“I don't think government has done anything about connecting the seaport to the rail for evacuation of cargoes”
Otunba Frank Ogunojemite is the President, Africa Association of Professional Freight Forwarders and Logistics of Nigeria (APFFLON). In this interview with Oluyinka Onigbinde, he speaks on sundry issues affecting the Nigerian maritime sector.
“This is the right time for Nigeria to have her own national carrier”
What is your assessment of operations at Lagos seaports?
As an advocate of ease of doing business, we have tried as much as we could to address this issues and we all know that when the International Monetary Fund (IMF) visited Lagos port, they gave report that bad infrastructure (which we all see) which cause delay in cargo evacuation from the seaports and high cargo dwell time as well as cost of doing business and cost of haulage. All of these have made Nigerian seaports un-competitive and it adds to the number of days it will take you to get to your cargo to destination.
Also, critical infrastructure such as single window that stakeholders have been talking about for long and scanners, those are the things that I believe are the challenges affecting Nigerian seaports and also causing impediments to ease of doing business at the seaports.
This is also affecting importers and as I am talking to you, I don't think government has done anything about connecting the seaport to the rail for evacuation of cargoes, so these are the things that have not been addressed over the years. But last time, I read in the papers that they are trying to evacuate something through the rail and I went on a surveillance; I did not see anything so I was wondering where this information came out from and we did our fact check and realised that it was a fallacy. To me, infrastructures have to be addressed at the nation's seaports if we want to compete favourably in the region.
What is the relationship between your association and government agencies in the sector?
We have a very cordial relationship with all stakeholders, but the only thing that is so sad is that Nigerian Port Authority (NPA) reviewed the concession agreement with terminal operators and excluded the Nigerian Shipper's Council (NSC) and other stakeholders.
We at APFFLON see that as a slight on the Council which is saddled with the responsibility of regulating operators.
Also, it is a slap on stakeholders in the industry and we will keep talking about the concession review until something is done because we see NSC as the economic regulator and they have the legal power to regulate operators, because they are empowered by the be federal government.
So, we will enjoin the government to also empower the council to sanction erring operators because in most cases, equipment are still lacking on the side of the operators which cause the delay in the processes of cargo evacuation from the seaports which at the end of the day leads to importers paying huge demurrage because of the inefficiency of operators at the seaports.
Also, not forgetting that 90 per cent of operators and shipping companies are foreigners who end up repatriating our money back to their country.
Do you then support call for a fresh review of the port concession agreement?
Yes, and we call on the Minister of Transportation, Mr Rotimi Amaechi to call for a fresh review of the agreement because there is no way you give a council responsibility of economic regulator and it was excluded from the review exercise
I believe the exclusion won't make terminal and shipping companies to respect the NSC and this is totally uncalled for and unfair, they shouldn't have done such a thing, so if it was a deliberate action, I advise they should go back and review. We are still open and expecting response from the government on review of the agreement that will meet stakeholders’ expectation.
There has been agitation by clearing agents at the airport, for 100%waiver, but it seems like the government kept quiet, unlike at the seaport where NPA intervened, did FAAN intervene in the issue at the airport?
I have not seen Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria showing any commitment to the issue at hand, except the meeting they held on the 25th of March that spread out the modus operandi of guidelines for resumption of flight and activities at the airports. But, upon investigation, none of the things they said have been practiced. The health and safety guidelines that were proposed in the communique were not adhered to. If FAAN had done something the airport would not have been shut down, to me they have not done anything.
What's your assessment of the recent lockdown on the economy?
We do the assessment on the macro and micro level. The micro level is connected to problems we are facing internally in the country; we talked about the infrastructure, equipment and the regulation of the shipping and terminal operators. So, government needs to let charity begins at home, fix all these problems so that the next time the International Monetary Fund (IMF) comes and does the evaluation of our seaports in the country, they know our infrastructure will be perfect. Also, when we look at this problem too, we now look at the macro factor for instance, Nigeria does not have national carrier and this is the right time for Nigeria to have her own national carrier, because this will bring revenue as it will be used mostly for export even though
Nigeria is still an import-dependent country and of course we still do some export. Assuming we have our own national carrier, things could have been easier, so let the Nigerian government have their own national carrier and I was telling people that we do more importation and the country will make money out of this. So let us look at what we can do to promote export in the country. Now the dollar is going up, but if we do more of export, there will be trade balance because it depends on buying dollars for import, so this invariably affects the economy of the country and we hope all this will be looked into.
What's your advice to the new DG of NIMASA?
The new NIMASA DG is a technocrat who has grown through the system. I know he must have faced a lot and understands how the system works. Also, he must have learnt under the immediate past Director General but, what I will firstly want him to do is to engage all the stakeholders, after which he will sensitise people and let people know what is expected of them as contributors to the growth of the maritime sector.
That will make his tenure hitch free and for him to enjoy the much-needed stakeholders’ support.