…As bungled peace initiative opens room for further loss
From a failure of dialogue at the Lagos round table, to the law court, and back to another futile peace table at Abuja, the Nigerian maritime stakeholders meetings have remained inconclusive, confirming that what was involved was not just money, but billions!
The Maritime First learnt that in the 12-day strike action, embarked by the embattled freight forwarders at the Lagos Port Complex, Apap, the nation lost over N60 billions. Ironically, the crisis is yet to be resolved!
Sadly enough, the Federal Government who ought to feel more concerned, that a most important part of its on-going Port reforms had finally come under threat, had decided to pretend that all was well.
The Yoruba believes that the “chain is as strong, as its weakest point”. Only God knows, if the Yoruba is right or wrong. But, when a Government that scored 80 percent in Port Reforms, and moved upwards to hit 90 percent in Customs Reforms, suddenly chickens out, instead of following through with Port Stakeholders Reforms; then the public must be forgiven, if they begin to see the Government as remarkably unserious.
The President gave the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), the powers, under which it was vibrating anew: the power of an Economic Regulator. Yet, the same Government went to bed, snoring, when it was incarcerated by court injunctions. Which is a good reason, why the wise, do not beat the rich-man’s dog; because, they know, it might be considered a slap, on the big man.
The Maritime First learnt, that the only reason why the Federal Ministry of Transport got involved, and invited the Seaport Terminal Operators of Nigeria (STOAN), the NSC, and the Freight Forwarders to Abuja, was because Government was LOOSING revenues!
The freight forwarders believed they were right, to take the view of the NSC,
as expressed in the controversial advert, slashing storage and other charges as good, simply because, it favoured them .
Thus, they decided, to lift the letters off the page, and commence immediate implementation. Perhaps, beyond self righteousness, they could also hide under the notion of trade “fairness”, “trade reality”, or “economic reality”. They had moral justification.
Yet, they failed to realize that, Magna Carter agrees that if a man has enjoyed a privilege for a while, he also has the legal justification to defend it as right!
They also seemingly forgot, that Seaport operators had existed precariously, functioning without the desired or relevant legal framework.
They forgot, that for this category of people, trading with bank loans, sourced sometimes, at compound interest rates; with an equally attendant vigor, to recoup as soon as one could possibly can.
They also forgot, that the STOAN might enjoy some peculiar advantages, if the whole issue, is about going legalistic. What with the several options of injunctions, from interlocutory, interim, Ex parte, etc, to unending adjournment! With “status quo ante”, continually remaining favourable to its members.
Now, who go tire first?!
Would the inclusion of the Shippers Association be considered specifically strategic?
Yes, in the sense that it may re-invigorate the NSC impetus to go the extra miles. No, in the sense that it makes settling out of court, more complex, rigorous and daunting.
Thank God the Council did not encourage the Supervisory Ministry, the Ministry of Transport to wade into the issue, as co respondents. The main platform for amicable settlement would then have been foreclosed.
In order words, even as things stand, there is still room, for amicable settlement, especially an out of court. But, it must not be under a situation where a Minister of Transport, who knows how strategic the industry is, to the national economy, would call a Peace Meeting, ran it half way, and abandoned it, handing it over, to one of the “interested parties”.
The Minister, at this point must accept blame, for the in inconclusiveness, inconveniences, inaccuracies and the unacceptableness of the “communique”, that emerged, from the Abuja peace meeting.
He must also guide against a recurrence. The excuse that he was summoned by Aso Rock, must be considered untenable, because, he in actual fact, initiated the meeting. Why didn’t he call for a break, be it tea, lunch etc, etc.
He must therefore, re-initiate another Peace Meeting, before the controversial “communique” or “recommendations”, begins to heat up the industry.
Meanwhile, both the STOAN and NSC may also begin now, to reconsider the degree of ground to give or take, in a bid to finally evolve an agreeable Compromise! All the parties may thereafter approach the court, to indicate that in the country’s overall interest, they have sought a functional alternative dispute resolution.
The parties, in the interest of billions that the Government, nay the country would further lose, in the event of another avoidable strike action; should also avoid issue “sub judice”; they must keep talking.
The Yoruba would say: Eni ti o ni ede ngbona, to sa lo si Ede…o si mpadaa bo wa si ede, bi o ba kuro ni Ede”. He who run to Ede, because the home is hot, he would still come home whenever he leaves Ede.
The Minister bungled the first peace initiative. The Minister must re-initiate another. And timely too!