“The person heading the CRFFN is not a professional freight forwarder”
Ibrahim Tanko is the Vice President, Western Zone of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF). In this interview with Shipping Position Daily Correspondent ; Dapo Olawuni, Tanko disclosed that many importers have dumped the Tin Can Island Port as a result of the controversy surrounding Benchmarking of cargoes by the Customs Area Controller, Musa Baba Abdullahi, he said many of them are coming to Apapa port. He also urged the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) to ensure that power to issue clearing licenses is removed from the Nigeria Customs Service.
“The day all the associations would become one and speak with one voice; that is the day we would solve 90% of our issues”
How true it is that benchmark controversy at Tin Can Port is making importers divert to Apapa?
The Comptroller of Tin Can Command, Compt. Musa, based on what people are saying that he is squeezing agents, paying from their nose and preventing them from doing their normal business they do before, I do not blame the Comptroller, I believe that the person that placed him there did so for a purpose and he would like to sanitize the area, people are running away from Tin Can and coming back to KLT, Apapa Port and so on. It is not that Apapa command is bad, we are minded people in Apapa in the sense that, even looking at our documentation and that of Tin Can Port, they are far different. There is a lot of thing going on at Tin Can that Apapa port cannot tolerate, for example, somebody has a PAAR with N10million CIF value, he would go and cut down the PAAR to N5million, moreover the main PAAR in the system is N10million. At Apapa port, this cannot happen, the customs would call you from the PAAR office to come and update the PAAR. At Apapa port command, we don’t have the problem of benchmark, we fought the issue long time ago, the reason is that the imported items are not coming from the same country, they are not of the same quality, so you cannot say because I am importing telephones now I much pay a benchmark of N10million, the standard and the quality of the phones are not the same, this was why we fought the benchmark. Apapa port is the command that generates the highest revenue. In terms of the tramadol, these drugs you see, some of them have been here since December last year, but the owner of the container cannot move it because they are on watch list, and when customs see that the owners are not forthcoming, they would force the containers out, carryout examination to determine what is inside, it is not a day’s job. One of the containers they said an officer was arrested, the affected officer has been on suspension for long, as of the time the officer released the Tramadol, it had not been banned, even now they never banned it, it is controlled, by this it means that for you to import Tramadol, you must have a permit, and there is a certain milligram you would have to import.
Is it possible that we still have such containers inside the port that have not even been examined?
Yes, there are still other boxes, when you keep a box in the port for a long time and nobody is coming forward to claim it, the Customs would be there watching to see when the owner will come forward, there are still containers inside the port like that, but the customs cannot open it unless they are suspicious.
As Vice President of Western Zone of NAGAFF, what would you say are the challenges of your members in the western zone?
We have a major challenge about our business not moving as before, but I do not blame the government, I always tell people that we don’t need to blame Customs, SON or NAFDAC, we should start blaming ourselves, why I said so is because, when you are trying to be compliant, at least by 60 percent, you would see some other person that is just 10 percent compliant. People are going out of the laid down procedure by the government just because they want to make money, and when you see Mr. A and Mr. B making money, the other few people that are compliant would also want to short change the government. In terms of compliance, we would only get there when we start telling ourselves the truth by making honest declaration. Recently at Apapa command, somebody declared five 40-foot containers of electronics, but on examination they discovered it was loaded with fridges, the containers have already been loaded to the bonded terminal as transire container.
Is fridge contraband?
It is not contraband, but I think it attracts 30% duty; the intention is just to cheat the government. We have been campaigning to our members, urging them to do the right thing; we need to sanitize ourselves first before talking about the government.
You pulled out of National Council to join NAGAFF, what is your relationship with your former association?
In life, when you become a rival, you must have challenges, but I believe that right now the tension is going down, the great Lucky Amiwero called me last week and I greeted him, he said he just called to say hi, this is a good development because, before, he was keeping malice with me as an enemy, but thank God he called me last week and we greeted, I still respect him as my elder in the industry, but the issue there is that we must drop these names of associations; ANLCA, NAGAFF, National Council. I was telling the former president of ANLCA, Prince Olayiwola Shittu that the day all the associations would become one and speak with one voice, that is the day we would solve 90% of our issues.
Is it possible for all freight forwarding associations to come under one voice?
It would be hard because of greed.
Do you think CRFFN should pursue this agenda?
I am not condemning the CRFFN but if they are going to stand with their own authority, a lot would change in terms of policy. For example, a licensed customs agent has been licensed by customs, the customs has the authority over that license, the customs are answerable to the Minister of Finance, it has nothing to do with the Minister of Transportation, the Nigerian Ports Authority is answerable to the Minister of Transportation, likewise the CRFFN, now let’s look at it this way, if a licensed customs agent decided not to be a member of CRFFN, he would still be practicing his profession, because he was licensed by customs and he is abiding by the law of CEMA (Customs and Excise Management Act); so, you cannot stop him from going to the port. What I am saying is that the CRFFN must ammend this policy right from the top so that all the regulations can be centralized in freight forwarding and things would go well, they should make us all to be one family, you must be under this umbrella before you can practice, if this is not done, we would continue to experience the same challenges. We are on the right direction, but the only problem now is that the person heading the CRFFN is not a professional freight forwarder, so how can he know the pains we are going through? I believe his members can help him.
Do you think the CRFFN at this time should register more associations?
It depends on what the law says, but I don’t think they can limit the freight forwarding associations to just five; they are to regulate all freight forwarders. I am expecting them to work towards making us to be one and not for us to remain as splinter groups, just like when we were in ANLCA then, when President Sanni Kamba is speaking you would know that somebody is speaking, when Kamba says Customs OC gate should be removed, the officer would be removed that same day, if he says we don’t like the Commissioner of Police in the port, the man would be removed, if he says we don’t like a particular Customs Area Controller, the officer would be removed, can that happen today? No, this is because we are not speaking with one voice, if it requires collapsing all the unions and we all come under CRFFN, then it would be better.
Why did you join NAGAFF?
People would not understand my reason, I have been following Dr. Aniebonam for a very long time, whenever I want to do something I call him, and sometimes he calls me too, but I was not a NAGAFF member then, I normally follow my friend to their AGM, I have been a friend of NAGAFF for a very long time since they started. Dr Aniebonam is somebody that has people’s feeling, he carries people along, and he speaks on behalf of people whether they are there or not. I so much love to see somebody empowering young people, tomorrow you would grow old and it is these people that would take care of you, it is very rare in Igbo land to see somebody behaving the way Dr. Aniebonam is doing, an average Igbo man always think about himself, but Dr. Aniebonam is a different person, he is a fighter and that is the kind of person I want. When I started having crisis in the National Council of Managing Directors, I did not just leave the association, there was no leadership in the Council, I was the one taking leadership in the association, everybody was fighting me, even when I said I am resigning from Council, they refused to take my resignation letter, it was Dr, Aniebonam that advised me to take my resignation to the Commissioner of Police.
Do you have any regrets so far?
I have no regrets joining NAGAFF, in fact what some customs officer are saying is that I am taking over from Dr. Aniebonam and that was why I joined NAGAFF, maybe it is because of my character, it is inbuilt as a union man, I am a unionist. Even when I contested and I lost, people said it was because they don’t want an Hausa man, but I don’t see it that way, I still continued. We don’t need to say because Dr. Aniebonam has exited NAGAFF then nobody is there to carry on, we still have millions like Dr Aniebonam in NAGAFF who will carry on, he has done the best he can for us, it is left for us, we the young ones to carry on, and we are preparing for that, so there is no single regret.