"Politics in ANLCA has not affected my business in anyway, if I am given more responsibilities, I am ready to take it on"
Prince Segun Oduntan is the Tin Can Port chapter Chairman of Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA). He is also the chairman of Settle Systems Nigeria Limited. In this interview with Shipping Position Daily Correspondent; Dapo Olawuni, he talked about the challenges confronting customs licensed agents at Tin Can Island Command of Customs. Top among them is the hacking of passwords belonging to agents and customs officers. He also revealed how he has been able to marry his duties as a chapter Chairman with being the Chief executive of his clearing and forwarding company.
"If we (clearing agents) have not been compliant, it would have been hard for customs to collect the revenue’’
The Customs has said that it did well in 2017 by surpassing its revenue target; can we say agents are also doing well?
You should know that licensed customs agents are always working out their best for the Customs to surpass their revenue, we are the ones that bring the revenue, it is about the giver, the depositor that would be considered first, maybe the receiver can now take second, you should know that if we have not been compliant, it would have been hard for customs to collect the revenue, we are talking to our members from time to time, the level of compliance has risen and we are collaborating with the Customs as the foremost licensed customs agents association. We talk to our people always and we let them know why their level of compliance has to increase, so for customs to have recorded this achievement, I think my president, Prince Olayiwola Shittu deserves an award.
However, for an average licensed customs agents, despite the ban on some trade items, the agents being true Nigerians have come to identify with the new order of things in this government and we want to continue to be in business with peace, at least on the government side, we can see that the dollar rate has been steady for now, we have all paid the sacrifice for the new reform of the Federal government, so we are doing fine and hoping that tomorrow would be better, whatever sacrifices we made today is for the betterment of Nigeria and Nigeria is more than anybody.
Five Star Logistics have complained that about 3,500 vehicles are currently trapped inside its terminal, is it that the vehicles were not compliant?
The issue with those vehicles is that most of them are from Cotonou, they are the ones being transferred here, the duty and value that the importers were projecting to pay over there is not what they are finding here, but we have been trying to talk to them that, whatever you buy is what you sell, we have charged them to come forward and collect their vehicles, if they need assistance in terms of waiver in demurrage, we would approach our secretariat and would be there to assist them, we are also talking to the Customs commands wherever they can be of assistance.
How have you been able to combine the responsibility of delivering as a chapter Chairman and also managing your company; Settle Systems?
I am now over 50years old and if you look at the society today, you would still see people that are 10 years younger than I am and they are having offices in and around Nigeria and abroad, so there is nothing that I am doing that is different, the only thing I have been able to do is being able to trust people, work as a team, you as the head is just like a team leader, you must always listen to advise and the sky is the limit, when you decide to sit down, and you have capable hands and you can trust and work with people, you would not have problems. Even here that I am as the sitting chairman of ANLCA today, I had to tell the executives that the terminals under us should be shared among them, I also have coordinators in each of those terminals in order to ensure a two-way communication, so what we only do is to sit down, relate, ask questions and exchange ideas.
Politics in ANLCA has not affected my business in anyway, if I am given more responsibilities, I am ready to take it on, this is the profession that made me, it is the profession I have used to train all my children to more than university level, so I am ready at anytime for higher responsibilities and it is not going to be any different.
What is the greatest operational challenge agents are facing at Tin Can Port?
Apart from the issue of the bad access road which is a general problem for all port users, Tin Can port is known for vehicles, people bring in vehicles to join with loads in a container, Tin Can is peculiar about something, all the things that are not in Apapa, PTML are all at Tin Can, even the Customs headquarters know that for you to be an Area Controller at Tin Can, you must be compliant and disciplined, you must be up and doing, so even at the Customs headquarters, they don't just post anybody to tin can port command, so the same way in ANLCA, for anybody to be chairman of Tin Can Port, you must be disciplined, you must have the wherewithal, you must be a team leader that would be able to listen, so whatever criteria being put in place at the Customs headquarters is also what ANLCA look for in anybody that wants to be a chairman of Tin Can chapter.
So, in terms of challenges, our major problem is alerts placed on cargoes by the custom, initially we discussed with the Area Controller being an IT person, we asked him that how do we centralise the alerts and minimize it, and by the time the Controller said that every alert should come to his table, and with this, I believe that things are improving. The Federal Government has ordered shipping companies to relocate their holding bays outside of port area, is it working?
It can work only if they are going to be holistic about it, it's not enough to just issue out an order, it is about carrying out that order and implementing it to the letter. As we speak now, these shipping companies have not complied, they still have their holding bays around the port, also the trucks and the rickety ones are still very much on the port’s access road.But I believe we would get there gradually because accessibility to the port is gradually becoming better.
Tin Can port has recently recorded hacking of passwords belonging to agents and customs, has this been resolved?
When this issue started occurring, we went to the customs to report it, they would always tell us that it is our staff that is perpetrating it, but when they begin to see that passwords belonging to even their officers were being hacked, they started to look at it seriously.
The genesis of password hacking started because of these Cotonou vehicles, what customs was supposed to have done is to create a platform or a window for owners of these vehicles to clear them, it shouldn't have been a blanket ban, the extension given at that time was not even enough, so all the people that have made investments to import from Cotonou are looking for ways to get their vehicles and sell it, this is the genesis of hacking, and you know if there is no seller, there would not be a buyer, when the pressure was high, we began to see these issues of hacking. However we are still on them and we would get to the root of it, there is an ongoing training and retraining of it.
The Customs should also be ready to collaborate with us, because we have so far collaborated with them, on the issue of PAAR, they told us that once a PAAR is issued, it would ease many of the problems in clearing, they did not tell us it would lead to alerts and issues of undervalue. What we have today is that customs would issue the PAAR; they would also be the one to query it. As we are talking to our members, customs should also sensitize their men, we cannot do it alone.
As for those passwords that were hacked and customs have blocked the licenses, I am appealing to the Customs to go to the profile of the license and the history of how it was used to clear cargoes, some of these corporate licenses do not clear vehicles, but suddenly you see that they have been used to capture about 100 vehicles to the tune of N200million, customs should be able to release these licenses because ordinarily the owner of the license does not do vehicle clearing, and everyone knows that with the system at Tin Can port now, you cannot underpay anything and go scot-free. All the people that their licenses were blocked because of hacking of passwords should be cleared and released by Customs.