When he requested to use this platform to wrap- up his long campaign for the chairmanship of the Tin can Island chapter of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents, it suddenly occurred to me that it would be the first time since October 29, 2007 when this paper and indeed, this column made its debut that it would be used for that kind of purpose. I thought that it was very thoughtful and strategic for us and for him; to use one stone to kill two birds. And after the deliberately brief chat, I had no reason to doubt that Kayode Farinto who clearly represents a new generation of freight forwarders will be a very successful chairman if voted-in this week. I unequivocally endorse him.
Can you do a brief introduction of yourself?
My names are Farinto Kayode Collins, I am a professional freight forwarder and I am the CEO of Wealthy Honey Investment Nigeria Limited. I have been in the business of clearing for about two decades. We are diversifying these days into areas of logistics, energy and so on. Freight forwarding is encompassing, but what people know in Nigeria is just clearing and forwarding and we are used to using that word, but I know that am a professional freight forwarder.
You once wrote a book titled: Who am I? What informed the idea of writing a book?
I actually had problems getting a title for that book, but having thought about a lot of things and considering the erroneous impression which the society has about our profession and about us generally and I looked at myself and ask the question as regards my role in the society and my profession and whether we are actually having any important role in the economy of this country? I just sat down and concluded that I need to think about who I am in this country and who a freight forwarder is in the economy of this country and that brought about the title of the book. It does not have anything to do with religion or thing in that neighbourhood, if you look at it, I wrote about revenue generation and trade facilitation. So that is what brought about the title: ‘Who am I’.
There are a lot of young men who roam around the port vicinity claiming to be clearing agents, but who need assistance and direction. Why is this so?
There are two basic things; the first is poverty. A lot of them are in his condition be cause of the state of the nation’s economy, some of them come around because their parents can not assist them, maybe they don’t want to continue their education or they cannot afford to go further, so they just think that the best thing to do is to come into the industry and practice clearing and forwarding. This class of people will do anything for a living. There is the other class of people who actually do not have the problem of their parents sponsoring them in school or continuing their education but because they want the money and the only place they think that they can get this money is the maritime industry, so they want to come and join us in the name of being a clearing and forwarding agent. That is why we have problems here and there in the ports, we have noticed a rise in sharp practices; there are lots of vices that are being perpetrated all over the place, it is disturbing. Young ambitious ones come in and they become so impatient. But we can not condemn or crucify them on account of that because they are the leaders of tomorrow, but I believe that if they are re-orientated and properly tutored about the profession, they will be better off.
The access roads into the ports; especially leading to Tin Can port is in a very terrible state, how are freight forwarders coping?
There is no country in the world that toys with good access roads to the ports, because we all know the importance of the ports to every country. Even neighbouring countries like Benin Republic and Ivory Coast do not play with the access roads into their ports; they have damn good access roads, it is very unfortunate that in Nigeria our federal government is paying lip service to road maintenance. I think, after oil, the maritime industry comes second in the area of revenue generation, so I see no reason why the federal government cannot be serious about the access roads in the ports. It takes a minimum of one hour to drive from mile two to Tin Can first gate and about 40 minutes to drive from first gate to PTML. That is what we are going through. Almost every week, we see containers fall off trucks on the access roads; just last week a container fell on a Customs officer and the officer died, also about two weeks ago, a container fell on one clearing agent. We record these things on a daily basis, and it is very disheartening. In my personally capacity, I have written several letters to the managing director of Nigerian Ports Authourity. NPA does not to have any excuse not to repair these access roads; it will not take up to three or four million Naira to repair them. After the repairs, they can now say, okay the truck owners should pay for it or even privatize the access roads, it is allowed and it’s a welcome idea. The roads should be tarred and fitted with street lights so that vandals and thieves will have no hiding place. That is why I am saying that the managing director of NPA should either resign or do something about that road.
Some freight forwarders’ group have gone ahead to endorse collection of wharf landing fees by the Lagos state government, what is your take on this?
I have been a member of ANLCA for about 15 years, but, I look at wharf landing fees as another way of extorting Nigerians, how can you tax goods on which duty and other revenues have already been paid. Duties and other levies on these goods have actually been paid before their release. It is only the federal government that has the soul responsibility to charge Nigerians this kind of levy, so what the Lagos state government wants to collect is illegal, but, they want to legitimize it. Personally, I will make sure that I fight this issue to the end. I am very sure it is not the national body of my association, ANLCA that is involved; maybe it’s a chapter or zone. But it is wrong. When I took Lagos state to court over the issue, I never did it in isolation, I wrote to my national president who is aware of it and I also briefed the board of trustees of our association and I was given the go – ahead to do it.
You are nursing the ambition of becoming the next chairman of Tin Can Island port chapter of ANLCA, What informed this decision?
I have served in many positions in ANLCA, I have been a secretary of Tin Can Island port chapter, I was once the chairman of committee on shipping agents and terminal operators, I was once a member of the association’s presidential task force. So, I looked at my chapter and saw that a lot of things are actually wrong, so I decided that the best thing is to offer myself for service so that I will be able to correct these wrongs. For instance, if you look at operations in the ports presently, a lot of things are not done well and this is not supposed to be so. It is because qualitative leadership is lacking, I am not referring to leadership from the perspective of an individual, I look at leadership in two perspectives: you can not put a round peg in a square hole or put a square peg in a round hole and expect performance. I don’t want to castigate anybody, but I look at it as a situation where the outgoing executives have finished their tenure and I looked around me that who can actually lead us and I became convinced that the best thing is to offer myself to serve the association in the capacity of chairman. Even, before now, I have been doing more than the work of the chairman, because on daily basis, people troop into my office with one problem or the other, and I have been doing my best to proffer solution and assistance. In a way, it’s like I want to legitimise what I have been doing.
In specifics, what are you offering members of ANLCA in your chapter if you win?
I have a lot of programmes, the first thing is to re-orientate our members, we need to reform our self because there are young ones who are coming into the profession, we need to re-orientate them and let them know that freight forwarding is a good profession. We need to let them know that freight forwarding is not a last option and that they should guide the profession jealously. Once that is done, we will now be able to correct the erroneous impression that the society as a whole has about us, our profession and our personality. After this, we will go into areas of empowerment to make sure that more young freight forwarders who actually have the knowledge and interests are empowered by making sure that two or three of them come together and obtain professional licenses. The problem we have in that area is that there is not adequate sensitization and proper information is not disseminated; people believe that you need millions of Naira to get a license. We will let them know that with as little as N70, 000 you can be registered at the Corporate Affairs Commission as a corporate entity, after which you can go ahead and apply for your license, once the chapter chairman recommends, it is done and we know what to put together to get the licenses, that is in the area of empowerment. The other area we will look into is the access roads; in fact I have given myself a target of 90 days if elected to make sure that the access roads into Tin Can are tarred and I will not mind where or what it will take me, I will go as far as the Presidency to expose what is happening on our access roads. Already, I have this compilation of what has been happening on our access roads. I have documentary evidence of accidents, with pictures and other evidences to convince the world that the access roads need urgent attention and I am sure that within 90 days, it will be addressed. The order area is customs- agents relationship, we are going to work harmoniously together with whoever is the area controller to make sure that our rights are not trampled upon and also to make them know that we are in the era of e-payment, there is need for us to facilitate trade, we are no longer in the era when a customs officer will lock somebody’s SGD in his drawer and proceed on vacation. An example of this happened about two weeks ago when a customs officer locked an SGD in her drawer and went to the USA. I personally took it upon myself and went to the CAC and there and then he issued the officer a query. This is the kind of leadership that I want to offer to my people. Haven said that we will also look into the area of shipping companies and terminal operators’ charges. You will recall that about six or seven months ago, the minister of transport set up a committee to look into the area of shipping companies and terminal operators charges, we submitted a memorandum and the federal government has actually directed that most of these charges be stopped, but up till now nobody has done anything, because of maybe some people are gaining from it and that is why they are shying away from their duty, we are going to make sure that this issue is addressed once and for all. Lastly, we will make sure that NPA tells Nigerians the details of the memorandum of understanding which it signed with the terminal operators and that is why we are begging the National Assembly to pass the new NPA bill into law. The ports have been sold; some are on lease, while some are on Build Operate and Transfer (BOT). During the era when NPA was in charge of the terminal operations, there was what we call simplified tariffs or charges on containers, general goods and vehicles in the ports, but now, shipping companies just wake up and arbitrarily increase their rates and nobody challenges them. By the grace of God, if I am elected as chairman of my chapter, you will come and tell me why you must charge my members arbitrarily. I told the members of the House committee that came here last week that in the whole world, Italians have the highest number of public holidays and you dare not charge them for public holidays, but it is happening in Nigeria; at PTML, they are charging our members on public holidays, Saturdays and Sundays, it is very bad. Unfortunately you will see that the chairman of the PTML and that of some of these shipping companies are elites and senators. We need more of dialogue than confrontation, but where it is necessary for us to confront them, we will do so.
Do you agree that ANLCA is polarised along ethnic lines?
Yes, I agree and it is very disheartening and that is why we have not had good leadership in a couple of years, because of tribal sentiments. It is very saddening that as big as ANLCA is, it’s polarized along ethnic lines, but the good news is that some of us are actually coming together now to say: No! to the issue of tribal sentiments in ANLCA politics and I know that by the time we come out with a blue print on how to tackle the issue, that we are going to make sure that it is enshrined in our constitution that tribal sentiments are not allowed in ANLCA politics because, it is not allowing us to have credible and qualitative leadership and our members are suffering for it, it is very bad. Yes I agree with you that it is polarized along ethnic lines, but we are definitely doing something about it.
I want o wish you well in the elections and In hope that you will keep your promises, once elected?
Thank you very much. I appreciate your goodwill and I assure you and most especially, members of ANLCA that I remain committed to the ideals of our association and I reiterate that the conviction to serve in the capacity of chairman is borne out concern for a better today and tomorrow for our association. We must get out of the shackle of. Yes, we can.