National President, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANCLA), Tony Iju Nwabunike in this interview raises issues about conditions for growth of the Nigerian ports with Ajibola Abayomi.
How are your members coping with the situation at the port?
Many freight forwarders and customs brokers are not pleased with the implementation of government policies at the ports in Nigeria. We will prefer streamlined procedures. Things are not done properly.
What is wrong with government policy?
Government is playing politics with the maritime sector. I am not impressed with happenings . It is not about revenue alone but networking with other international agencies to know how things can work better. Go to Europe and Asia and see how things work out. It is about following the laid down rules. Here our government jumps into different policies at different times. The facilities at the ports are in terrible state. The port is not even accessible by road. Something must be done.
Are you suggesting adoption of legal frame?
I agree with that but what about the implementation? When people cannot be jailed for violating the rules then there is a problem. So many agencies have multiples rules at different times. That is not too good. If I ask you which ministry does customs reports to you will say ministry of finance but is the ministry taking decisions about the customs? Is transport ministry taking decision about the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) or Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON). It is total madness.
But the ease of doing business law has been introduced by the government to smooth-en transactions at the ports?
It is has not seen the light of the day. It was to ensure that businesses were smoothly facilitated but at the moment what we have are gridlock, duplication of agencies and many other bottlenecks at the ports. If government is still talking about ease of doing business and still gives customs target then the facilitation of trade is doomed. You can’t be doing that and be encouraging the customs to lay emphasy on revenue generation.
Recently the presence customs strike force at the port generated controversies but ANCLA was quiet on…cuts in
On the decision of the management of customs, we are being very careful. We have written a letter to the Controller General of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to give us audience on that. For us, we think there are other flagging officers on ground so why do we need strike force when the resident officers are on ground?
Are you saying the strike force at the port amounted to duplication of duties?
Until we get to the water, then we shall cross the bridge. Since 1954, our association has been on ground, we have seen several Comptroller General of Customs. We don’t want to be confrontational. We are consulting on that. May be the customs wants to do check and balance.
Expectation was high months ago when the Council for Regulation of Freight Forwarders of Nigeria (CRFFN) was inaugurated as the former chairman of the body, how would you rate its impact on customs brokers?
The board is new. I think they deserve more time to settle. For the first time, the freight forwarders and other stakeholders were duly elected into the board. Let us give the body another three years and they would come up with the desired result. Five months is not enough to judge its impact at all.
ANCLA has been in crisis for sometimes, what is the way forward?
There is no crisis in ANCLA. If there is crisis we shall look for peace. Plan is in progress to engage all the aggrieved parties.
But recently you said you won’t bend the rule to bring together the warring factions, is that the way to go?
We need to work according to the laid down rules of our association. There must be a better way to look for peace but we need to do things legitimately. I am not ready to comprise the constitution.
Constant seizure of arms by the customs have been partially blamed on the licensed agents, how do you think that can eradicated from source?
I had advocated that Nigeria should be part of the emissary in Thailand and other Asia countries so as to oversee all consignments that come into the country. A freight forwarder or customs broker is not making use of FORM M for consignment to know when the containers arrived at the port, If that is allowed one can sit at the comfort of his office to track the movement of the containers alongside other tools. We should have a consultancy firm that comes into the country. The customs are saying no more to third part consignments at the port so that people will take responsibility that will eradicate a lot of things.
What do you thing can be done to make the ports in more attractive to investors?
The cargo attractive clearing process should be accelerated; the port must be accessible and there should tariff reduction to attract major stakeholders in West Africa trade zone. We should reduce tariff on things we are not producing so that we can attract huge investment. But more importantly, we need to rebuild the port to get better attention. The port operation should be decentralised by developing other ports in the South East and South-south. Now everyone is rushing Lagos because business is about record of the balance sheet like profit and loss.