‘48-hr cargo clearance is attainable if …’
That he is newsman’s delight is without. Straight-talking, Mr. Kayode Collins Farinto had a brief encounter with Obiajulu Agu in which the incumbent Chairman, Tin-Can Island Port Chapter, Association of Nigerian Licenced Customs Agents (ANLCA), was quite forthcoming about a number of issues, including his comeback bid, electronic- (e-) transactions, and the Federal Government’s proposed 48 hours timeframe for cargo clearance at the ports.
What is the state of e-transaction in your in your chapter?
E-transaction … e-transaction, the state, as in whether there is success or…? Yes, we are recording success, except recently when we had disruption in activities of the system because the Customs complained that the high blockstacking of containers is blocking signals. So, the level of e-transaction in Tin-Can Island, compared to two to three years ago, I can tell you there is a good improvement. You know we started with ASYCUDA (Automated System of Customs Data) 2.7, later we graduated to ASYCUDA 3.0, called plus-plus. Now we are going on e-transaction. The e-transaction has not actually come into place fully, because, when you talk about e-transaction, that means you are making your declaration online, you are making your payment online, shipping company is supposed to be online, terminal operator too is online. So, I don’t believe we are fully operating e-transaction. But in the area of Customs, yeah, it’s e-declaration; and e-transaction, because you can make your transaction online, and even payment online. But having done that, you still need to go to shipping companies, do some of the things manually, you go to terminal operators, do most of the things manually. Although, there seems to be interconnectivity between shipping companies and terminal operators, but what we are doing is not a full completion of e-transaction. But I want to tell you that there is a tremendous improvement compared to what we had three years ago.
Are you satisfied with the level presently?
I’m not satisfied for now, but I can only say that there is an improvement. I want a situation where we will have a one- stop- shop where you will put in your cargo and the cargo will be released in less than 24 hours and you take that cargo under 48 hours. We still have a lot of impediments delaying smooth flow of cargo clearance in our sea ports. So, I’m not satisfied fully. But I want to tell you that I am encouraged and I want to encourage the various stakeholders vis-à-vis terminal operators, shipping companies, even Nigeria Custom Service, and we the freight forwarders too to come together, so that there will be a fora where we can see what are the impediments to e-transaction. But, for now, I’m impressed.
As a leading freight forwarder, would you say members of your chapter and the larger freight forwarding community is satisfied with the level of e-transaction? And are they compliant?
They are complying now. When I came onboard, there was this issue of sharp practices here and there, and my government succeeded in reducing it to it to the barest minimum. Talking about sharp practices in Tin-Can Island Port now, we’ve reduced it to say one percent. But I want to believe that every member of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents in Tin-Can is impressed, compared to when we came onboard. When we came onboard, we met an uncomplimentary. We are happy that there is improvement. I’m even happy that the Nigeria Customs Service is working ahead of even the various stakeholders. Now the Nigeria Customs is talking about ICT (information communication technology); they are changing their systems entirely, even above most of the African countries. Honestly, I’m impressed, except the few shortcomings, and the human factor and the attitudinal change. I’m impressed. And I want to believe that my members are impressed, except that we want to see much more improvement than what is on ground now.
These challenges you observe, what could be done to overcome them or to reduce them?
There was a Minister, the former Minister of Transport that set up a committee to look into the various shipping companies’ charges and terminal operators’ charges. We submitted memoranda then and the Minister actually had the something in his office, this thing has been submitted to the Presidency. If the Federal Government can come up on this white paper and let us implement it, honestly, for once, we will have sanity in our industry.
What is your take on the allegations that the Tin-Can Island Port Complex is a big centre for illegal deals, including fake documents, and illegal clearance and evacuation of cargoes?
May be, before we came on board? Like I said it, when we came on board, we met most of these illegalities. But, if you look at the money we have generated … last year alone, we generated over two hundred and sixty billion naira. Year before the last, we generated over one hundred and something billion naira. Unlike when I came, what I met was eighty something billion, ninety something billion. And there is astronomical improvement to what we have generated. We are the ones generating this revenue. It is Customs that is mid-wifing it, and we are compelling our members to comply, to conform to the system. So, honestly, whoever is telling you that illegality is still rampant in Tin-Can? Inasmuch as nobody can stop smuggling in the whole world, you should expect few illegalities here and there, but the Customs is actually blocking the loopholes, everybody in TinCan Island now is highly complying. In fact, they will want to tell you ‘let me go and take my valuation.’ And nobody is being fraudulent. I think what we should be talking about now is that, once an agent has complied and pay his duty, there should be a law now that nobody stops such cargo. We still have challenges here and there where some officers will still query valuation; they will say ‘ok, it’s a compromise value.’ We still have that in the system. Honestly, ninety per cent of my members have complied, and we have this sensitisation programme that we run, and through our website and National Secretariat, we make sure we carry them along. Where they have problem, they let us know and I am always on the ground. I am a grassroots person. So, if there is any reaction, I quickly intervene, so that it would not lead to another level.
This proposed 48 hours timeframe for the clearance of cargoes, is it attainable?
48-hour cargo clearance is attainable, if the impediments to freight are removed here and there. And, if attitudinal change is looked into, because, there should be attitudinal change, and I am of the opinion that there should be re-orientation in the maritime industry. There should be a kind of talkshop where everybody in the maritime industry would say ‘you are the cause, I am the cause’, a kind of show so that, eventually, there would be a kind of communique issued, which will note, among others, that we have identified those agents that are causing delays, we have identified those shipping companies that are causing delays. In view of this, there will be a directive that, henceforth, this would happen. But on a more serious note, I want to believe that we can achieve it.
You are the incumbent Chairman of ANCLA Tin-Can Island Chapter … (Cuts in)
By the grace of God!
Did you serve in any other capacity in ANCLA before this?
Yes! I was the Secretary of the Tin-Can Chapter till 2007 or thereabout, and when I came on board as the chairman, I was also appointed by the ANLCA National Pesident to be National Chairman of the Shipping Companies and Terminal Operators’ Committee. So, I have served in various capacities. I have served as a Task Force Chairman, and I tell you I am a grassroots man. So, there is nothing you want to tell me in Tin-Can that I don’t know, because I am grassroot person.
There was a memor from the ANCLA Electoral Commission (ASECO) few days ago flagging off campaigns for elections in the Western Zone. Are you re-contesting, seeking for second term as Chairman, ANLCA Tin-Can Chapter?
Let me tell you with all emphasis that I am re-contesting. I am seeking forre- election as Chairman, ANLCA Tin-Can Chapter. When we started, there were election promises we gave to our members. We have succeeded in achieving some, and there are some that have not been achieved. So, we want to see if these can also be achieved in our second term. We’ll give them more promises. I am seeking the election.
So, are you justified seeking re-election, seeking a second term?
Have you ever seen a situation where a mirror will be able to see itself? It is the electorate, the licensed Customs agents that would be able to say that your government, three years on, has not done anything or your government, three years on, h as actually succeeded in this area. But you need to work in more areas. So, it is the agent that is able to tell you that.
What legacy or legacies have you endowed the ANCLA Tin-Can Chapter with?
On a more serious note, before we came on board, our licensed Customs agents were scattered here and there. But we have succeeded in ensuring that they are now conforming, the issue of not conforming is being eradicated from the system. The agents are now conforming, and the agents will ensure and insist that they must be patriotic. Patriotic in the sense that, when you realise that there is a cargo that could threaten the security of this country, make sure that you give out such information. So, that is the kind of legacy that we are putting in place. So, that is the kind of legacy that we want to put in place and our members are complying, compared to what we have two to three years ago.
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