National President, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Prince Olayiwola Shittu, in this interview with SHIPS & PORTS DAILY, speaks on the association’s recently concluded chapter elections in the western zone. He also speaks on how the general economic outlook is impacting on clearing and forwarding agencies.
For the first time in the history of your association, chapter elections were conducted early this year with the usual fire and brimstone. What happened?
When we came to office, we knew there will be a need for change in direction and orientation and our stand is to conduct the affairs of the association in the most transparent form so everybody is carried along. Along the line, we were able to assemble a team that is dedicated to the growth of our association. We are also focused on how to expand our horizon professionally and with the advent of the association electoral commission led by Alhaji Abdul Azeez Mukaila, we never had it so well because I was a chairman of ASECO twice, back to back and I know the experiences I had then. It was not easy to arrive at this level because change does not come easy. But what happened during this recent election was a testimony that if you conduct your affairs in the most transparent form and you do things the right way, people will always back you to get it right. I know that the hot bed of politics of ANLCA is its western zone and I have experienced turbulence. If you remember I had to come from Port Harcourt to come and sort a very violent outcome of an election and from then we said no, we need to get it right. For example, Mukaila has been in office since 2010. He is the longest serving Association Electoral Commission (ASSECO) chairman. They have conducted many elections and they have learnt from mistakes both the avoidable and deliberate. So this time around, technology played its own part; contestants already knew ahead of time the outcome of that election, they were given opportunity to seek redress. Even petitions came in a day before and they were all addressed. It’s not that there are no people who are grieved one way or another, but before the election we had National Executive Committee (NECOM) and Board of Trustees (BOT) meetings. Board of trustees supervises our election, so ASSECO works under them, but as the chief executive of the association, they had to table it so that I will be carried along and areas where we know it’s not been done properly we can kill it and that is what happened . In fact, kudos to our people because no matter how good you are, if people don’t want you to come out right; there are people who will still foster trouble. But I think that our people believe that dialogue, cooperation, goes beyond the issue of violence. I am very happy, I am in an upbeat mood, there has been celebration galore, the losers and winners are sitting together to drink and hug themselves, it’s a bright day for ANLCA and I hope that people will emulate the outcome of our election.
Is this a rebirth of some sort for the ANLCA?
You know we have the gestation period, you know I was reelected another four years term. My first term was to identify why we are in the news in the negative form. And I am sure, as a participant in the maritime industry you will agree with me that the changes you have been seeing in ANLCA does not come overnight, that gradually ANLCA was making a shift away from the hardline right and the weaken sides left and we became eccentric. Nowadays, we don’t talk for talking sake, we don’t crave too much attention but behind the scene we are working. We were gratified that along the line before my first term ended we got a national secretariat and before my term is over who knows what we are going to achieve. One thing I can assure you is by the time I am leaving office those who are coming after me will have no choice but to follow the path we have laid. ANLCA will never go back to the bad days and we would always improve on what we have. Change has arrived in ANLCA and it is a continuous change, not a sudden one, because we planned for it.
What was 2015 like for licensed Customs agents?
You know the maritime industry, year in year out at the end of the year we take a preview of the preceding year; we want to know what is happening because of the neglect of the maritime industry, as a veritable revenue earner; government has not really paid attention. But now, there is a wakeup call. This is going to be a tough year for us, government policies are not favorable to the maritime industry. Importation is not coming in, which means that all arms of government in the maritime will suffer from low revenue including Nigeria Customs Service because the things government is introducing, government is going to give us a lot of hardship. I pray that after the hardship, there will be succor. But we need to survive the hardship first before we can think of the succor. So 2016 because of the electoral process, the hope of Nigerians, everybody were saying change, our expectations have become very high. One of the changes we were thinking about was the appointment of the new Comptroller of Customs. For example, he came with the slogan of anti-corruption and you know ANLCA has always been singing this anticorruption and we were thinking we were going to be on the same page but it looks like the present customs administration is very exclusive, as far as they are concerned he is not talking to the right stakeholders. We are the closest and immediate constituency to Nigeria Customs Service but in spite of our reaching out, somehow for some reason they have decided not to talk to us. We cannot invite ourselves to Customs high command, we have to be invited. We enjoyed that relationship in the past. We were able to advice the administration then on areas they can tackle that made an improvement. We criticized from behind the scene and things started looking up that at the end of 2015, it was a large improvement from what it used to be. But somehow, even the mantra we are talking about is dying down. We sing songs of high expectations of no corruption in the port, the internet-based operations will be the basis but the escalation of corruption is at the peak and we find it difficult to advice. I hope our expectations will be met because now our people are suffering in the ports and I will advice that you do an independent investigation. The last CG decided to set up a reconciliation desk but those things have fizzled out because of esprit de corps. Somebody initiates a corrupt system and allowed somebody along the line, I see no reason why you pay tax, you pay your duties, CIU has caught you along the line, you pay additional duty; evaluation says no, you pay another duty and you get to the gate somebody tells you, you will need to pay additional duty. I am not speaking for those who are doing Illegality. I am not talking of people who bring contraband, I am not talking of fraudulent people but most of the people suffering are people who have genuine declaration and officers are thinking, why do you have to pay government don’t you think I will survive? So we need to look deeply if we have to survive this 2016.
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