By DAPO OLAWUNI
Otunba Frank Ogunojemite is the National President of African Freight Forwarders and Professional Freight Forwarders and Logistics (APFFLON)
In this interview with DAILY TREND NEWS, he talked about the negative effect of the customs modernization project as recently concessioned out to a foreign firm by the Federal Government as well as the negative effect of poor government policies on the maritime sector.
How did you sojourn into freight forwarding and how did you come about this association?
I did not learn freight forwarding, I grew up into the business because I have a father that retired as a Customs Comptroller, so it was the passion that prompted me into the business. Talking about APFFLON, the association came to fill a lacuna and make some corrections, because we have so many freight forwarding associations, and we came to find out that there are issues that needs to be addressed which sister associations are too busy to attend to, so we decided to come together and present something different, and as at the time we were thinking about this,we realise that Nigeria was already due to become a part of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), so we realise that APFFLON would complement other African countries that would take up the logistics and business facilitation in these countries, this was why we decided to come up, so APFFLON is here to serve with other associations and not to be a threat or be a rival.
Since you came onboard, how has the acceptability been, what is the relationship between APFFLON and other sister associations?
We have a good relationship with other associations, and dont forget that APFFLON is new, but the people in APFFLON have been long in the industry, most of them migrated from one association or the other, I know that Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) is a premier association which is six years older than Nigeria itself, so we all migrated from one place to the other, and like I told you, we came to fill up a lacuna, we believe that two great minds would always think alike, so, we have a great relationship with fellow associations. But talking about acceptance, you stakeholders are the ones to access what APFFLON has done in the industy.
What is your relationship with CRFFN as a freight forwarding regulatory agency?
The CRFFN is a good thing that has happened to freight forwarders and most people have questioned our accreditation with CRFFN, but like I said, APFFLON cuts across African countries, so the accreditation of CRFFN in Nigeria is not a parameter for advocate of ease of doing business, before Nigeria signed the AfCFTA, we knew this was coming to pass so we had to prepare, so, APFFLON not being accredited by CRFFN is not an impediment, but don’t forget that most of us in APFFLON or freight forwarders generally are already members of CRFFN, so the accreditation is just a bypass and even a plus to CRFFN itself.
Are you telling us that APFFLON cuts across other African countries?
This is exactly what I am saying, right now, APFFLON is established in South Africa and Ghana, you could have felt our effect more in Nigeria but the the Covid-19 hindered a lot of our activities, remember that we had a summit that has never been common in Nigerian freight forwarding sector, we held the Aviation and Maritime Summit (AFRIMA) it is supposed to be a yearly summit which other countries in Africa attends, we are not only in Africa, we are affiliated with other countries of the world including Europe and America, so APFFLON is working ahead and projecting the image of the country.
Are you also affiliated with FIATA?
An association can not be affiliated with FIATA, during the time of Alhaji Akeem Olanrewaju as CRFFN Chairman, Nigeria was affiliated with FIATA, but at a point, Nigeria lost the affiliation, and as I speak with you, the CRFFN that is governing Nigerian freight forwarding are not part of FIATA, this was why I issued a press release that we must not be misled, it seems we have been misled by using of FIATA logo and all that, we think the Council should go and do their homework and get back on FIATA, we are not part of that body for now.
Ministry of Transportation has said they are releasing N10billion to the transport sector, what is your take?
I heard about it, but I am not in support of the federal government releasing any money to freight forwarders even if they are giving to other sectors, the reason is that there is no data base, and there is no means of disbursement to help freight forwarders who might need help.
Like i am saying,
APFFLON has commenced a process of Corporative and Insurance Scheme for its members, if other associations has chosen to do that, then we would have a means of helping members, because as I am speaking to you now there is nothing like this among the freight forwarders.
Looking at group life insurance, how many association can boast they are doing it if not APFFLON? So, the welfare of our members is paramount to us.
So, to me, I am not supporting any money being given to freight forwarders for now, however if there is any other way that government can organise a capacity building for us, then i would appreciate that, and this is why there must be an engagement with stakeholders before decisions are taken.
But the CRFFN should have data of freight forwarders in Nigeria
We have all seen compliance teams springing up from the various associations, most of the associations that brought out the compliance teams have the highest numbers of representatives in the CRFFN, looking at this, you can see that they have equally lost hope in the performance of the council.
The Council is good, but its present leadership’s way of operation is nothing to write home about.
So, if any palliative is coming through them, how would they be able to take care of freight forwarders?
The last time I spoke with the Registrar, he said he is not obliged to speak to any association or anybody, so do you become a shepherd without sheep?
There must be a robust engagement and relationship among freight forwarders and CRFFN is supposed to engender that, but how are they doing that today?
This is why we are not supporting POF because, the collection is not the issue, but how would they utilise the money when there is no relationship between them and any association whatsoever or the stakeholders in the industry.
The CRFFN Registrar have indicated the Council’s readiness to start collection of POF
I want to believe the POF is dead on arrival, it would not come to reality until there is proper engagement with stakeholders and the people that brought about the idea of forming CRFFN, people like Dr. Aniebonam, Prince Shittu, somebody like Tony Iju who has once been the Chairman of CRFFN.
There must be a relationship, you cannot run a government without a democratic approach, authoritarian leadership cannot lead anywhere.
Good leadership is very necessary if they want progress in this industry.
What are the challenges in the logistics business in Nigeria?
When the IMF visited Nigeria in January, they gave a report that our ports lack infrastructure which we all know already. Secondly, the equipment at the various terminals and shipping companies are obsolete. Also, talking about single window, we are trying to eradicate interferences at our ports, the single window project is not yet in place, if all these factors are put in place, I think we would have a better operation in Nigeria.
When the IMF came, it was said that clearance time at our port is seven days, but has this been achieved? No, the average time you can get your consignment out of the port is about fifteen days. I believe that it is the poor government policies that is giving the terminal operators and shipping companies the opportunity of charging demurrage from us as means of exploitation and capital flight to their various countries, because most of these shipping companies and terminal operators are foreigners.
SON as a government agency has been accused of picking excess samples at the port, how can we curtail the excesses of the agency?
The concept of SON is a good thing for Nigerians, but some agencies abuse their functions which is rampant in the country. The Federal Government directed that SON should leave the port, it was some of their activities that prompted that directive, the agency’s operation is not being monitored and we are not happy with them, when they take samples, which they have rights to take anyway, in order to check the standard of the product, but there is no rule that says that these samples must not be returned to the consignees or the owners. SON officials do not return samples, where do they keep them? does it mean they are taking them home or they are being destroyed, if the samples are not being returned to the owners, this means that the cargoes are not good and this means they should be arrested, but sometimes these cargoes end up going into the Nigerian market, so what happens to the samples that were taken? There must be accountability, it could be that this sample taking has become a business to some of the SON officials. So, when they started agitating to return back to the port, i am not in support of this, and I guess a lot of people were also not in support, because we are talking about Single Window and how to reduce clearance time at our ports, yet they are agitating to return to the port. What I told SON was that they should emulate NAFDAC who have had a destination inspection arrangements with other countries like China and India, this would further reduce the bad quality of goods coming into the country from offshore.
But I think SON is also having this kind of arrangements with their SONCAP
If SON believes in their SONCAP, why are they still taking samples at the port? I believe that without SONCAP, you cannot process your duty payment, so if they believe in themselves, why are they taking samples again? There is a lot of issues to be corrected in this country if we want to move forward and be among commity of maritime nations.
How are freight forwarders coping with business, especially with ban on 3rd party form “M” by the CBN?
A lot of things needs to be addressed, there must be an engagement with stakeholders, in all industries, not only in freight forwarding or port operations, if there is proper engagement, we would make the best decisions before it becomes a law. If government decision is to better this country, then I am in support, but we have to deliberate on the pros and cons of their decision, not for it to now create more problems than how it was before.
Government needs to communicate with people before policies are made, if the rational behind the decision is good for everybody, why not, we would support.
So far, has the policy started taking effect?
It has not started, the reason is that, people are still battling with the effect of the COVID19, the exorbitant exchange rate and the purchasing power of the citizens, a lot of people have lost their jobs and means of livelihood, so the country is struggling, business is struggling and the government is not giving any palliative to anybody. So, it is more or less as if activities have not started in the country, so we have not seen the effect of CBN regulations, what we have right now is effect of COVID19.
If the government wants to take any decision, it should not be at this particular time.
What is your agenda for the new SON DG that just took over?
We want to use this medium to congratulate him, we would want him to learn from the past DG because without making a flashback, we cannot make any adjustments, so far so good, we appreciate the DG that just left the position, but we want this new man to learn how to engage the stakeholders, if you look at the NIMASA DG, he is taking a different step from his successor, so, we want SON to be more democratic in order to get good results because in whatever you do, the legacy would remain, and you might not get a second chance.
Looking at Nigeria Customs operations at the Airport and seaports, the PAAR according to stakeholders have been rubbished
Everybody would want to speak from their own perspective, but to me, I do not see anything wrong with PAAR, it is a means of generating money for the federal government through the customs. When you are given PAAR, you would still do cargo examination, so I see nothing wrong.
The only area I oppose is on code 4900 which is used for releasing cargoes, why we are fighting against this is because, there are some items as low as $100, they cannot be going through PAAR, there are items like medications, machinery parts for manufacturers, going through the bureaucracy of PAAR would take them too many time to get their consignment out of the port, so we advocated that government should give concession to these items because the airport is faster to clear cargoes than the seaport and it is more expensive, so, coming with these bureaucracy, the airlines would lost their consignment to the seaport.
To God be the glory, the government listened and reversed the position.
Are you in support of the proposed modernization of the Nigeria Customs Service?
As at October last year, we raised this issue of concessioning of Customs, people do not believe it was coming, but saw it, they told us it has been suspended, but what we saw recently was that it had actually been concluded, this really makes us sad.
Why the project makes us sad is that, if the rational behind the modernisation is to improve operations at port, why are we not supporting it? Why was the process done in secrecy, why didn’t they do it public domain?
Why are most of the projects being concessioned to foreign companies? Right from the time of Asycuda, time of destination inspection agents like Cotecna and so on, many concessions has taking place in customs, if the government knows that it is for the benefit of the whole country and betterment of all of us, why can’t they involve the stakeholders and make the modernisation public.
Don’t forget that last year, money was issued to some people to handle the purchase of scanning machines at our ports, have the government cancelled that contract before this 20years customs modernisation?
At the moment, the Customs is generating about N1.3trillion which us going to be about $60million in twenty years, how would they now say that the modernisation would bring $117million in twenty years, this is an increase of 150 percent, how would they factor this money out? Where would it come from? If per adventure they got the money, what would happen to export activities in the country and the economic development of Nigeria?
The economy of Nigeria would die if they generate this money based on importation alone, right now we are still complaining about SONCAP which is based on importation alone, many people do not even know about MANCAP which has to do with indigenous manufacturing in the country, these indigenous manufacturing goes for export, but we are only talking about SONCAP.
So, if government is only thinking about imports, they are trying to kill the economy of this country.
There are too many issues to be addressed on this customs modernization, who are the people behind it? Can’t government re-engineer the personnel on the customs service? Why must be carry out a concession that is not in public domain.
What is your advise to ANLCA especially in this period of crisis?
Personally, I am not happy with the situation of things in ANLCA, the reason is that we need ourselves, and once things fall apart, the centre can no longer hold, this crisis is hindering ANLCA’s contribution to the industry, if there is peace in the association, it would lead to peace in the industry itself. I placed a call to Tony Iju yesterday because we want peace in the industry, if there is no unity among them, the progress would be retrogressive, if they cannot resolve their issues, it might affect other associations also. I am appealing to the leaders that they should look beyond the difference in names of freight forwarding associations.