We’re all to blame for the corruption in the system

In a title-crazy Nigeria, men such as Samson Odeyemi, who would rather be referred to simply as ‘Mr.’, are a rarity. The same simplicity clearly rules Oduyemi’s general disposition in life, as exemplified in exchanges with him over the telephone, and one-on-one real-life encounter with him. This uncommon trait he amply demonstrated in this interview held at SHIPS & PORTS DAILY office in Surulere, Lagos. Odeyemi holds the onerous position of the Chairman, Port and Terminal Multi-services Limited (PTML) Terminal/Kirikiri Lighter Terminal (KLT) Chapter of the National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA). He spoke to Obiajulu Agu on industry-wide issues, and matters related to the NCMDLCA, which has contended with leadership crises in recent years. 
Excerpts:

Please, assess the Nigerian freight forwarding industry in relationship with your long experience in it? 
This industry is a beautiful one; that is the maritime industry. We have been in it, and it is a very viable one. And now, we pray that everything should continue to go on smoothly, and there would be no problem.

But Customs agents are often up in arms, protesting? What exactly is wrong with the industry? 
There are many things that we can say are wrong. We have a lot of misinformation. Then we have a lot of people who are selfish in their nature, so they want everything for themselves. On the side of government agencies, there are some of them … I don’t actually know what is happening, but corruption has eaten deep into the system. Because gone are the days … this industry when some of us started off, you go into it, and be very very happy, because, if at the end of the day you realise little, you will be happy, because, there will be peace of mind, because, every law is being implemented the way it is supposed to be implemented. But now, everybody is deviating from what is on ground – that is the law. We don’t seem to work within the ambit of the law in the industry. So, that is why the problems are raising up their ugly heads.

How can we correct these anomalies? 
We can correct the anomalies by going the way of the law. The way to the correction is to go by the law. Let the government agencies implement law; they are not law makers. They are there to do their job. They are supposed to do it the way it is supposed to be done. I told you that, before, when we started out in this industry, people at each seat knew their duty; they don’t go beyond that. So, people that are supposed to look at the area of revenue, they will go there and look at it. The people that are supposed to look at the area of safety, they will go there and look at it. So, they applied law in everything with us. For example, look at this law of valuation … before, government agencies applied benchmarks, that is BDV (Bureau Definition of Value). But it is no longer in vogue. The world is moving, and there is this transaction value that is in place, but instead of them to apply the law they wont. They are still going back to the era of the old age. Be you trade goods, the transaction value is there to guide you. Be you used vehicles, the law of depreciation is there. But nobody is applying. The trade good is even better now, because we are still hearing transaction value here and there. If at all they refuse to apply it, but we are saying it. In the area of used vehicles now, nobody… many people did not know this, there is law in CEMA (Customs Excise Management Act).

What is the way or are the ways out? How can these issues be resolved? 
The way out is for us to go back to apply the rules and the law that guide the industry. And we, the leadership of this industry, should try as much as possible to be honest; for we should not sell our conscience for a pot of porridge, as it is happening everywhere now. That is what my National President, Mr. Lucky Amiwero, is fighting against. So, he is fighting in this industry, not for himself, but for everything to run smoothly so that we have the pot to hand over to our generations yet unborn.

When you talk about corruption in the ports system, who or what agencies, or institutions or persons are to blame for the corruption in the system, noting that corruption thrives with the takers and the givers? 
Thank you. It seems you have answered the question, because all of us are to blame. Because in the area of the people that take, they want to take, because the corruption is all over the country, and they too in the port industry want to take. But we that are the givers, we don’t have time we don’t want to spare any time, we don’t want to say: No, this thing must stop! I have been talking about the transaction value issue, when an agency says this your value, I am not taking it, instead of us to comply by offering, something we are supposed to fight further, because we have the area of dispute resolution. So, if we did not succeed on one table, we move on to another one, until, if possible, we get to the Presidency. But we are not patient enough; we don’t want to lose time.

What is your take on allegations that Customs agents are major causes of problems in the system? 
People are saying licensed Customs agents are major causes of this problem in the industry; I will say yes, and I will say no, because everywhere we find ourselves, we must have some bad eggs there. So, those ones who are the bad eggs, for example, when they go out there to canvass for jobs, they boast a lot; that I can do this… I can pull mountain down. At the end of the day… most of them have sugar-coated tongue, then importer ignorantly gives out the job to these people and at the end of the day, what they have promised, you find out that they cannot do it. Why I’m saying that they should not blame those in the industry alone is because there are some importers out there that want cheap labour. When you tell them that this what it is going to take to clear your consignment, another person, who is a tout, will approach the importer, offering to bring it out for half of this money, and the importer will quickly jump at it, thinking that he has gotten somebody that will do the job cheaper for him. At the end of the day, when it happens, he starts shouting that agents have done this and that.

What is your take on the issues factions that the NCCMDLCA has contented with in recent years? 
I want to correct this impression. There is no faction in National Council. Everywhere, every sector you find yourself, there must be issues of agreement and disagreement. This one will say no, I won’t take this, this one will say this what I want. At the end of the day, there will be disagreement, family disagreement, but at the end of the day, we go back to round table discussion, and sort ourselves out. Our National Council, under the headship of Mr. Lucky Amiwero, we opened our arms to everybody, we welcome everybody. We are major stakeholders. By that name National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents, we are employers of labour. So, we don’t have factions. We encourage every license owner to come. So, there is no faction in National council.

You spoke of family issues, family problems and round table vis-à-vis the NCMDLCA. What are chieftains like yourself doing towards quick resolution of the disputes in the NCMDLCA? 
We are try to get across to every body, to dialogue with everybody, saying come back home.

And what are the responses of these persons? 
A lot of them are responding. So, there is going to be change very very soon, by the grace of God.

Do you foresee the NCMDLCA returning to its once wholesome vibrant self? And how soon?
I am telling you, categorically clear, that we are much more vibrant than any other association that you can thin of. Go to the industry, go and find out, because we have been changing a lot of policies. So, it’s only National Council that changed a lot of policies in this industry. If not for National Council, today, many people would have said good bye to this industry, to this profession. But we are vibrant. We are fighting where we are supposed to fight; not physical fight – write-ups, a lot write-ups to fight anomalies. So, we are doing that.