The National President, National Association of Government Approval Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Eugene Nweke, speaks on the nitty gritty of freight forwarding and how government can make the seaports more user-friendly.
Let’s have your opinion on how freight forwarders are faring in business?
First and foremost, it is important to know and appreciate the efforts of freight forwarders in the international trade supply chain. We are service providers. We render what is called essential services in the supply chain and by that we become highly strategically essential. We are the intermediary factor between the principal which is the importer or the shipper to other stakeholders within the supply chain. As someone who earns his living from the principal, if the principal’s goods are not going out to production line, obviously the bank will be affected because their money will not be returned and once that happens, we are affected too. And again one of the things that affects us as logistics managers is the mode of transportation in facilitating our operations. The turn-around trip of a truck used in conveying goods in and out of the port for onward transmission in Apapa also affects our operations. We often deal with the banks because it involves money for either charges or duties. Most times we do that because we have received the mandate of our principal to effect total clearance; deliver to his warehouse using our own finance. We are also financing cargo movement and transaction and clearance, either import or export. If for any reason we are experiencing delay unnecessarily while doing our essential services then obviously, it would set us back. Honestly, we have issues with the bank. We can’t easily get facilities from the banks. If you collect overdraft facilities from the bank and you can’t pay, its affects business. Even if you succeed in getting the line of credit, you pay more interests. .
Let just hope the new administration will improve on the challenges. It has not been easy. You can observe that critically the cargoes going through the ports have declined. This is a period where most importers and shippers defer investment because there is a high level of uncertainty as a result of new policies, so most people withdraw their money from circulation, while some decide to leave their cargo at the ports and others start asking their exporters not to ship their goods till further notice.
The business environment is unfriendly but we expect change; so we are positive.
Your role is often taken for that of the clearing agents. Can you differentiate between freight forwarders and licensed customs agents (ANCLA)?
It’s just a matter of semantics. What we try to do essentially is to provide service. A customs broker is first a freight forwarder but by the design of SEMA – I think section 54, subsection 153, 154, 156 talk about licensing authorisation on regulation. While in the Acts 16 2007, its talking about the training individuals, certifying them to be fit to become freight forwarders. You must be first a freight forwarder before choosing any scope or any other aspect of operations within the freight forwarding, either as a profession or as a scope of services inherent in freight forwarding. So those who call themselves customs license agents, those ones are freight forwarders first but they are now by specialisation custom brokers. The truck owners are the logistics specialists and the ones into warehousing and packaging are consolidators. Those who are into financing and consultancy are into other distinct field.
Freight forwarding is all encompassing. So what we are saying is that there is a profession which is freight forwarding but there are areas of specialization in the operation , so there is no difference between a freight forwarder and a customs broker because both are of the same ACT 16 2007.
If I’m certified and I want to have my company and my company is documented as a freight forwarding company, to own a licence, I will take my credentials to Customs and say I’m a certified freight forwarder and I want to own a licence. They look at their law and data verification and see if I’m capable. They will issue me a licence which is a permit and my company will now become a licensed freight forwarder. So there should not be any confusion.
Your assessment of the Maritime industry?
To assess the industry, you need to compare and contrast last year and this year looking at the revenue performance by Customs, NPA, NIMASA and any other agency. The total estimate of cargoes compared to numbers of export cargoes that has gone out. Getting all these statistics will show whether we are moving up or going down. That is the simple way the Maritime sector can be accessed. Cargo throughput in and out, that is import and export; the revenue generation and within the same period of time you are comparing and contrasting. Then you look at the dwell time of cargoes.
Do you think the much-talked about 24 hours cargo policy is being realised?
How can we be talking about 24 hours cargo clearance where there is no easy access to the port. When you are spending more hours in traffic. So how many hours did you spend in the office? It is difficult talking about this because cargoes are not going in or out, they only trickle out. For instance, Apapa APM terminal is supposed to exit 400 cargoes daily and now is reduced to 10, how did you reconcile that? The ports are opened but who is going out and who is going in?
We should be talking on how to address these issues about the Apapa gridlock. This time force must be applied because if the transport agencies and government are to do their job, the gridlock would reduce. They know what to do, it’s just a matter of State in conjunction with the Federal Government passing a law or giving a directive that those tankers should not ply some specific sides.
Compared to other neighbouring ports, most port users do complain that doing business in Nigerian ports is more expensive?
The government, terminal operators, professionals, shipping lines as well as freight forwarders and the security agencies, we have held several meetings on this. The delays being experienced costs money.
Do you think the Maritime industry has potentials to generate more revenue like the Oil industry?
The Maritime sector has the capacity to generate more revenue than the Oil sector. For that to happen, it must start with the presiding President. Does he appreciate and place value on the Maritime sector?
The president should understand that the Maritime sector has been underutilised for so many years. Let me give you a critical example. For instance, Nigerian seafarers are not recognized abroad. Cargo funds has been used for political matters.
As a Maritime nation, we must have our own national line that plies both local and foreign waters. We can have a private partnership arrangement to train cadets, young people who are interested in the profession.
The Philippines are very proud of this profession. By the time we start with the maximization of our territorial waters and the dockyards and getting the right professionals, the patronage comes and revenue increases. By the time we now choose to improve; initiate an evolution, it helps the industry.
If the steel sector improves, it will give birth to a better automobile industry because the critical component needed for vehicle production is steel and this will also help in ship building and spare parts will also pick up. The Maritime sector has much potentials. It’s all about sitting down; bring in experts and putting heads together to give the road map and we are there.
(Quote)“The Maritime sector has the capacity to generate more revenue than the Oil sector. For that to happen, it must start with the presiding President. Does he appreciate and place value on the Maritime sector?
“The president should understand that the Maritime sector has been underutilised for so many years”
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