Prince Olayiwola Shittu is the National President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA). In this interview with our correspondent in Lagos, he bares his mind on the activities of the maritime industry in the first quarter of this year, the Minister of Transportation’s claim that the 2012 Presidential Retreat on Port Reforms report is missing, Practitioners Operating fee (POF) and many more. He also gives reason why the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) could not find its feet many years after establishment. Excerpts;
The first quarter of 2016 has come and gone. In your view, how could you assess the first quarter of 2016 as it affects the maritime industry?
Like all the other sectors of the economy, there is nothing to write home about it because of certain policies government put in place and I know that the maritime sector is hard hit as a result of the type of operation that is carried out there. Importation has gone down to almost six percent, the crashing of the Naira has also affected operations generally, terminal operators are crying that even NPA is asking them to come and pay them in Dollars, if they can only succeed to get, they go to the parallel market.
So, it has been very tough and very hard and when I say like other sectors, even if you want to buy tomatoes that is in my village, they will tell you that Dollars has affected the market, the prices has gone up, eaten by inflation but we are only resting on hope, hope that out of all these hardships, good things will still come ahead of us because we don’t have alternative to hope because it is people who have hope will resort to barbarianism. Even the petrol to move around, people still have hope that eventually, it will all be well.
So, the maritime sector is not different, I only wish to enjoin the policy makers in the Federal Ministry of Transport especially to also look at the positive impact of their decisions on issues that affects the maritime industry. This is very important because there has been series of committees set up over the years through several Ministers to which nothing has come out of it. If they can go into their archives to bring out some of these reports, they don’t need new committees to give direction.
But the Minister of Transport has promised that it is not going to be business as usual, we hope he lives up to expectations. It is too soon to judge him even though one year is about to elapse, by the end of next month, it will be one year out four. A quarter of a year is more enough to know direction we are going. So, let us wait until that time comes.
Knowing fully well that you are part of the 2012 Presidential Committee on Port Reforms set up by the former President Goodluck Jonathan, were you not surprised to hear that that report beautifully put together by your committee and submitted to the Presidency could not be seen anywhere in the Transport Ministry?
I will be surprise if I hear that from the Honourable Minister because those of us who were in the committee are still alive. Membership of the committee were voluntary persons of high repute, who have been a success in their individual endeavours and the government felt it was necessary to put together in place a system that will facilitate the achievement of the 48 hours cargo clearance out of the ports with a model called the five smart steps to cargo clearance which was presented to the then President Goodluck at a maritime interactive session at the Aso Villa and got so much accolades because the presentations of that system was put in place.
So, it is always the will. For anybody to say he don’t know where to find it, I am a member of the committee, I have copies in my in my iPAD. In fact, when this new government came, somebody which I am not going to mention his name got in touch with me that he needed a copy of that report which I forwarded and the Chairman of that committee, Prof Monye is still alive, he could be reached. So, people should not give excuse that they can’t find the report.
But apart from the Presidential committee on Port Reform whose tenure then was to span to 2019 was to see through the areas because when it was set up, timeline was given, schedule was given, the committee was supposed to be in place until that achievement was done. So, we are in a committee that is now in a doldrums because meetings we don’t have, past government has gone with the officials, the Special Adviser, Monye is no longer there, we are just there. So, to me, it means that the government has gotten what they wanted from the committee.
But I will always advice government that when there is a change; they don’t just throw away everything from the past regime. There are certain things that they can sustain. Among that five smart steps to cargo clearance, only the Nigerian Customs Service has been able to implement, not in totality, part of the five smart steps. This PAAR was supposed to be part of it, you know PAAR came in when? About the same time and that was why our input in the making of PAAR, that was why ANLCA supported it wholeheartedly. But what PAAR has turned out to be now is not in line with that five smart steps.
If the Honourable Minister is serious about it, he could call a meeting, maybe a one day meeting with that committee, find out what has happened, how far they have gone, all the people are available, Coscharis is here, the other Madam is here. So, almost everybody is here. So, if the Minister is very serious not just telling the press that he can’t find the report.
When he made a request that if there was anybody with a copy of that report, such a person should make the report available to the Ministry and not to the Presidency so as to enable him take a look at the report, I believe he made that appeal at a public forum, at Shipowners’ event for that matter. Is there no way most of you who are still in the industry and are passionate about the industry could rally round and make the report available to him at least to fulfill all righteousness?
This is what we are talking about. I know you are not the spokesman of the Ministry of Transport neither are you the SA to the Minister. That forum you are calling a public forum, I was not there, if I was there, I would have replied him that the people who put up that report are still alive and if they check in the Ministry and they don’t have it, they should get in touch, even if they don’t want to talk to the Chairman then because of political considerations, some of us are still are there, I was the Chairman of a Technical Committee, some other people who are stakeholders, they could ask for the names of such people. Of course who is going to summon a meeting of the committee, I am not even competent to summon the meeting, I was neither the Chairman other than a subcommittee chairman that put up the report.
So, that is begging the issue. You cannot tell me the Minister wants it and what is your status compared to that of the Minister, anybody with a copy of that report should make it available to me, they should have even told him a name or two and he gets across to them that look, I need a copy of that report.
In last quarter, the Minister spent almost all his time in Lagos especially in the maritime sector within which he made some far reaching pronouncements and one of them was reconciling all the warring factions in the associations in the maritime sector especially as it relates to the freight forwarding family. I remembered he gave all the clearing agents a timeline within which they were expected to put their acts together with the Council for the regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN). Could you give us an update on the matter? At what stage are you now in the reconciliation move because after that meeting with the Minister at Abuja, we are yet to hear any other thing?
All Ministers of Transport has always worked from Lagos because that is his field, that is the job he has, even if you want to talk about the railway, the headquarters is in Lagos. He is only following the trend because without him being on ground, he will only be relying on stories from the field which had misled a lot of Ministers in the past.
We are aware of that pronouncement but let me start from the angle of the Maritime Reporters Associations. It was timely but I think it is supposed to be more persuasive than like a military order. We know that journalism under NUJ has so many branches, energy reporters are different from maritime reporters, financial reporters and the likes are different and because all these branches of journalism needs specialization. A man who has been in a maritime reporter for the past ten years, you can’t compare him with a man who probably transferred from finance to the maritime sector to get the idea immediately.
But what the man was saying, rather than have several associations reporting maritime, why don’t we have one? But the man should have looked at the genesis of how these associations came to be. We seem to lose value in Nigeria in everything we do. I continue to make remarks that if you look at the schools nowadays, nobody puts civic education which was one of the subjects which we had the opportunity of learning back in school which has moulded our lives to what we are now.
You see, we lose values, when there was an organization and one person out of that organization has become a deviant either because he doesn’t to follow the rules of the game or just because he cannot be disciplined or just because he has ambition to also be a President, he moves out, establishes a parallel association, we clap our hands. From that beginning, there will be emerging several others.
Now, people will say, yes, there is freedom of association but it is also the government people that encourage the split. I am going to juxtapose it with the issue of freight forwarding and CRFFN because at the end of the day, if those in power do not encourage the split because when you are united, unity is strength and every government official, from the Minister down wants favourable reports from the maritime reporters, so they are now face with if you go along with group A, group B will now go against you, so he is now looking for a solution to now deal with one association representing everybody.
Yes, he could go ahead and do that by coercion but there are some people who are not going to agree with him. Some persons could also go to court. There are some of these groups that could say well without any support from anybody, even if you don’t give adverts, even if you don’t give us sponsorship, we want to go on the way we are. That was why I said it is a matter of persuasion and I don’t know what is in the Act of NUJ, whether it encourages split, I don’t know, but that one is for the practitioners to handle.
Juxtaposing it with freight forwarding, it is also the same thing because I want him to look back. What was it originally? How did you come to have splintering groups of freight forwarders? Before the advent of CRFFN in 2007, the name freight forwarding was alien to the Nigerian maritime industry, what we had was clearing and forwarding companies combining import and export operations.
Now, some people felt especially the then Sarunmi who then was the E/S of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council and then later the Managing Director of NPA felt that the name freight forwarding would be more befitting for us because the argument he brought then was that it will enable you to expand your business where you have one stop shop for all the operations, where you have your warehouse, where you have your customs license, where you have your haulage, where if possible in future you have ships but in Nigeria of today or twenty years time, how many indigenous companies can combine all as one?
Apart from being capital intensive, how many investors want to go into that area? And foreigners who are in that business as a total logistics one stop shop; they have foreign partnerships and banks back home that back them to go into such venture. That was what Panalpina was until Panalpina faded due to some issues with the government of the United States over sharp practices and all that.
Now, how do we give jobs to our young graduates, young future? If you don’t understand what clearing and forwarding stands for, you may be finding it difficult yourself to understand that agitation, there is nothing called warring factions in the maritime sector, no! The job of CRFFN just like COREN is to regulate, supervise and direct and make available capacity for training. CRFFN is not meant to have a training school; CRFF is to accredit standardized training schools to train.
Freight forwarding is for individuals while customs brokerage is for individuals and firms and when we made enquiries from Kunio, the Secretary-General of World Customs Organization, he told us emphatically at a meeting we had at Abuja that each Customs Administration in a particular country would look at government policies to determine what role customs should play. Though in Customs and Excise Management Act, customs license is supposed to be issued to the individuals, firms and self clearance people but the government in its wisdom said no, they don’t want to deal with individuals because individuals can vamoose. Stories abound which you also know that someone can collect money and disappear, change identity and that is it. You know that some banks are victims, you there are some unserviced loans, some loans were taken and you can’t find the guy because he has disappeared into the world.
But a corporate organization can be traced even if the principal dies, the estate of that company and whatever is left of it including those of the Directors are still liable to get that money back. Government decided to make use of firms but what do we see? Prior to 2000 or earlier than 2000, am saying that ANLCA was the only organization back then, nobody cried, nobody worried, ANLCA was the umbrella body. At what stages are people now talking that customs license is no longer relevant? It came to be at a stage when those who had licenses came to lose their licenses mostly due to sharp practices, as in they don’t have a license to be able operate within the politics of ANLCA because if you don’t have a customs license or a company, you cannot continue with ANLCA, they fall out to go and form their own groups.
Since group they now formed is for individuals, that was why freight forwarding became relevant. But if you go from an international level, what is freight forwarding? Do you know the captains of FIATA which is the international body of freight forwarding? Who are the captains? FEDEX, DHL, those are the movers of cargoes, they are the freight forwarders, they are on the board of FIATA, go and Google FIATA and look at the makeup.
But we have World Customs Organization controlling about 180 countries of the world’s customs and we have the International Federation of Customs Brokers Associations that is also a member of the PSG- that is Policy Strategic Group of WCO, many rulings by the customs organizations all over the world come through IFCBA to member countries of which we are members. Assuming there was no splintering, is it only customs brokerage and freight forwarding that the CRFFN is supposed to superintend? No! There are seven other parts of total logistics chain of which freight forwarding is one, customs brokerage is one, ship Chandelling and supply is one, warehousing is one, packaging which is even more relevant, why are people not going in there? They are not going in there because you don’t need too much capital to set up customs brokerage, the importer must always make the money available, where he doesn’t have enough, he expects you the agent to assist him in getting the cargo out and delivered. So, people feel that that one is easier to do.
To take a step further, you must have an office because you are a consultant, you don’t need to be a freight forwarder and go and sit down at the ports, you don’t have any business sitting at the ports, you have your office, you do your adverts. Freight forwarding, if you look at the definition, forget about what some people are giving you, when I see my friend Increase Uche trying to define freight forwarding, he will say associated documentation that is customs brokerage, that is not correct. Associated documentation means the bill of lading that you are going to present, the sourcing for the right vessels that could help your exporter. So, freight forwarding is more on export while customs brokerage is more of inwards and a little bit of export because anywhere customs is involved, the customs brokerage must be involved.
I used to quickly go around sometimes with the little information I have here, the simple definition of either of these two which could help you, it says a customs broker is a person or firm that clears goods or merchandise through customs for a consignee or shippers. You clear goods through customs whether import or export, ones customs has anything to do with it, that is your job.
Now let me give you what it is for a freight forwarder, I am using an international dictionary, it says a freight forwarder is a person or firm that arranges to pick up or deliver goods on instruction of a shipper or a consignee from and to a point through the various necessary conveyances and common carriers. If I have a container load of cocoa, I need a freight forwarder, to get it out from wherever it is, warehouse it for me, package it very well for me, let me know what government regulatory agencies I need to get paid, look for a vessel for me and make sure that it lands over there and look for a customs broker over there to clear it for me.
That is why you see more people going to freight forwarding because you don’t have any outlay, all you need to do is to register with the CRFFN, they give you your ID card, you are a freight forwarder but you don’t know a job of a freight forwarder you are expected to do because when you now get that ID Card from CRFFN, you now claim I am an agent, you don’t need license, you don’t have office.
But if I look at what I have here and I want to also let you know that as part of the presentation we made to the Minister, we were able to tell the Minister that an average customs broker or the firm that is licensed by customs has 14 obligatory duties to perform every year. You obtain customs license with N215, 000 every year, there is no other operational business in Nigeria who pays such amount for license apart from the oil sector or mining. N215, 000 for you to renew your license every year but for you to operate in each command you pay N15, 000 and you know how many customs command that are available. You must have an office, you must have transportation, you must have equipment that will enable you have your DTI and you renew all these things annually. You also now go to renew with the CRFFN.
So, why do you think my job is a vocation and not a profession? Who has a vocation? A man that does not require to get anything other than register with the CRFFN, renew with CRFFN and then you move into the ports and start looking for importers and claim to be an agent and now look for somebody that as a license for him to go and do the DTI because even the commercial DTI Café are issued based on the license given by the customs. Then why do we deceive ourselves that customs license is not necessary? So, who is a vocational person and who is a professional?
However, the advent of the CRFFN was supposed to increase the standard because clearing and forwarding of that time is the jack of all trade, no specialization. By May 17th, we are in Shanghai attending IFCBA Biennial conference and we are Board members, each countries produces two Directors who are Board members but as it is, five of us are going. So, what am I bringing out? Even the FIATA, that is the umbrella body of the international freight forwarding industry globally, Nigeria is represented by the CRFFN because there are too many associations that want to go to FIATA and FIATA does not admit government agencies but because of the peculiar nature of Nigeria where everybody wants his own empire, they said how many of you can come? IFCBA it is only one national association that represents each country.
However, when CRFFN came onboard, we were members of CRFFN Governing Board and one of the suggestions I made, that this thing is clear cut; it is only ANLCA that was represented in the Board of CRFFN. Some of our colleagues believed that CRFFN should just register ANLCA and let the other groups go to hell but ANLCA cannot do all the jobs, you know, operation is dynamic whereby I may own one trailer now, I may not have the capacity to have up to 10, 15, 20 trailers to do my job but there are people who are specialized transporters, you engage them and that is where freight forwarding comes in. I should be looking for freight forwarders who I know is serious and engage them, come and do this part of the job for me, this conveying from the ports to wherever it is going.
So, whoever wants us to come together, it is like you putting different types of birds of different sizes inside a cage, what you see is death now. So, we suggested to CRFFN then, let all those who are licensed by customs as also a regulatory body just like you CRFFN and it is only the licensed customs agents that has a double jeopardy of regulation. Even NPA, we pay them N10, 000 every year for operation. So, we are now telling CRFFN, let all the licensed customs agents be on one platform, let the freight forwarders be on one platform. If you are a freight forwarder and you don’t work in a licensed company, they will give you a colour coded ID card that only those with that colour will go to customs area because customs is not supposed to deal with anybody that is not covered by the customs license. If that had been enforced, then the other freight forwarders could have another colour, ship Chandeliers can have another colour, packaging because if you are involved in packaging, you might be needed at the ports, after customs examination to put the packaging back together, you give them another colour. All those were the suggestions we gave but you also know that it was when this CRFFN now existed that other additional associations were being registered.
So, what you have is not warring factions, it is cacophony, a bedlam like I was telling you. We are over regulated because having been regulated by customs and dealing directly with customs we are not supposed to be in CRFFN but CRFFN law is a law of the Federal Government, whether they did it in error or they did it for a good reason, we are already in there, if you don’t want to be in, you go back to the National Assembly and get an amendment. But we don’t care; we believe that the number of regulations does not matter. Even a cargo that you are bringing in from abroad is subjected to different regulatory agencies because you need to go through them. If you are going to bring in generator for instance, you are going to deal with SON and you are also going to deal with NEPA before the unbundling because we used to pay them for any import of generator. So, what am I bringing out of this? That is where the Minister wants that repetition and it is that disagreement that makes CRFFN not to find its feet and I want to tell you the secret very soon.
There are those who want to make easy money from the ports, they want to use the platform of CRFFN to collect money from the system and share it but that are not the role of CRFFN. But who is going to pay the money to CRFFN? It is the declarants. Take for example, there is no cargo that comes into this country that is cleared by an individual because customs does not issue license to an individual, the importer can be an individual, the customs agent that is going to do the declaration must be from a licensed company which is the customs agency. Those of us working in those agencies are the custodian.
Sincerely, in America, they have what they call customs brokers as individuals but if you know the strict measure, your credit rating must be so high, your bond to back you up must be so high, you must be able to pass their exams twice in a year. If your credit rating in America is not high nobody is ready to do business with you. But here they know that if they do it at the individual level, people will not be looking at the credit rating, an individual can go and borrow N30 Million to get the license if that is for an individual and then wait until he is able to corner government money say N1 billion and take off and those who are going to look for him, after sometimes will say let him go sha. So, that is the wisdom behind not issuing licenses to individuals.
Now, part of those requirements to be an agent, when you get that license, based on that license, you are registered with shipping agents to operate with them, to be able to collect the goods and release for your importers. It is that same license you use to register within the terminal because you are the declarant. If you see customs’ PAAR, you see declarant. You see that the name of my company is Skellas, so why should I be the declarant, taking responsibility of my importer when I have bond already with the customs now tell a freight forwarder to go and do examination for me? It is not possible.
If you are talking of freight forwarders, we are all freight forwarders because that is what CRFFN Act says but among the freight forwarders just like talking about the engineers, you also have some specializations as engineers. If they were able to just draw that line, ignoring all those, some these associations don’t have more than 10 to 15 members and they are waiting for CRFFN to collect money from the declarants and come and share it. So, people should just sit down, every month they say CRFFN our Cheque is ready. That encourages laziness and creates fraud. It is not the companies that are fraudulent, forget about what my friend Aniebonam used to say, giving licenses to companies encourages fraud in the industry. But I want to ask you, which is riskier, giving license to individuals that can change base tomorrow? Even now, the people who go about deceiving the public that they are agents, they collect job from an importer, collect deposit and disappear. But they are fake but how did they get to the ports? What did they show the importer? That is why on our own platform, on our own website, you can see the list of all licensed companies that are under our association, we did not even said that there are no licenses in the other associations, we have not said so.
But if we must deal with CRFFN, ANLCA how many licenses are under you? They profile it and certify that truly because everyone who is a member of ANLCA got a letter from the company signed by the MD that I want to belong to ANLCA, that is why they participate in our elections and that was why they are in our biometric register and we posted them on our website telling the world that if you want to do clearing and if you want to use our members that we can help you locate, go here.
Is it not a surprising thing to you that majority of those on the register of CRFFN have the same address, No. 2A Maybin Street? Is that an office? But look at Skelas, this company, look at the address, the head office is in Port-Harcourt, the Lagos office is here, you don’t need to come and look for Shittu, you go to the company and whatever is the fallout, if it is something likefraud, then I will liable as a Director of the company not for one single man who just carry a portfolio or do a complimentary card. That is part of the disagreement that we have because it is not war.
As am talking to you now, people are already registering with CAC for other associations to be floated, most of them are waiting for CRFFN to begin that sharing of money and they will now put in their own paper and if you have registered other associations, you cannot deregister and you cannot also refuse registration of new ones. Then where are we going?
… To be continued.
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