those in power can sacrifice due diligence for personal and political interests.
With the concessioning programme which placed terminal operation under concessionaires, ports slipped from the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA). In effect, the concessionaires who have strong connection with Aso Rock managed terminal operations. Regulating such operators in our clime is no doubt a big task. This explains why the NPA as the technical regulator and landlord of the system has not been able to successfully punish the terminal operators when they err. The role of the technical regulator is to ensure that the terminal operators carry out their services in accordance with the concession agreement which also places statutory obligation in terms of infrastructure provision on the landlord. Most times both fell short of expectation.
The ports economic regulator plays the role of the umpire for all the service providers in the ports, including the landlord since the latter is a service provider. At some point in time, this role pitched the NPA with the NSC as the former was reluctant to bring itself under economic regulation. This however did not stop the NSC from forging ahead with its statutory regulation of pushing for an efficient port. The Council introduced a number of measures to improve on the cost of doing business at the ports. Part of this was in putting the service providers to check so that they do not introduce charges without negotiation and approval.
In October 2014, the service providers dragged the Council to court when the ports economic regulator gave a directive reducing certain charges introduced by the terminal operators and increasing free storage time at the ports. Resisting this move by the Council, the two groups of service providers had dragged the NSC to court. But the Council won the case in December 2014 at the High Court, Lagos, before the service providers proceeded to the Appeal Court where they also lost before heading to the Supreme Court. There has been move to settle the matter out of court with one of the 12 service providers pursuing its own settlement to be sooner than later.
To Bello, the Council is not against increase in charges but insists that it must be negotiated by all the parties involved. Bello while in the Council has worked on enthroning efficient trade facilitation by carrying out equipment audit which compelled terminal operators to provide modern cargo handling equipment needed at the ports. With such equipment, discharge of goods from ships as well as positioning of containers for examination has become easier. In addition, the Council under Bello has also been able to get shipping companies to automate their services to reduce physical presence of shippers and freight forwarders in the ports. The current digitalization level is about 80 – 90 percent among the shipping companies.
Bello believes that the freight forwarders should follow next in digitalizing their services in line with the terminal operators and shipping companies. When this happens, they can stay in the comfort of their offices and process clearance of their goods at the ports thus eliminating gradually physical presence. Bello was involved in mounting pressure on the federal government on the need to link the ports with rails which has now become a reality.
At the send forth ceremony held in his honour, Bello regretted that the NSC was not involved in the port concessioning agreement in 2006 and about two years ago when NPA management under the suspended Hadiza Bala Usman carried out a review of the exercise. He however expressed delight that the new management of NPA has added the Council in the Port Concession Agreement review following the intervention of the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi. He also felt bitter about the continued Apapa port gridlock which has affected residents and trade facilitation even after the NPA introduced the electronic call up system for trucks. He disclosed that this was because the technical regulator ignored the NSC advice on the project.
In December last year, the NSC was appointed as the lead agency to implement the Nigerian Port Process Manual (NPPM), a project of the federal government to improve on the ease of doing business at the ports. Bello and his management team met with all the service providers, including government security agencies, Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) at individual levels to address bottlenecks in ports operation. The major issue has been corruption in the port system. With the involvement of all the agencies in the ports under the NPPM, a decision was reached for a joint boarding of vessels calling at the ports instead of doing so separately by different security agencies.
Through this, the NPPM has been able to address the corruption involved during boarding of vessels. The NPPM committee recovered $20,000 bribe from some of the security agents and warned to bring to book those involved in such practices. The NSC will in the next few weeks reintroduce Cargo Tracking Notice (CTN) which is expected to address issues of fraudulent practices involved in the ports. CTN is expected to improve on revenue generation as it will eliminate the tradition of under-invoicing, under-declaration and outright concealment. It will also check capital flight by those who are involved in over-invoicing.
At the recent send forth for Bello last week, it was an emotion filled event as personnel of the NSC as well as many stakeholders felt that he would be missed so much for his selfless and meritorious service. It was encomium for him over his achievements in the past 8 years as Executive Secretary. He spent 22 years in the service of the Council.
One thing spectacular about Bello is his humility which is very rare among chief executives of high profile government agencies. .He is a workaholic and while in NSC he preached inter-agency cooperation believing that they all have one common objective to promote trade.
Anyone who had contact with him would describe him as a man of many gifts. He is detribalized, humble, honest and hardworking.
The NSC SERVICOM Zonal Coordinator, Mrs. Nnenna Akajiemelu said the Council and staff were proud to associate with Bello’s milestone, selfless service and mentorship. She said Bello’s style was “working to excel.”
Industry stakeholders who turned out for the celebration which took place at Eko Hotel in Lagos were full of encomiums for Bello for his outstanding performance.
Transportation Minister, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, described him as a good man, saying the testimony was clear for him to be having standing ovation at a ceremony for his departure.
Amaechi said, “His going is a bit emotional for me and my family. We wish him well.”
The Director General of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Bashir Jamoh described Bello as an epitome of effectiveness and efficiency, saying he worked to achieve international standard in service delivery.
Jamoh said Bello fought corruption in the ports industry and came up with efforts to address the issue.
“The subject matter at this event is Hassan Bello and what he has achieved for the past eight years as the executive secretary of NSC.
We know for his doggedness in solving issues, in the aspect of gridlock, trade expansion, national fleet issues and others and for every area, you can write a chapter of book on his contribution to the industry.”
Former Managing Director of NPA, Chief Adebayo Sarumi, who was equally former Executive Secretary of NSC said he was proud of him.
Sarumi said, “I am proud to say that I employed him into NSC as a lawyer and he is a man we need as a Transport Coordinator, he is Mr. Modalism, and fair play.”
Former Director, NIMASA, Hajia Lami Tumaka described Bello as a quintessential gentleman, saying he deserves to be celebrated.
Tumaka said, “Hassan Bello epitomizes a fine officer and a quintessential gentleman, amiable, humble, calm, cool and down to earth. His interpersonal skills are next to none, as he deserves to be celebrated and recognized. He deserves all the accolades as he is simply just a formidable, and a wonderful, shining personality. It is soothing and encouraging hearing Minister Ameachi say Hassan has retired but he is obviously not tired and wouldn’t be let go just like that, as he is still much needed in the maritime industry.”
In the words of former Director with the NSC, Mrs. Dabney Shaholma, “the man Hassan Bello is an Enigma God sent to Nigeria to be a bridge builder and he is the one man that can bring unity to this nation. He is detribalised Nigerian.”
*Ugwoke is Editor-in-Chief/Publisher, Shipping Day News/Magazine