We need to put our own efforts in the transformation agenda – Shittu
2014 will be a busy time for stakeholders in the freight forwarding industry says National President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Prince Olayiwola Shittu. In this interview with SHIPS & PORTS DAILY’s Uju Ozoeze in his office last week, Shittu said that for a better freight forwarding industry this year, all hands need to be on deck to work in line with President Goodluck Jonathan’s transformation agenda especially on trade-related issues. He expects in return the collaboration of the government with the stakeholders for this to be achieved.
What are your expectations for the industry this year?
My expectations this New Year is that policy makers especially at the government level would engage stakeholders before certain policies are released. There is this penchant for our government to sit down in their cocoon and rely on information from their field officials, with the fact that the stakeholders are not carried along. These officials give them information that does not go along with the policies they bring up, and that is why most of the policies don’t work. In other for us to help the government realize where they are that is why all the stakeholders came under MAAG (Maritime Advocacy and Action Group). The action group has, however, been misunderstood as people think that when you say action group it means an opportunity to either shut down the ports or fight individuals but rather no! The action is for us to do a follow up. When we see that things are not going well or that some people are working contrary to the rules of engagement our action is where do we go next? I have confidence in the fact that MAAG as an advocacy group will help us make regulatory agencies do their work properly where they are concerned. We had relied on Nigerian Ports Authority to midwife a platform similar to MAAG but the whole of 2013 was a period when government officials were deceiving us and we knew that if they had such a platform it will not be to their interest because of their pecuniary interest. So that is why MAAG became a private initiative in which we help ourselves and that is why everybody in the industry now, on the issue of advocacy, are under MAAG.
Does MAAG not take away the responsibility of the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) to protect the interest of freight forwarders?
It has nothing to do with the responsibility of CRFFN which is a regulatory body of individual operators and even associations. What this means is that CRFFN will determine your suitability to operate in the maritime industry, give you a standard to follow, ensure that you are educated to a particular level, and accredit the educational institutes that will give you the best education. That is the job of CRFFN and that is why we are all paying for membership, paying for license, paying for certificates and at the same time going to these schools which they have accredited. CRFFN cannot do advocacy. It is not the job of CRFFN to engage shipping companies on why they should increase charges nor can it engage NPA or Customs because they are all under government control. Therefore those who went to town to say MAAG will replace CRFFN are wrong! CRFFN is a regulatory body, MAAG is an advocacy group. MAAG is a platform where stakeholders can be engaged instead of having an association go one way and another association going the other. And secondly, it will reduce the penchant and tendencies of leaders of the associations to use their positions to blackmail people. Now when people bring in reports and complaints, MAAG has the platform to investigate and even assist by reporting individuals who have the tendencies to go into fraudulent activities to CRFFN to be disciplined. MAAG is even organised in such a way that at its assembly government regulatory agencies are being invited as observers so that when issues are being discussed they can participate. So, 2014 is going to be a busy time for all of us because we need to put our own efforts in the transformation agenda. Transformation agenda does not mean that only our President must work, we also have to work. We need to transform our outlook and the way we deal with each other. We need to transform the way we think that government money is everybody’s money and if we can achieve that in the year 2014 then we can now use that opportunity to ask the government why it does not perform its responsibility to us. For example, we the custom brokers generate revenue for the government, collected through the bank and ensured is collected by the customs and if the government feels that we are irrelevant…the association ANLCA has made sure that its members don’t do self help but there is a limit to which government and our people will do self-help maybe that will wake up the government. So, 2014 is a year to look forward to.
What would you say is the most controversial of issues that came up in the industry last year?
So many things happened in year 2013 but the one that overshadowed them all is the new policy on vehicles which we believe that if that platform of stakeholders was engaged government probably would have suspended that policy until certain things are already put in place. It is enough for a manufacturing company, of which about ninety five percent of its manufacturing components will still be imported in addition to the incentives of waiver from duty, to want to come and set up an assembly plant. We have had assembly plants before and we expected that people will come and handle the existing assembly plants and make it workable and part of the plan is for them to generate their own power. Now, government has stopped vehicles from coming. People are finding it difficult already to acquire small vehicles like all these small pompolo type of vehicles and now that you have multiplied the amount for which they will get it then the people will say “ok, no need to buy through the Nigerian ports, I will get it through the border”. That policy has strengthened smuggling activities at the borders; has helped the government to lose so much revenue and that policy is also going to endanger the lives of security agents who would be asked to go and fight these smugglers. And smugglers all over the world are desperate and dangerous people we know how much it is taken the United States government to fight drug smuggling, so our own is going to be commercial struggling. Come to think of it, who among our leaders buy made in Nigeria stuff? Is it the cloth they wear? The fact I’m wearing a Nigeria-sown dress does not mean that the cloth material itself is made in Nigeria. There is no Nigerian that knows that he can buy a made in Nigeria vehicle for three million and wants to go abroad this same kind of vehicle for three million. I heard from the Minister of Agriculture that now there is a scheme where people will start planting dry season rice. When is that rice going to mature for harvest? Now we have asked the average Nigerian not to eat rice but rice is still being cooked in the kitchen and eaten by our policy makers. Government is losing billions meanwhile the rice is coming in. I think engaging the stakeholders would have avoided this. If you say within the next eighteen months we are going to gradually reduce dependence on importation of auto vehicles…for instance for this year we pay additional ten percent, for next year additional ten percent, for the upper years the same thing, gradually you discover that there is disincentive in going for second hand and used vehicles from abroad. I think government needs to reason. This is election year, I hope some of these policies are not deliberately tailored to make the man who is in charge of our country to lose election because with this policy that came in 2013 by the end of the year people are going to feel bad as if the government does not mean well for them.
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