“New ANLCA president should work on harmonizing the relationship between shipping companies and agents”
In this interview with Anozie Egole, a member of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agent (ANLCA); Mr Alex Iloh talks about the challenges in the Nigerian maritime sector and sundry issues
“I think Maersk Line has a free hand and they have abused the privilege”
There has been this lingering issue of who is a customs licensed clearing agent and a freight forwarder, how would you differentiate that?
It depends on how you put it, they are the same thing; you are a freight forwarder when you are licensed by the customs to operate. And licensing means permitting you to operate on behalf of the importer, you are an agent, you liaise with the customs. So they are the same thing; whether you call it freight forwarder or a clearing agent they are still the same thing. I am a registered member of CRFFN; that is the body that controls freight forwarding associations and when you talk about associations, I belong to Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA).
Talking about the CRFFN, what is your take on the just-concluded election into its governing council?
Well, I don’t have any personal relationship with the elected members of the board, they conducted election and they came up with a lot of issues which have to do with renewal of membership and all that, we are watching out how they go. They are meant to regulate the industry but I don’t think they are doing that, if they are doing that, I don’t see why we should have over four bodies representing the freight forwarders and nothing is going on. They are not really representing the freight forwarders; everybody is cutting for his own. I am saying this because, let’s talk about presently we are having issues.
As I speak with you now, I have 70 containers that have been cleared from TICT since I paid the duty on the 26th of June and up till now I still have 59 containers in the ports. What I am going through now is that the shipping companies said I have 30 days given to me before they expire. And do you know what I mean by the associations not doing their work, the transporters, went on strike for 10 days agitating for N5,000, and they stayed out of work for 10 days. On their return, there were pill up of jobs and the price had skyrocketed, what ordinarily is supposed to move out of port for N130,000 you are now talking about N300, 000, as I speak with you now. And the organizations are not doing anything about it, I wrote on social media when these things were on because I really applauded the efforts of the truck owners, the ability to stand firm and pursue a goal, they could as well bring it back to importers through pricing. Our own associations are not protecting even the importers and the agents, today we are paying for demurrage and nobody is saying anything. Why I said that they are on their own is because they go at the back and collect money from these parastatals instead of protecting the interest of the associations and the agents.
We are paying demurrages for what we don’t know; the truckers that went on strike came back and took their own prices up and we are not saying anything. We have a lot of reasons to have gone on strike. After clearing from the ports and after some poles, you will see some customs officers checking documents; these are enough reasons to go for indefinite strike. The associations that are supposed to champion it, the leaders have contacts and superiors in customs, so they are not involved. So they are not protecting the industry.
What do you think should have been the best way out of all these?
The best way out of it is to absorb the whole associations under one umbrella and begin to foster the need for association. Association is meant to protect the industry and the interest of the importers to ensure they do not pay what they are not supposed to pay and to ensure that the government is not frustrating them. So these are what they are supposed to do but, if we can come to a point where we can at least have only one association it will be fine, at least two; but now we have over four and many more are coming up because everybody wants to have contacts. Instead of protecting the people they are leading, they are feasting on the people they are leading. That is why the industry is the way it is today.
How has the recent strike affected your business?
Badly, the truckers may have achieved what they wanted, but it has affected us badly. Now you see a jobs piling up and that was what skyrocketed the fare. We are now being forced to pay N300, 000 from Apapa to Jibowu, Amuwo Odofin. I have 59 containers now that are yet to leave the port, we are paying demurrage for both terminals and shipping companies. I have paid demurrage on this particular consignment to the rune of about N5.7million only on terminal; we are now working on how to get a waiver. So the strike has really affected us. We are trying to talk to the importer to see what they can do.
On the issue of waiver, is there any way you wish the government to come in?
Government cannot dictate for private sectors because they pay NPA for very of their vessels and you cannot tell them to waive. A waiver can only be achieved from the associations and pressure groups, that how it is done. If association can come now and go to shipping companies and say for these period these things have happened give us waiver. I don’t know why some companies cannot give waiver in Nigeria they start collecting from the arrival of the vessels, terminal charges will be paid immediately the container drops in the port, initially there used to be seven days waiver. I heard that in Cotonou there is 14 days waiver, but here it is not the same thing; you start paying immediately the container drops. And there is no way one can collect his cargo immediately. So the appeal is that they should see how they can come because ordinarily importers get waiver from shipping companies some have 14 or 21 days depending on your patronage or participation. Because we have choice on which shipping line to use but when it comes to terminals we don’t have a choice. So that is why the terminal operators are seeing it as an opportunity to rip off.
You have been in this industry for close to three decades now; can you compare what the industry was then and now?
There has been a very great difference, then we had working association that can stand for the people. During the time of Lucky Amiwero, then he was the best leader we had in the industry as at then because of his personal decision to make things work, the powers that be schemed him away. I tell you, that is a leader in the industry that we look forward to having his type; if we have his type all these abnormalities will reduce. The industry then was lucrative and wonderful, but today is the survival of the fittest, it is not really easy. Then there was nothing like the monitoring unit or Customs FOU Zone ‘A’, once you through with Customs you go ahead. But today, we are under pressure even after work you are still under pressure because somebody can still carry your container to FOU ‘A’ and you start all over again with examination and all that. If you fail to do that you will forced to drop at least N100, 000 or more. So, now and then can’t be the same, it is rougher now and the truth is that if we have our way and what it takes, one will tend to leave the industry for something better.
What is your view about ports concession?
No matter what you say now, it holds no water, but the truth is that the concession was with a very good intention, it was to make things work because government properties are always handled anyhow. I am not going that side because if you talk about it now there is maximize labour now unlike then. Then the terminals where operated by NPA alone and they do whatever they want; they come to work any time they want and all that and it was not efficient. But today there is a control because it is owned by individuals; nobody wants to run his company down. Apart from the monitoring aspect, that it is cheaper then , the efficacy of the operation is better now. Today you see somebody to ask questions when it comes to managing documents unlike then when it was analogue . Today when you are through with customs, the terminal operators will not delay you when you are through with your charges. So when it comes to concession it is good, it was a welcome development the whole idea was to ensure that things work and government revenues are not lost and it is working.
Do you think the sanction on Maersk Line will address the issue of port congestion?
Well, if the NPA has sanctioned Maersk Line for whatever reason, I think the aim is to let them know that somebody is actually in charge. Ordinarily one expects that it will make other learn lessons and not do things on their own. I think Maersk Line has a free hand and they have abused the privilege which prompted the sanction, it will be a warning to other shipping companies that is what I think someone supposed to be in control.
What is your advice to the new president of ANLCA, Mr Tony Iju?
He is somebody I know right from when we are were at Commercial building to Nnewi building, my advice is simple; let him see what he can do in terms of harmonizing operations in the ports and make it easier for the agents. If it is easier for the agents the importers will enjoy it; goods should leave the ports on time. The first priority is to see what they can do to stop this unnecessary duplication of works. A Deputy Comptroller will release a job and going outside somebody below that rank will question it. Customs have to be advised, something must be done to bring them to what they should be, the issue of FOU Zone A and task force on the road is not obtainable anywhere, once you are through with the ports, you should be relaxed. If he can achieve that, I want to believe that everything will fall in place. That doesn’t mean the right thing won’t be done, let them do whatever they want to do at the ports. When you clear your goods at the ports, you will be assured that you have done a good work. Not after your work must have been released by customs, you come out and somebody will say we have not released you and they are the same customs. So I expect the new president to come up in this regard and to harmonize the relationship between the shipping companies and the agents, they increase their charges arbitrarily without consultations; it is not supposed to be so. He has a role to play there.