Mr. Olufemi Abiodun Olabanji is the Chairman, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Lillypond/Ijora Chapter. Recently, he spoke to newsmen at his Apapa office on the re-designation of the Command to Tincan 2, how the terminal frustrates business and discourages patronage one month after stakeholders’ meeting and many more. Excerpt.
Sir, while speaking with newsmen at the ANLCA Secretariat one year ago, you did promise that you were going to work in consonance with the terminal operators, the Customs command and the executives of your sister associations to bring back Lillypond/Ijora terminal to its former glory. One year down the line, have you been able to achieve that?
You are welcome. In fact what just asked now is what we have been planning to let the people know. When we came to power in Lillypond, we thank God, once there is life, we believe there is hope. Right now, I know you have heard that Lillypond is no more under Apapa, that it is now Tincan 2. It is true container has not been coming to Lillypond but God has transformed Lillypond to be a golden port.
Initially, when we got to power, we had series of meetings with Shipper’s Council, we went Apapa to meet with APMT, we met with Edike who is now the Zonal Coordinator but all those meetings did not bear much fruit. What we succeeded at achieving with those meetings was that that period, we have a T-Bill of Lading which means that you can destined your goods to Apapa and transfer them to Lillypond and some of the importers who know the value of container leaving port at the right time, not acquiring demurrage utilized the opportunity at that time. An importer who has lots of cargoes who doesn’t want to waste money in demurrage quickly grabbed that opportunity, they brought their goods to Lillypond because the crop of customs officers we have at Lillypond now, with the new Controller, they are good officers.
You cannot see container sit in Lillypond, we don’t say bring your contraband, we don’t say bring your problem, bring your goods that have clean declaration and we thank God that the new CAC that came to power really worked towards it. At a time, when this T-Bill of Lading started coming, then we were still under Apapa that was when we worked to achieve this new name given to Lillypond by the Federal Government of Nigeria which is now Tincan 2. It is still Lillypond terminal, the terminal as it is still stand but the customs command is now Tincan 2. If you want to bring your goods to Tincan 2, all you need to do now is to destined your goods to Apapa, transit it to Tincan 2, you don’t need to do any transfer, you destined it to Lillypond.
You know you asked me what we have been able to achieve in Lillypond. After those series of meetings with the Shippers’ Council, the CAC and the current CG, the Tincan 2 is now a reality, we have our own Code. If you lodge your SGD now, it is going to read Tincan 2.
But right now, we are having a serious problem at Lillypond. Recently, we had a stakeholders’ meeting with the terminal operators where the terminal operators and I am happy Mr. Femi who was there, the Assistant Deputy Director. The so-called Mr. Kayode who is the acting terminal head now, promised that after three weeks of this meeting, there will be container in Lillypond. Between God and man, we have not gone back to the Shippers’ Council because we believed that since we have had a meeting, by the grace of God, there must be changes. But up to this present day, nothing has been done.
For how long was the meeting now?
For over one month now and the terminal head, Mr. Kayode has not been able to call us to say, ah! This is the problem we are encountering. Whenever we call him on phone, he would say he is too busy, he so stressed up, he cannot do anything now, that a lot of people have been coming and I said well, I am the Chairman, the way are stressed up, myself am also stressed up, I am not calling you to ask you whether you are bringing container to Lillypond, I am calling you so that we could be in the know of what you people are doing so that if there is anything we can do to support you. We are stakeholders and that the terminal is for containers, it is not for empty containers. We have a Customs Area Command, in the customs system in Nigeria, the status of Apapa command is the same as that of Liiypond, they collect revenue. This terminal was concessioned out to you and it has a code known as Lillypond Container Depot. But with what we are seeing now, it is like they have ceded it from Maersk Line to APMT and by doing that, they want to use that place as container holding bay which is not what it was meant for.
But right now, with the terminal Manager, we are saying let us come together and think of what to do. We are not saying bring your container and come but when we are able to market our people, if they say Tincan 2, if the container is dropped at Tincan, let it come to Lillypond at the right time, let the people at Tincan know that this is meant for Lillypond. If it drops at Apapa, let Apapa know that this container is meant for Lillypond. Anything you think you can do to get it to Lillypond at the right time, we want it. But this guy doesn’t want to give us a room to talk to him.
Since Lillypond command was re-designated Tincan 2, have the importers through their agents destined containers to Lillypond?
God bless you. There is one now that has a serious problem; I was with the Controller this morning, he said there is an agent that met with his importer and told him to bill his consignment for Tincan 2, which was perfectly done only for the good to arrive Nigeria, they said at Apapa that the container is down below the vessel, that they cannot offload it there, they have to go Tincan. Sure, if it cannot be offloaded at Apapa, let it go to Tincan now, it is Tincan 2. Now, the consignment is at Tincan, they are now telling us that they cannot bring it to Lillypond because of logistics. What is logistics?
It is a simple protocol, we are talking of shipping, if this thing in not in keeping with shipping protocol, they won’t do it. If you have a consignment, because it is the owner that determines where his consignment goes, if the owner says I should clear his consignment from your terminal and all the logistics are taken care of before the consignment leaves the port of origin. There is a column that says that all the costs are borne by the importer, it is there. So, if the people have accepted to take it to Tincan 2 and that all the costs is to the importer, why would somebody come now and say that it is difficult for him to bring the container to Tincan 2?
You are saying that all the payments as it relates to this consignment would have been taken care of by the importer from the port of origin yet the terminal operator could not carry out his own part of the bargain as contained in the agreement?
Yes, they have done it!
When you have issues like this, to who do you recourse to for help?
To me, the Manager of that terminal doesn’t know what he is doing, he is an empty person. I brought my consignment to Tincan 2 which is empty and you are telling me logistics. What is logistics? The company has to come together to put it into force. They have said it is covered by the water, if water is the cause, then repair it and you must do it with a sense of belonging that if your goods is delivered and you take it to the terminal, you clear it in good time without paying demurrage. There must be something that the importer is gaining, he is not losing anything if he clears it in Apapa, he is not losing anything if he clears it at Tincan where it is not going to be transferred. But he wants the revenue to come in with the love he has for the terminal.
So, if this is done, there must be room for assistance for the importer so that he will not lose but the terminal has to have all the machines, all the equipment like the terminal’s TDO section, they need to make sure that all the equipment are in order so that no room is given for a day to be wasted.
You talked about the Manager of the terminal not being proactive, what are you as the Chairman of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents doing to get him do his job?
We have an initiative at Lillypond, ANLCA, NAGAFF and National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents, we work together and I thank God that since we have been having that initiative, ANLCA has been the head of the initiative. If you want a place to grow, you don’t go away from both the stupid and responsible people. If you are the head of a department and you want the place to grow, the stupid person whom you know doesn’t make sense, try to get close to him because he may have some ideas that will help you to excel. You to encourage people, you can sit in the office, or sit in front of computer and said you want to know what is happening outside.
This thing that we always say, that we don’t have job to do at Lillypond, I have 18 containers destined to Lillypond terminal, I have been able to clear two from Tincan and I lost N800, 000. I have the debit note with me, I sent it to the Nigerian Shippers’ Council and up till now, my document N800, 000 debit note is still in second gate. I paid at second gate, I paid their terminal charges, I still paid in Lillypond, two payments and up till now, they have not given me my refund, up till today, my N800, 000 has not been given to me. I paid through my nose and I asked Mr. Kayode who is the terminal Manager, he did one thing, he said I should pay up till Sunday, that if I pay up till Sunday, I was not going to pay any other thing and I said okay. I paid up till Saturday and said my container must be delivered, he said no problem.
On Monday I went to his office and he said there was a logistic problem and I asked what the logistics problem is. He said they can’t find trucks to convey them and I said when I have about 30 trucks, why don’t you tell me? He said okay, can I go and bring my truck? I asked him how much are you going to pay and he said they were going to pay me N20, 000 for 1×20. I have 2×40 and 1×20, so he said he will pay N20, 000 and I said okay, where is the money, he said I have to wait until their transporter’s money clears, of which I have done before and it took me up to two months to get back my money. He said I needed to wait until the money comes and I said no, I can’t bring my motor.
When they later brought the containers to Lillypond, that was on Monday or Tuesday, they still deducted N7, 000 and I said I am not paying that they need to pay me all the money that I paid, up till now, the money has not been paid.
So that is the problem. If the terminal Manager has what it takes to be a terminal Manager, he is to reach out to everyone because all those terminals that used to have containers, they are reaching out to everybody, everything is not money. Something that belongs to you, that they put your terminal’s name on it and you can’t get it there?
Your National headquarters, is it aware of this development and if it is aware, what is it doing to help you get over this problem?
Even this morning, we have discussed about it. Yes, they are aware of it. The President has spoken to the new CG on this matter and we are still waiting. When I met with my President last time, I explained everything to him and for the purpose of this course, he had to travel to Abuja. Even with KLT because KLT is having the same problem but ours is different because in our case, somebody is there while container is not coming. The Federal Government concessioned it to a private sector and they are losing money. But we believe there will be a little change if the terminal operator can put a little effort in order to reach people out to people.
And if they can give us the room, let us be talking to ourselves, so that through our talking, we can share some experience. If container is coming to Lillypond, they will get more staff.
You seemed to have dwelt so much on the part of the terminal operator, do you think that the Nigeria Customs Service has done its part to make the place work?
My brother, you see, as we are talking now, go to customs and you will see that the CAC has done 150%. If that man is made the head of Customs, people will say, this is kind of person we need in Nigeria. He is quiet but a well-articulated and experience person. Go and see the customs area now, everything is perfect, both the computer, everything. Look at the new gate he built for the customs so that if you are not a registered agent, you cannot enter inside. The system put in place there now, if you don’t have job to do there, you cannot gain entry into the terminal.
If you bring your good to Lillypond command, I guarantee you that once you have your declaration right, the second day you are picking your container even if it is one hundred containers because of what the CAC has done. Their system is okay, go to Lillypond and you will see everything working.
Since you started losing patronage at Lillypond, most of your members have scattered into more lucrative commands and chapters, with the re-designation of the command, do you see your members returning to the command?
This question you asked is a very salient question because I wanted to say it before, last December, we had a thanksgiving service where everybody returned home to thank God and for your information, on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd August at the customs fellowship centre everybody will come together once again. We have a thanksgiving service and to pray to God. So, we are all coming together.
So, my people, they are coming, nobody has gone, we meet ourselves everyday but we cannot just sit down one place and said we are expecting. Yes, we are expecting but we cannot be lazy people, therefore we must go out and work.
For your information, we are planning to invite the media to come to Lillypond anytime from now to come and see it and let the government see the good work the CG has done. The man has done a good thing and the Controller has carried it on. So, if there any container destined to Tincan 2, even though they take it to Abuja, they should bring it to Tincan 2. If they bring containers to Lillypond Tincan 2, I guarantee you, you will not regret it. I am not saying they should give it to me to clear, importers should give their agents containers to clear at Lillypond and if there is any problem, please call on us.
What other plans do you have for your members at Lillypond?
If Lillypond survives, members will never cry out in pains because we have stayed long to seek the face of God. We will be holding a workshop where we will enlighten more people in the field of clearing and forwarding. We will create a platform for our members that when they come to Lillypond, even if nobody is there to teach them, there will be an electronic screen that will be prompting up information for people sitting in the training hall to read and get knowledge. I don’t need to be there teaching them at all times because we have to know the job we are doing. We have a bible which is the tariff which can give you a little knowledge about what we are doing.
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