Alhaji Ibrahim Tanko, is the National Cordinator of the 100% Compliance Team of National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF)
The Team was inaugurated in February 2020 with the main objective of fighting corruption in the port system.
In this interview with DAPO OLAWUNI, Alhaji Tanko lamented that since team was inaugurated, many stakeholders view them as a threat, and that he has personally been receiving different threats from beneficiaries of corruption in the port.
Tanko also said many of the challenges confronting freight forwarders today is due to the incompetence of Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) and the fact that its Chairman, Tsanni Abubakar is not a freight forwarder.
Tanko spoke on other sundry issues bothering on regulatory powers of Nigerian Shippers Council and Nigeria Customs Service, he assured that NAGAFF 100% Compliance Team is not here to usurp the functions of regulatory agencies.
What necessitated setting up of the 100% compliance team?
For several decades now, we have been having issues in the maritime industry, the terminal operators, shipping companies, customs and other government agencies are accusing freight forwarders of not being compliant to trade, yet these are the people giving us serious problems, all they are concerned about is generating revenue, but today, we freight forwarders have made up our minds that we want to do the right thing, we want to comply now, so, shipping companies, terminal operators, customs and other government agencies must be ready to comply as well.
We started with campaigns, we spent almost two months sensitizing the importers, I presented letters to the importers association, I invited them for a meeting at Alaba International Market, all we were campaigning to them was that we want everyone to declare correctly what they see importing, when you declare 100% correctly what you have in your container, it would enable the customs to give you correct value for that item, if customs issues you excess value, bring it to us and we would contest it, provided you have declared correctly what you have in the container, not that you would declare Tanko, whereas your container is carrying Emeka, they are two different people.
After finishing with the importers, we came back to our own domain which is freight forwarders, we continued to campaign, we are losing our cargoes, our containers are being seized, customs are giving us excess Debit Note (DN) with 25% penalty because you shortpaid, so why can’t you do the right thing in the first place?
I have been telling my people not to use their company or license name to import cargo for an importer, you are not there when the cargo is loaded, yet it is in your name, when that container is found wanting, the owner will deny you.
We have been busy so far campaigning and it is not easy, some of our freight forwarders who are enjoying doing the wrong thing, they are attacking us, especially myself, this is because they enjoy not following due process, they see us as coming to disturb their business and block their way, these are people that have money, so if we are going to fight people like that, we have to be prepared.
Since you were inaugurated, what are the successes you have recorded so far?
For now, we have not even started working, we are still campaigning allover and lecturing our enforcement team, we are trying now to go for a seminar with the boys in order to equip them properly.
We have not attacked anybody, we only asked Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) to show us a circular from the Federal Government that authorised them to be collecting samples, we told them if they dont have it, they must get it or else we would stop them from operating at the port, it means they sre looting, the same goes for NAFDAC. Now they are seeing me as a bad person, there is no manner of threats that I have not received, but we are not bothered.
Most of the bonded terminals you see today do not have the capacity to even own a bonded terminal, part of the requirement is that you need to get a minimum of four forklifts of different sizes, the one that can carry 40 foot containers, 20 foot containers and so on, and you need a large expanse of land that can contain at least 20,000 containers, but most of these bonded terminals dont have these capacity.
Look at Denca Bonded Terminal, if you position container for examination, if you are unlucky that it rains that day, your container is finished, this is because the whole terminal would be flooded.
Who do you think should regulate these bonded terminals?
It is the duty of the Nigerian Shippers Council and Customs, before you won a bonded terminal, the Customs ought to go and examine the place and give you approval, but because of corruption, the high delegate of Customs would send officers to go and inspect the place and the next thing is that they would say everything is okay. This was part of the reason we locked up Denca terminal the other day, we are not afraid, now we have agreed to do the right thing, everybody must comply.
What measure of corporation do you enjoy from customs, Shippers Council and CRFFN?
If I can say something about Shippers Council, Hassan Bello is trying, but he needs to try more, you cannot be tired of listening to people’s complaints, I know it is not easy, but he needs to work harder so that people would not sabotage his efforts.
As for the CRFFN, I do not see anything from them, all what we expect from them, we are not seeing it, they need to go back to the drawing board and check themselves very well, I am a freight forwarder and you are a journalist, what can you say about CRFFN right now? I am not even hearing their name, you need to bite, I dont know maybe it is because the Chairman is not a freight forwarder and that is why we are facing these challenges, but I think it is one of the reasons, if he was a freight forwarder, he would have known the challenges we are having.
On the part of Customs, the high command of Customs are happy with us, but its just that everybody cannot be happy with you, there are some people that enjoy the wrongdoings, they can never be happy with you, but the hierarchy of Customs are happy with us, I know how many calls I receive in a day, asking us to handle some challenges.
This work we are doing is for the benefit of everybody and not for NAGAFF alone or for Tanko.
Some stakeholders have expressed concerns that NAGAFF is trying to hijack the function of regulatory agencies, how true?
We the NAGAFF Compliance team complained severally, both verbally and written documents to the Shippers Council because they are the regulstors, there is no way we would hijack their duties because if we want to sideline them, we would have gone straight to Abuja to lay our complaints, we have power to write directly to the President or to the Senate, we can boycott Shippers Council, however we still go through the Shippers Council and CRFFN, we respect everybody’s position. What I have noticed is that many people see NAGAFF 100% Compliance Team as a threat, and I told you if you are living on wrongdoings, you must be afraid because I dont care who you are.
Do you have approval from the police to carry out these things you do? And how are we sure your men would not be corrupted?
NAGAFF complaint team have prepared our mind for that one Judas out of the twelve, in any organisation, you must find people like that, even in the EFCC, but let is apprehend one person first, and you would see what we would do to him.
Secondly, we dont need any police approval, it is the government that says that everybody should comply, so now we are ready to comply, but you that is not complying, we know where to report you, you have a service number, we know your organisation, all we do is mention your name and what you are doing, we send it directly to Abuja that you are a revenue risk, it is the agencies that would handle it themselves, if it is to report to EFCC, we would report to them, we can even write against Shippers Council and NPA, it is for everybody, I know people are watching us to make a mistake but we won’t.
Where do you see this committee in the next two years?
Two years is too far, just give us six months time, I bet you, if you hear about compliant team, you would run away.
Nigerian ports system has been labelled very corrupt, how can we eliminate corruption from our port system?
Weeding out corruption is not easy, anybody living on corruption is a deadly person, though corruption cannot be wiped out totally, it can only be reduced to the minimum level, the corruption at Nigerian ports is a syndicate, we have customs there, terminal operators, shipping companies among others, they are all there watching you, it is just like what President Buhari is trying to do now, trying to stop corruption, but people are against him.
We would try our best, the first thing is that freight forwarders should charge their operational fees on every job, everybody have their operational fees, in my office, I clear cargoes for state governments including Maiduguri, Rivers State and Niger State and what we do is to ask for percentage, every company should have their minimum standard based on the CIF of the consignment.
If you as a company collect N50,000 per container, and you handle ten containers, at least you would have some money. The owner of the cargo is the one that would pay the duty after you have computed everything for him, he just pays you your professional fee.
What are the major problems confronting freight forwarders at Nigerian ports right now?
There are three major problems we are facing at the ports right now, the first one is terminal operators and shipping companies, terminal operators can wake up tomorrow and issue you whatever bill they like, nobody is controlling them, same thing with shipping companies, they can decide to transfer your container to wherever they want, the importer should have a right to dictate where he wants his container to be taken.
Customs is another problem, you would see a command like Tin Can Island Port Command issuing several alerts on a single cargo, meanwhile they have the Post Clearance Audit (PCA) but there is no control, everybody is doing what they want.
Lastly we have other government agencies like NAFDAC, SON, Quarantine, NDLEA and so on. Even though they are present during examination of a container, they would still write and say such container should be blocked, all these actions cause delay.
Are the ports congested right now?
I disagree totally with the rumor of congestion at Nigerian ports, we have the government warehouse at Ikorodu terminal designed mainly for overtime cargoes, but these overtime cargoes are not being transferred, the terminal operators are using these containers for selfish interests, they understand what they are doing, we dont have congestion at Nigerian ports, we only have overtime cargoes which terminal operators are refusing to transfer, this is part of the corruption we are talking about, the government directive says you should do something but you don’t want to comply.