The administration of Nze Alloysius Igwe as Chairman Murtalla Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) chapter of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) has no doubt uplifted the image of the chapter. With a befitting secretariat to now call their own and to shelter them from harsh weather conditions, members of ANLCA MMIA chapter look upon the Alloysius Igwe-led administration as God-sent. Igwe and his team of executives has also won the heart of the national leadership of ANLCA with the accomplishment of providing a secretariat for the chapter just barely six months after assuming office. In this interview with SHIPS & PORTS DAILY’s Uju Ozoeze in his office, Alloysius Igwe spoke about how he was able to pull this off among other achievements. He also spoke about the challenges encountered at the chapter.
It’s barely a year you assumed office as Chairman ANLCA MMIA chapter and your administration has resulted in, so short a time, a secretariat for the chapter. How were you able to accomplish this?
I want to give all the glory to God. I also want to thank the membership of ANLCA here at Murtalla Muhammed airport because this has been an issue that has been bothering us for a very long time. Why I think I was able to do this was because I have been on ground and I know the challenges agents operating here at the airport face. I set it as a priority that when I come into office this would be the first issue I will tackle because it was quite a disturbing one. Imagine agents sitting down under canopies, under the rain or in the sun, without a proper place to take shelter when carrying out their operations. I was bothered with this situation and prayed for an opportunity to address this challenge and God willing I had the opportunity and I took a shot at it.
What other achievements has your administration made so far?
There are some silent ones but I think the most important one is relative peace. Airport in the past has been such a very volatile place. Any slightest thing triggers off trouble and violence so when I came in I embraced dialogue. I looked at minor workshops and seminars to orientate members and talk to them that we have gone beyond the level of using violence to address issues of which they saw reason with me. Before now we don’t see eye to eye with customs, NAHCO…everything was all about war but I have my style. And my style of dialogue has really paid off. That is one major achievement. Another thing is that we look at the welfare of members and this is very paramount to us. These are the people that constitutes and bring whatever we are enjoying here today. What I did was to institute a free health care programme. This needs to be made known because some people don’t know this aspect of our achievements. We registered with a hospital on a kind of a retainership arrangement where members can go for minor treatment at the expense of the association. I tell you that we’ve able to save a lot of things with this welfare scheme. To me I am so pleased with that particular achievement because it has never been this way before. Equally, airport, because of the kind of jobs we do here and the level of agents we have, people needs some soft loans too to be able to do their jobs. I have been able to interact with some banks that can give our members soft loans to carry out their jobs. The association can stand for such members to be given such loans at relatively low interest rate. People are already enjoying this package for now. These are the key ones among other things my team have done so far.
What are the major operational challenges your members face here at MMIA?
It is natural that problems will come but why, at times, I don’t want to comment much on them is because we are in the position to solve problems. Problems will definitely arise but the ability to solve them is what makes you to be in that position. To me I don’t see problems as anything new but there are some that are quite challenging like air cargo. Air cargo is in the first place supposed to be a very fast movement cargo. Air cargoes are not supposed to be subjected to a lot of government policies and bureaucracies. We’ve tried to make the government to realize that as long as these policies are there they constitute a lot of challenge. You can image a student schooling abroad or that went abroad for excursion or a person resident abroad for some time and is coming back with some personal belongings and all these things are subjected to PAAR or whatever. This constitutes a very big challenge to cargo clearance at the airport. And another thing is that with the level of unemployment in the country today many graduates go into business. They get loans travel to countries like Dubai which runs an open market where people buy things from different shops and collect receipts. You don’t expect these open shops to give attested invoice so if these people come here the process of cargo clearing becomes cumbersome. Customs will be querying and requesting for original invoice to be presented for PAAR. This issue of PAAR, I have said it before, except government wants to add more people to the unemployment market they should go ahead with it because I tell you more than eighty percent of patrons of airport cargo are people that fall within the category of informal trade. People we refer to as informal traders. They engage in trade that is not too formal; that buy goods that are not from established companies or established markets abroad.
So you are saying that until government addresses this challenge posed to the so-called informal traders, PAAR will not be feasible here at MMIA?
PAAR entails that before the arrival of your shipment you present your documents- invoice, Form M, to generate PAAR before you clear. With this regime it is going to affect cargo clearance because more than eighty percent of air cargo are brought in by these informal traders and that does not need PAAR clearance. We have been clamoring that customs should assess their values as they come in. Look at the first value of their shipments assess their values collect duty and clear them.
Aside the concern about informal traders, what other difficulties does the PAAR regime pose to agents operating at MMIA?
Though we have started it but it has not taken deep root. Customs have not been on it for a very good number of years like you know and for them now as one body to do what more than three or four inspection agencies were doing in the past the hiccups would be there at this teething stage and we pray that they will get it right. We are only saying that as it affects air cargo, because of the emergency nature and the type of people that patronize airport cargo, government should relax and allow customs to look at the value and assess their duty and collect revenue for the government.
For clarity sake, what cargo clearance and documentation processes goes on now at MMIA?
Now it is still a combination…you know there was a grace of a month and after that because of some problems another two weeks was given. So we are hiding under this for now. By the expiration of these two weeks we don’t know what will come up but we are still making our moves and still talking that they should look at the problems particularly as it affects airport.
What is the association’s present relationship with FAAN?
Let me start with FAAN because it has not been rosy. I know you must have witnessed one or two strikes or fights with FAAN but when I came in I said enough with all that war. Dialogue should be the in thing and it has paid off. And the building of this secretariat is a testimony that dialogue has paid off.
Does this mean that FAAN has given the association the land on which the chapter secretariat is built for keeps?
FAAN is a government parastatal, and you know that government will not give you any place outright. All I know is that because of our importance in the cargo chain and import operations I think it is wise for us to be here. In the first place it has security implication because if you get to the terminals the number of people there has reduced significantly unlike when we were there so this has reduced human traffic and it has some elements of security implication because security agencies there can now determine who enters the port unlike when it was flooded so it is advantageous to allow us have our secretariat/agents’ village here. There has been a good relationship with FAAN, no doubt. You can’t believe that for the first time FAAN invited the association to be part of a ministerial briefing on airport planning that recently took place. Such a thing wasn’t there in the past and they invite us to other activities seeing us as stakeholders in the industry. It has been wonderful of recent. As for the two handlers SAHCOL and NAHCO, they have their problems. Equipment and manpower problems which we have been talking about but there is improvement now.