Raph Agbogu is the Managing Director, Sovereign Gate International Limited and the National Public Relations Officer ,National Council of Managing Director Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA). In this interview with our correspondent , the maritime operator talked about the freight forwarding industry,his business and activities of the government agencies in the maritime sector. Excerpt.
Kindly tell us who you are and the type of business you are into?
My name is Raph Agbogu am the Chief Executive Officer, Managing Director, Sovereign Gate International Limited and professionally, am the Public Relations Officer ,National Council of Managing Director Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA).
How would you describe Mr . Lucky Amiwero leadership style, after several years in office as the national president of the association?
There is nothing to worry about that .In fact I wish he can be there for more years considering the fact that he is someone that has continuously made progress to our members intellectually ,academically and otherwise. So, it is not a matter of how long you stay in office as a leader rather what benefit or impact you contribute to the growth of the association.Lucky Amiwero is a pillar in the industry , he has contributed immensely to the growth of the industry. I can only wish and pray somebody that fit into his shoes would take over from him but we are not bothered about his stay in office for this long.
Don’t you think you have the capacity to lead as well?
I think I have the capacity to lead as Mr Lucky Amiwero but not now because I need to get such experience and wisdom from my President.
Do you think the maritime industry has recorded any form of progress under democratic system of government since 1999 till date to be precise?
I will say the maritime industry has recorded some level of progress since democracy but the problem we have is ignorance and the inactive nature of the government during this period. NCMDLCA under Mr. Amiwero has been involved in over 164 government committees and nine presidential committees, thus we are still on it. However, the present government of today does not really understand the principles and the need to carry stakeholders along in its policies and that is one major challenge we are facing in the sector.
In a couple of weeks to come the president may likely reshuffle his cabinet and in what way would you advice him as regards maritime activities?
The first tenure of Mr. President can best be described as “situation ethics”. Now what is situation ethics? This is when you make people believe that what is white is perceived as green. The truth is green is green and white is white. In the last four years, the maritime industry has been suffocated and most especially is the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) which has not done so much. The NPA is a regulatory agency of the government and must be seen to be such in the seaports. The port access roads have suffered so much and if we come out to say NPA is performing then in what capacity? NPA and Nigerian Shippers’ Council have not been able to checkmate the concessionaires in terms of pricing and charges and these are the major problems we have in the port industry and this conspiracy has made investors to abandon Nigerian ports to patronise neighbouring port in West Africa sub region. Every terminal operator and shipping companies operating in Nigeria are here to enrich themselves at the detriment of the operators. For example, APMT is a sister company to Maersk Line Shipping,PTML is for Grimaldi Shipping, TICT is tied to Lagos and Niger Shipping etc. The essence of all these collaboration between the shipping companies and terminal operators can best be described as conspiracy to milk the importers and agents. What we need at this point to checkmate these group of people is to ensure a legal framework to be put in place by the legislature and introduce what we call Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) and Human Development Project (HDP). I recall just two weeks ago when I was walking along the port access road when I saw this huge refuse dump and I asked myself ; is this the access road to the premier port? I really want to know what the NPA is doing because its a shame to the nation. Imagine the defecations by truck drivers and conductors along the corridors on a daily basis. What is NPA doing to check tramping . What do I mean by tramping? A situation whereby truck driver and mechanics loose their engines along the corridors leading to traffic congestion is what we call tramping. This is quite different from the normal vulcanised tyres . Again, 70% of the trucks we see along the access road have no business to be there because when you observe the traffic situation on the Wharf Road on Fridays, you find out that the vehicles would have disappeared to their various yards or parks; only for them to resurface on Monday morning. NPA should enforce the laws to nip this monster in the bud. NPA needs to enforce the laws on road users and transporters constituting nuisance on the corridors because it will help in service delivery.
What is your view about the call up system of trucks?
Where is the call up system they talked about? Where are they ? What is NPA and Shippers Council doing to sanction these shipping companies who are yet to provide holding bays for the haulage trucks. The Ijora Liliypond truck park can not solve the problem of traffic in these corridors .NPA needs to put in place a sustainable maintenance mechanism in place in addressing what we are faced with in port operations.Enforcement without policy on the part of NPA will create more problem for us all as far as traffic is concern
In your own view about the lingering court cases between the shipping companies, terminal operators versus the Nigerian Shippers Council over arbitrary charges?
It is ignorance and lack of knowledge on the part of the government agencies that is responsible for what we are faced with in the port system. My national president in so many fora has given lectures to officers of the Nigerian Shippers Council at a time when regulators are playing in between the gap. For Christ sake the agency called Nigerian Shippers Council must be definitive and decisive on its roles ; as a regulatory body, their first primary assignment is to carry out an economic port regulator roles and not the issue of who enter the port to do his or her legitimate business. It is not the responsibility of the council to determine who enter the port . It is not the duty of the council who determines the role of a freight forwarder or licensed customs agent in port operations.
So which of the agency should be responsible to regulate agents and freight forwarders?
The responsibility is that of the Nigeria Customs Service. Every existing port is owned by the customs and that is why it is called the customs seaports and airport because they are in charge of cargo control. Customs is cargo whilst excise is manufacturing therefore, by law the customs is responsible to handle and control the agents and freight forwarders.
But we have CRFFN in place to regulate freight forwarding practice in Nigeria?
Like I said in previous events,Council for the Regulations of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) is an agency of government that came into existence by error. What is freight forwarding in the first instance? Freight forwarding means, movement of cargoes, consignment or goods from A to B ,which is transportation and when a licensed customs agent finishes his jobs then he hands over to the freight forwarders who is the transporter ,who brings truck for the agent to load and deliver. In view of this ,is the council regulating the cart pusher boy on the road? or why is the council not regulating the tanker who came from the north to the west with cargo. They are all involved in the business of freight forwarding.These are two examples I gave to the so called freight forwarders and it is not limited to the sea or airport alone. And that is the definition of what freight forwarding is all about. The man that left Maiduguri to Lagos with tanker to load fuel is a freight forwarders and the council cannot regulate these set of people I mentioned. CRFFN is just there because government created it to settle their loyalist. On a serious note , the Nigerian Railway Corporation is suppose to be a freight forwarding institution, same goes to Nigerian Shippers Council and Dangote group . Are they inclusive as those to be regulated by CRFFN? CRFFN is supposed to be anchored by National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) ; but they are not part of the process. But in all of these I can assure you that a time will come when we will separate the shaft from the weed.
What is your view on the proliferation of freight forwarding associations in the industry?
Now look at it from this perspective, every organisation is suppose to have a definition of purpose. Let me start with my platform for instance. NCMDLCA is definitive,Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA),NAGAFF etc have their purpose of existence. NCMDLCA is there to advice the customs as one of its objectives and again to build capacity for members and officers customs is another objective of our association. We relate more with the minister of finance unlike the freight forwarding associations who deals with the transport ministry and that is why I will continue to lament about the juxtaposition of the issue. I can’t really comment about other practicing associations.
Do you support Practitioners Operating Fee (POF) collection which has been introduced by CRFFN ?
I choose to disagree with CRFFN on the POF collection because there is no law backing that collection from licensed customs agents. I told you that CRFFN was established through error and that is what is playing out as we speak. Recalled that the Nigerian Shippers Council came up recently with one registration levy to be paid by freight forwarders and licensed customs agents but at the end what happened? These are some of issues we can classify as self enrichment at the detriment of Nigerians.
Do you support the introduction of customs strike force participation in cargo examination at the seaports?
I think that is another error from the customs because its just like running round the table . There is no law that established this strike force team introduced by the Comptroller General of Customs. There is nothing like strike force in any customs formation and its all about management of fallacy . Customs has resident officers, Customs Intelligence Unit ,known as CIU, there is enforcement then excise these are the four components of the customs formation . So how come do we have this strike force. This initiative is just a mere manipulation to extort importers unduly. Even the Federal Operations Unit (FOU) is not suppose to go near the ports but land borders. The laws are there. We are running a confused system of government in this country and that is why Nigeria is experiencing hardship laced with poverty. Smaller countries in the region are taking the shine off Nigeria. Our ports cannot take bigger ships because what we have as seaports are just river ports. Bigger vessels cannot call at the ports yet you are talking about multiplication of examination by customs officers.
Do you support establishment of deep seaports in the country?
With Dangote and other concessionaires in Lekki deep seaports I think it will help our port system here in Apapa because very soon the two ports in Apapa will be stranded if the Lekki port takes off fully.
Your advice to President Buhari second tenure in officer?
We want Mr. President to appointment round pegs in round holes and that will pave the way for progress in Nigeria. Appointment of politicians has created so many problems for us in the industry. Appointment of experts is close to perfection . We are running a government of propaganda and that is why we find ourselves where we are as at today.
Do you think appointment of experts is the solution of the industry?
Exactly, because you cannot employ a farmer to do the job of a lawyer and expect good results . The implication of appointing square pegs in round holes is that they will suffocate and strangle the professionals based on political influences.
Your take on the ban of textile material?
Its a welcome development because importation of textile materials into our country is shortchanging our government . Am in total support on the ban due to the fact that Nigeria has what it takes to be the key players in fabric and textile because we have all the natural resources in place. There is good weather to grow our cotton seeds , it will further create job opportunities for Nigerians and the government will benefit from it as well . It will revive our moribund textile industries. Just name it. Ban on textile materials into Nigeria is minus one of the list of items constituting nuisance in Nigeria because this country is not a dumping ground . its just like importing cassava,palm oil to Nigeria when we have all these items in abundance. Its also high time the government started focusing on solid mineral investments to boost our economy.