“While I was trying to establish NAGAFF at PTML, ANLCA took offence and hired thugs to attack me”
Chief Increase Uche is the acting President of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF). In his first all-inclusive interview since he mounted the saddle, he took Shipping Position Daily reporter; Anozie Egole into the world of NAGAFF. Displaying total understanding of the philosophy of his association, he shared his thoughts about the maritime industry. He also touched on the controversial Practitioners Operations Fees and the NAGAFF/ANLCA relationship “I don’t see anything wrong in the ports operating 24 hours”
Before becoming the acting President of NAGAFF, how would you describe yourself? Yes, the current Uche Increase has been in the industry, although I was not operating in Lagos, I was operating in Kwara state. I came into Lagos in the mid 1990’s during the issue of pre-shipment inspection racketeering. I have been operating as a freight forwarder presumably as a customs agent in those days and we have been operating before I came to Lagos. I became a member of NAGAFF fully in 2001 because we have been following trends. I have been following the waves that NAGAFF was making from 1998 till it was established. What actually attracted me to NAGAFF was NAGAFF Academy; the institution was already in existence then. So I enrolled in that academy and from there I started climbing as NAGAFF Vice Chairman in Tin-Can; three times Vice chairman, from there I became the national trade facilitation committee chairman and then, head, anti-corruption vanguard and so on. From there I rose to the position of a PRO, then again I became the secretary general. After that, I went back as the chairman of PTML, in-fact I was the local founder of PTML. Because I can still remember the crucible I passed through when I was trying to get NAGAFF rooted in PTML. But I succeeded to become the secretary general, before coming back to headquarters to the current position I am now as deputy president and the acting President of NAGAFF.
What were the challenges you faced when establishing NAGAFF in PTML? As at that time, ANLCA was holding sway. Between early 2007, PTML was still under Tin-Can Island ports by then at Tin Can Customs command before it was pronounced an independent command. So administratively, both NAGAFF and ANLCA were still running the two commands as one chapter but we were fast in trying to separate the two. So I happened to be the pioneer chairman. While I was trying to do that, ANLCA took offence and then hired thugs to attack me. So that was what I went through.
As the acting president of NAGAFF, how would you describe the association?The association is what it has been from the onset. Because why we came in was to enthrone professionalism and that was what we started from the very first day and we have not deviated from that. We have been doing that through our advocacy role and through our consistency in championing the course of CRFFN which is the only reformed benefit that accrue to freight forwarders. But unfortunately, some of us that are conservatives are yet to key in, that is why we are telling people; those that are not freight forwarders to understand that we don’t have customs brokerage for now in Nigeria.
Would you say that there is a difference between NAGAFF and other clearing agents?There is a very big difference; NAGAFF is an umbrella body of all professional freight forwarding bodies in Nigeria; that is one difference. We have been the only body that is trying all our best putting all the resources we have to ensure that the industry is fully professionalized. We are making our members to key into global best practices, now even some of things that we have tried to introduce because in the early 2000 when we tried to tell people the need to support trade facilitation, liberation and partnership and also how to key into latest innovation and trends in global best practices, no agency of the government understood what we were saying. But recently particularly, after the Berlin Conference of 2013, all these issues are coming up, even at the customs. You can see they are now trying to train and sensitize people on trade facilitation.
What did you meet on ground upon assuming office as the acting president? Before we came in, you know we were inaugurated the same day; the late president and I. So what we inherited was the same NAGAFF, the situation was the same. So what we met in NAGAFF was an arrangement whereby we needed to consolidate and advance the cause. The past president actually tried. Everything was okay we have to start from where they stopped.
As the acting president what are your challenges and limitations?Well our limitations are, if you look at the industry today, one is the CRFFN body that is not fully functional now because all our hope is that with the CRFFN in place, by now we would have gone far. We are supposed to be well recognized like other professionals but the freight forwarding business as it is today is not how it is supposed to be. We will continue to remain under-developed until the CRFFN is allowed to work to some extent. For now the main thing is for us to move forward that is the way I am looking at it.CRFFN must be seen to be performing to the fullest. Once it is operational, every other arrangement will follow suit. For it to remain as it is now, particularly on the issue of the amendment of the bill is giving us serious problem because it is not freight forwarders that actually initiated that. We are beginning to see the hands of the government in the entire thing. But for us, we are in court for the same issue for which the CRFFN Act is being proposed for amendment. But be it as it may, we are not totally against any amendment but for the simple fact that the Act was not actually tried and tested fully before going for the arrangement that is our anger. And we say that those who asked for the amendment did not have any consultations with the actual practitioners. That was the area we were not so happy about, so what we did was when that came up, we protested. But now I think everything is going on well with the CRFFN Act. As soon as the bill is amended, we will have a new face of the council so we can take it up from there.The other challenges I think are the ones I met on ground that we are trying to manage and that is the state of the ports and the access roads. Look at the uncertainty in the industry, how terminal operators will arbitrarily increase charges; shipping companies doing the same. Then we are looking at it from the angle that what we are seeing today was not what we were told. We were assured that before the concessioning exercise in 2006 everything was going to be better; that the ports will be user friendly, cost of doing business will go down and there will be efficiency in operations. But for now we have not seen those things. The worrisome aspects of the whole thing is that even the economic regulator that government tried to bring in midway when the concessionaires had already started holding sway. But we thank God today that Shippers’ Council as they transmute to National Transport Commission, they will be able to address the anomalies because the situation we are seeing today is not good for business.
How prepared are you to handle the affairs of NAGAFF as its substantive president?I think I can boast to have the experience needed because I started from the scratch. I am a career freight forwarder. By qualification I should claim credit that I have all it takes to head this association. I am a trained administrator; I have the requisite qualification both internationally and locally. I am registered with so many freight forwarding bodies. So anything that has to do with freight forwarding I have them at my fingertips. So I am prepared as far as I am trained by NAGAFF because I started from their academy, I know all the tenets and mind sets of all the founding fathers of NAGAFF. I know where we are going, so the shoe is not too big for me.
Why is NAGAFF seen to be supporting the minister on the issue of collection of POF? POF collection is not an issue at all, so far as nobody tasks me to bring it from my salary. If it is to be collected from cargo like that way it is patterned, I don’t have any issue against it, let the government go on and source money to manage the council. We need money to run the council in training of freight forwarders. So people who are saying that the money should not be collected, I don’t think that is their primary job to contest. What I am looking at is what will bring about professionalism; give me enabling environment for me to do my business. What you are paying on container at terminal operation level is progressive charges, but POF is not a progressive charge it is constant. And that money is meant to develop the freight forwarding sector and people are saying that they are against it. But some group of people have been collecting this money without accounting for it all these years.
Since ANLCA and NAGAFF are taking different directions in this POF collection matter, what becomes of ANLCA/NAGAFF Initiative (ANI)? The ANI is a separate body when it comes to position on policy issues. We are using ANI to pursue a separate agenda but when it comes to policies of this nature we are entitled to our opinions. NAGAFF is entitled to tow another lane while ANLCA is entitled to follow a different part.
How prepared is NAGAFF in the coming election into the governing council of CRFFN? We are prepared any day they call for the election, we will roll out our drums, we will bring our members that are interested in contesting and we will contest. We are very ready any day they want the election.
Where is NAGAFF in the categorization practitioners association under CRFFN?Yes that is the professionalism that we are trying to enthrone. You know some of the reforms that have been coming into the industry are being introduced by NAGAFF. What we mean by categorization is a very simple- if you look at the USA setting in the industry, they are trying to recognize custom brokerage and freight forwarding and have a common body called, Customs Brokerage and Freight Forwarding Association. That is how it is registered with FIATA. We want Nigeria to replicate what is done in advanced countries so that those who are clamouring and contesting that they are not freight forwarders will be able to understand customs brokerage where it exists; although it does not exist in Nigeria. Custom brokers are professionals trained and certified and licensed by USA laws. So the government of America allows that for the local content to thrive. In the sense that the customs brokers in the USA are indigenes, foreigners are not allowed to come in there. Because they know it is an integral part of freight forwarding. Foreigners could come to Nigeria to practice freight forwarding; receiving and sending their cargos here, that one is allowed but when you talk of brokerage, which means there is no interference from foreigners, that is how it is separated. The both of them are recognized, that is why you see here in Nigeria that customs brokers are not even restricting themselves to customs formalities only, they still involve themselves in other freight forwarding aspects of the cargo chain and nobody is querying that. Why a freight forwarder will render those services that are needed both internationally and locally and still obtain license to go into the domestic aspects of freight forwarding. So we want the categorization whereby the government will understand that we need to separate. But it is always individuals, when you talk of individuals; companies may be registered as a custom licensed agent here in Nigeria. And once that agent is licensed, the individual that is declared for that company should equally be licensed and given password. Right now we are seeking that this custom license now be administrative. Because once it is administrative, the issue of who is a declarant will be very clear in the sense that globally we have what is called the triangle of cargo declaration. Under that we have the individual who is automatically seen as the declarant, and then we have the company that the individual is working for that company is called the declaring agent. Then we have the importer which we referred to as the declaring entity. If we keep compounding them that way we cannot sanitize the system. For now in CRFFN, you will register your company as an individual. Here custom license only corporate bodies which is very wrong. No custom broker carries out only customs formality here; they still involve themselves in other aspects of freight forwarding. That is why we are talking about categorization, so that all those small associations can come under NAGAFF. EDITOR’S NOTEThis interview was conducted before Mr Increase Uche was confirmed as the substantive President of NAGAFF last Thursday.