Tony Anakebe is a foremost Freight Agent in the Nigerian Maritime Sector. In this interview with our correspondent, he bared his mind on the burning issues in the Maritime sector in Nigeria ranging from the freight forwarding associations, the Nigeria Customs Service, Maritime Advocacy and Action Group, CEFFN and a host of other issues. Excerpts;
Your Perception of the various Freight Forwarding Associations.
ANLCA (Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents) was formed in 1954 and they were formed to take care of the Freight Forwarding business entirely but along the line, some people felt that the power ANLCA is welding was becoming so enormous for them and they had to politicize it and brought in other associations. They divided ANLCA and now the power ANLCA had to checkmate a lot of things going on in the industry is no more there.
So what we are doing is that we are trying to inform the government of all that is happening inside the ports, it is left for them to take their decisions. We are not a force again in the Maritime sector and ANLCA cannot take a decision and present it to the Federal government and say this is our decision.
Throughout the whole world, a freight forwarder is highly regarded even in the US (United States of America) by the government. A freight forwarder is a revenue generation agent to the government. In US, it is the US government that pays the freight forwarder. A freight forwarder has a percentage, if you collect 10 million US dollars in a year; you have a percentage paid you by the US government.
In China today, if you export one hundred to one hundred and fifty containers outside China, you are entitled to a loan that will help you to stabilize in the export business.
Your assessment of the Maritime Sector
I believe the Nigerian Seaports can still yield the internally generated revenue more than what the oil sector is yielding to Nigeria and the Nigerian seaports can take care of Nigeria if properly harnessed. I don’t know why we will continue to beat around the bush. All the problems that we are seeing in the Nigerian ports today are so enormous.
The Customs officers, the way things are going on in the ports are even trying because a lot of problems surfaced since the privatization of the Nigerian seaports. First, the access roads is no more there, believe me, it takes between 2 hours to 3 hours for one to get into the ports. If one has a job that day, the whole of that day is gone. If an officer has a job to do in the port, he or she will not be with there. Why are they messing up with the Nigerian Seaports? Why is it highly neglected?
You will have a very good policy on ground but the way to put it into implementation is the problem. The Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, when she took over the Ministry of Finance, she came to the port, she went round and brought a programme which if it had been followed fully, the Nigerian seaports would have been in a better position to generate money for the government, but that programme upon all the conferences we attended, the policy she presented was highly welcomed but the implementation was not well managed.
Top on that policy was the access roads to the ports, she promised that those access roads would be reconstructed and most of them will be put in order. All the trucks and tankers will be taken off the roads but today, that is one of the major problems that is hindering the movement of cargo in and out of the ports. I don’t know why all these things will not be phased out.
Secondly, the ports are not electrified, we have been saying it, we want a twenty four hours clearing process in the ports. How can you work in the night in a darkened port and people are expecting you to work? It cannot be possible, they cannot do anything there.
The Security situation in and around Apapa is improving but we still need to do more because a lot of people has talked about their lost containers, people loaded their containers and were waylaid on the road in the night. All these things are the problems that we are encountering.
But in as much as all these things are going on, we are still hoping that this year, there will be a lot of improvements, there will be a lot of reforms and the improvements should be in the area of free flow of traffic in and out of the ports. Immediately this is done, people will heave a sigh of relief. Port is where somebody can come in a second and go. Between Tincan and Apapa, the distance is not a trekkable one but the buses that can take people in and around the places are no more there, the Okadas had been banned in Lagos, you find out that with the nature of work, 24 hours even one week or three weeks clearing cannot be implemented in Lagos. First of all, they have to clear the roads, make them motorable, make sure that all the bad spots are fixed up, and then allow people to come into the ports and do business and go. Allow the customs officer and other units that are working in the ports to come to their workplace in time. You can’t believe that some officers come to work around eleven, and then what kind of work is that? Before five o’clock, he has gone; everybody is calculating his or her own movement in out of the port. In all these things, it makes the duration of the working hours insufficient for the government and everybody.
Your take on the Maritime Advocacy and Action Group (MAAG)
The former Minister of Transport wanted to put in place Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria and that was highly politicized. The division in the in the council was so bad that some freight forwarding association has decided not to participate in its activities anymore.
If there is a body that can regulate the freight forwarding practice, the body will be in a better position to direct on what will be done. The initial Transport Minister had a very good plan but the plan was thwarted.
In freight forwarding business, a lot of people can wake up one day and establish their own association so far they have connections in Abuja and there, all of them are into politics, some of them are into their own selfish interests. If there is any coordinated authority over the freight forwarders, like I said, when ANLCA was established, they had the day in the maritime sector.
On the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN)
We are seeing that as another agency of the government. Initially, the idea was very okay, they organized a meeting, they organized the freight forwarders in order for them to register with them but I think freight forwarding associations has started have disagreement with them.
On the Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR)
On PAAR, we had just started with the implementation of PAAR, the implementation of PAAR, I am seeing it as a very welcomed development where customs gives you the value of the goods you pay and if you honestly declare the value of your goods, I don’t know why your container should stay more than a day again in the port except if there are some fraudulent officers who are not honest, who want to delay the container. The implementation of PAAR is Okay. It will quicken the clearing process.
Your expectations for the 2014
2014, we are hoping that there will be an increase in the volume of trade in the country but the problem will be constant congestion of the ports. As am talking to you, Apapa is congested, Tincan is congested and they are not making use of the private terminals.
The problem we are going to have is that we will go back to the days of NPA (Nigerian Ports Authority) where consignment s are delayed and demurrages are being paid for it. So who are those that are going to par for those demurrages? It is the importers that have the container that are going to pay for it.
So when the volume increases and you don’t have the capacity to handle the increase, you discover that we will be where we are. We hope that our ports can cope with this.
Factors Militating against quick clearing in the ports
There are lots of factors militating against the quick clearing of cargo from the ports. One, the terminal operators, the shipping companies that came with the containers, some fraudulent customs officers who delay the release of your goods in order to extort money from you, some agents who deliberately leave containers in the ports because some of them collect money from the importers and run away because they don’t know what to do. So, all these things are major problems that bring delay in the ports.
But I have been one of those canvassing for one stop shop for the Nigerian ports where any ship that comes into the Nigerian ports, your container is scanned and your declarations, your documents are presented to the customs. Immediately, the container is scanned by the customs and it is discovered that what you declared is actually what the scan report showed, you pay your dues and on the day of delivery, all concerned agencies will be on ground to examine the container and once you are cleared, your goods are exited out of the port, and that makes it very easy.
But the problem in Nigeria is that the ship comes, offload, then you go to customs, they will tell you scanning or you go for physical examination, you book for your container to be dropped, for three weeks some terminal operators will not drop your container for examination. They will tell you to come the upper week that that is when they will have chance and all these things who bears the cost? The importer. And who will they give the cost to? The end user.
So you find that all these things make clearing in Nigeria very cumbersome. So everyone of us is contributors to the delays in the ports. So we need to move forward, we need to change a lot of attitudes in the things we do.