‘’Cargoes are being over-valued by Customs officers in their quest to meet revenue target’’
Founder of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF); Dr. Boniface Aniebonam in this no-holds-barred interview with Shipping Position Daily correspondent Dapo Olawuni said that although the Minister of Transportation; Mr Rotimi Amaechi has what it takes to ensure collect the Practitioners Operations Fee (POF) by the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarders of Nigeria (CRFFN), the Minister however does not understand what the CRFFN is all about. He also exposed the various tricks which customs officers are using to fleece freight forwarders; one of them is over-valuation of imported cargoes. He talked about many issues.
"Nomination form into the chapter executives of NAGAFF, the chairman alone is N500,000 and you can see how people are struggling to go there"
Following the serial importation of arms into Nigeria, would you say that Cargo Tracking Note (CTN) should be re-introduced?
The Cargo Tracking Note (CTN) is not in force, it stopped, but stakeholders are of the view that if we must look at the issue of compliance, CTN is very important, if we must resolve issues of false declarations and wrong description of imports and issue of weight of cargo, the CTN is very important. But then, the shippers are questioning the cost of doing so, but those who are in charge of the implementation of CTN are not father Christmas, but because it is important in the importation of cargo we have to look at administrative cost, other than economic cost, this is very important.
If it were in force, would it have stopped arms import into the country?
Of course, it is not that it would stop it completely, but it would reduce all these infractions that are avoidable to the barest minimum.
The shippers are saying that Nigeria is losing N1trillion to cargo diversion, how true is this claim?
One thing you should know is that we are not good in data, so anybody could get up and say whatever he wants to say, nobody has actually sat down to look at the cost implication of all these negative vices, but I think it is important that government should verify. Cargo diversion is criminal in shipping operations, the contract of carriage is definitive, if you ship your cargo from Hamburg in Germany for Apapa port, that is where the cargo would land, however if on the road, you decided to do something contrary, that is criminal, this was exactly what happened with those importation of firearms. From what the Customs CG said, the cargo originated from Turkey, but when they got to Morocco, the manifest changed, in customs operations, there is what we call 'manifest fraud' and this is what happened. By the time the shipping company did trans-shipment to Nigeria, the manifest changed and this is not supposed to be.
Despite bad roads, Customs are making staggering revenue, is it the same with the freight forwarders?
It is not the same, the freight forwarders are completely down, they have nothing to show for all their efforts in terms of what gets to their pockets. In the aspect of Customs duties, so many factors and variables are involved, first is the exchange rate which is quite high, if the exchange rate is high, duty is calculated based on cost, insurance and freight, this is why the revenue is high. Also, over-valuation of imports is one major problem in customs operations; goods are being over-valued in the quest to meet their target and this is not good for trade. Also on alerts placed on cargoes, the position of NAGAFF is very clear, what we are saying is that the alerts should be coordinated. Presently, we have valuation alert, CIU alert, Asycuda Project Manager alert, exit gate alerts and so many others. At the end of the day it does not replicate in the output; for example if you go to the Federal Operations Unit, you would see a lot of cargoes that have been seized, in order words, the alerts has not added any value.
How has the Apapa bad roads affected your operations and do you see a way out in the NPA, Lagos government's current efforts?
On the issue of the bad roads, we have written a letter, asking President Muhammadu Buhari to personally visit the port and see things by himself. The port is strategic to the growth of the economy, it is a cash cow area; apart from the oil sector, so why are we not getting it right? The road did not start spoiling in one day.
The efforts by NPA and the Lagos State Government are just an intervention and this is what they should do, the bottom line is for them to get the roads fixed. Government would not tell you that they would not intervene; if they do that, then it means we don't have a government again. The Wharf Landing Fee is still money that is being collected at the port, so we expect some of these interventions to come from the Lagos state government to pay back what they are getting from the roads. The SON recently raised alarm that made-in-Nigeria cables are being cloned, how culpable are freight forwarders and clearing agents in this?
The freight forwarder has an advisory role and constitutionally, they are to report incidents that are not in conformity with set standards, but when they fail to do this, then there is some level of connivance, just like the other government agencies that tend to connive and cheat the government, they were under oath to serve and protect, it is a general malaise, this is not the time to single out any person, it is a system collapse and corruption, and this was why Nigerians voted Mr President, not because he belonged to APC, but because of his integrity and person.
It is most unfortunate that the SON is one agency that is most misunderstood, we are worried about importation of arms, but there are other imports which relate to the SON, and are more dangerous than arms import, non-conformity to standards is destroying and killing a greater number of Nigerians.
Are you satisfied with the level of compliance?
Within the limited resources we have at NAGAFF, you would agree with me that we are educating and sensitising the stakeholders, it is a humongous amount of money, more so now that POF is not being collected, there is nowhere we are getting more to do all these. Education and enlightenment is very critical and I guess the NPA, Shippers’ Council, Customs and SON all have that duty to create a platform where government is taken to the people, when government is understood, some of these problems would be resolved, this falls majorly on the Shippers’ Council and I am happy that we have had a discussion with the Executive Secretary of Shippers’ Council on the need to move out to Onitsha, Nnewi, Ibadan, Kano, Kaduna, among others where activities are going on, so as to educate and enlighten people, it is not just about Customs seizing cargoes, there are lots of people who do these things without knowing what it is. Do you think the Transport Minister has what it takes to collect the POF?
What differentiates you and I from the government is the coercive force of the government, it is either the transport ministry doesn’t know what the whole thing is all about or they do not have a grasp of what CRFFN is set to achieve. In NAGAFF's summation during the public hearing, we are agitating that CRFFN should be removed from under Ministry of Transportation to the Ministry of Trade and Investment; freight forwarders are very strategic in port operations, in cargo movement, they are the artery of the economy.The Minister has what it takes to collect the POF, but he does not understand what the whole thing is all about.
ANLCA is in court over POF, why are the associations not resolving this on a round table and out of court?
This is what I was referring to as coercive powers of the government, anybody can go to court, are you saying that if I go to court now that Buhari should no longer be the President of Nigeria, then he would stop working? If I go to Customs and say that Customs should stop working then they would not do their work again? So their going to court should not stop the Minister from implementing approved standards, you cannot stop the government from performing its statutory duties until the court says otherwise, right now the court has not said anything so what is the matter?
We have gone past that stage of seating at a round table, it is not working, and this was why the government had to come in and wield the big stick, this is why we have a government, and those who rushed to court, till now the court has not said anything, it seems to me that the transport ministry doesn’t really understand what the CRFFN is set to achieve. On the issue of ‘the declarant’, we are struggling that the declarant must be a natural person so that you can give him integrity, the other part is that the customs recognises only corporate bodies, and people are hiding under this to commit fraud.
I know that one day, ANLCA people will come to understand what we are saying, because it seems they lack knowledge. The president of ANLCA, whom I know is an informed person, is not being allowed to operate, people like Farinto and others are dying in silence, they know what NAGAFF is talking about, but the structure in ANLCA does not allow them to explode and get things done, but time will tell.
NAGAFF elections is coming again, what is your message to the contestants?
We are building a new concept of freight forwarding business. At this moment, for you to contest election in NAGAFF at that executive level, you must be a certified professional; a minimum of a certificate course in freight forwarding, port administration or logistics must have been acquired, it is from there you would advance and move higher, the condition for anybody to contest election in NAGAFF today is your academic background, if you don't have that, there must be an evidence that you are in school. Freight forwarding is an international business and we don't want a situation whereby we send you to represent us abroad and you don't know what they are talking about. A freight forwarder is an all-round person and this is what ANLCA people have failed to understand, but the good news now is that ANLCA’s President Shittu is now on the quiet side, I don't know what will happen to ANLCA if Shittu leaves because he enjoys a lot of goodwill.
What is the idea behind elders’ forum created by NAGAFF recently?
There are people that actually started NAGAFF, I am also a member of the elders’ forum, these were the people we started together 17 years ago, today we are trying to move up the young ones who are freight forwarders to take over responsibility, and you can see the hype now in NAGAFF, nomination form into the chapter executives of NAGAFF, the chairman alone is N500,000 and you can see how people are struggling to go there, but they must all have academic background because we are building standard.