Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Bomarah Group, Hajia Bola Muse, is one of the few women practising freight forwarding, a male dominated profession in Nigeria. In this interview with Shulammite ‘Foyeku, she speaks on her aspiration to become the Financial Secretary of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agent (ANLCA) in the forthcoming elections and the need for other women to take up elective positions in the association.
What would you say is your motivation to contest for the position of the Financial Secretary of ANLCA?
My motivation to contest in this election is diverse. First, the mindset of the people is that freight forwarding or customs brokerage is a male profession. I want to break the jinx that the profession is not only for men but also for women. I am using this opportunity to call on our women in the profession to come out en-masse with have one voice. All the while we have not been speaking with one voice not until four years ago when we initiated the women wing of ANLCA. Since then a lot of women have been coming out in solidarity.
Do you have any woman you look up to as a role model in the industry?
If you are talking of a female role model in ANLCA, I don’t have any in the association. But in the maritime sector, I have lots of women that I look up to as a role model. I consider women such as the Managing Director, Nigerian Port Authority, HajiaBala Usman as a role model given the fantastic job she is doing at NPA. All along, it has been only males occupying the position of the Managing Director, but it is now crystal clear to us that this woman is doing a fantastic job. In terms of port operation, things have changed. There is less human traffic at the port. We know how NPA building was before but if you go there now, you can see how beautiful the place is. I believe what a man can do; a woman can always do better. The Executive Vice Chairman, ENL Consortium, Princess Vicky Hastrup, is also a strong woman I admire so much in the industry. That is why I want all the women to come out and take their place in the association because times have changed. This is not the time when women are relegated to the background in the association’s election. We have to rub shoulders with the men.
Considering the position, you are vying for in the forthcoming election, what special qualities do you possess that qualifies you for the job?
I have served two tenures at the chapter level as a treasurer. I know how the funds are generated for the chapter; I kept the records. Going to the national level as the financial secretary, I am capable and will work hard to make sure that we give the secretariat another face-lift entirely. I will make sure there are no complaints of lack of funds to run the secretariat, to pay staff salaries and put other things in place at the secretariat. The association’s money will be well saved and kept.
Do you see the other candidate who is contesting for this same position as a threat to your ambition?
Honestly, I do not see the other candidate as a threat to me because we are on the same level. He is an elderly person that I respect so much. Come what may, I have said it several times that I am not contesting against him but against the post. But Egbon, as I call him, has never been a threat to me and will never be. All I want is for women to be given a chance.
The freight forwarding profession is a male dominated industry. What impact do you do think your aspiration to become the Financial Secretary will have on other women?
I believe it will inspire other women to seek elective positions. Since 1954 when ANLCA was established, the men have been contesting and leading the association without women. This is the first time a woman will be contesting for an elective position; there is no reason why the men would not give me a chance. Being the governor of women in ANLCA, we have been working well and a lot of women in the profession are now associating with us. Seeking an elective position at the national level, I believe will inspire other women to do same because I will pave the way for them to come in. If by the special grace of God, I am elected, I will ensure there is appointment for women at the national and chapter levels. By the next election, we are going to get forms for women to contest election; it will not be for men alone.
How would you assess the eight-year tenure of the National President of ANLCA, Prince OlayiwolaShittu?
Oh my goodness! Prince Shittu is my mentor and I regard him as a father and brother. He is the one that turned the face of ANLCA into what we have today. We were not like this years ago. ANLCA was an all-comers affair, but when he came in, everybody keyed into his vision. This is why ANLCA is what it is today. We are now being regarded as professionals and not touts. Honestly, I doff my cap for him and am grateful to him for a job well done. I pray to God to continue to strengthen him because without him, you won’t see me come out to contest. I pray that the incoming President will fit into Prince Shittu’s shoes.
As the election draws closer, what will be your message to ANLCA members?
I want all ANLCA members both men and women to vote for me. They should key into the vision and see that things have changed. We all need to work together for the betterment of the association.
As a licensed customs agent, what do you regard as most challenging in your operations with customs?
There are lot of issues with Customs at the port in terms of delay in documentation and issues of alert. For example, it takes nothing less than two weeks to release a consignment whereas it is not so in other neighbouring ports. Customs will tell you an importer has doctored his invoice but it is not all the importers, especially those on Letter of Credit. They will always accuse importers and their agent of false declaration, that may be true for those who are not valid for forex but the reputable ones, on Letter of Credit will not do that. We have a lot of issues with customs but been husband and wife that we are, we know how to marry each other. But we still want the system to be changed. There is need for reform in the Nigeria Customs Service. Although they are trying, we still want to see more change.
Recently, Customs introduced a special task force in place of the CG’s Compliance team. Do you see the task force as a threat to your operation?
They can never be a threat to our job. It is when you have skeletons in your cupboard that you will consider it a threat and be scared. For me, I make sure I don’t clear contraband goods. So, whatever the task force has been assigned to do, let them do their job. The only area I have issues with is the Federal Operations Unit intercepting already cleared consignment from the port. I see that as another way of stealing because the customs tariff is one. The FOU operatives are really robbing us.
Some are calling for a review in the renewal of customs agents’ licenses. What is your take on this?
We normally renew our license yearly but if the review can be done every two years that will be fine because it will relieve us in terms of the payment. However, I doubt the customs will change it. This is because the issue of customs operation is governed by law; the Customs and Excise Management Act. It is clearly stated that license and renewal is yearly. It is not something somebody can just pick and change because it is what is in the law.
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