Quite sincerely, Mr Lucky Eyis Amiwero is an intelligent person. He represents different things to different people. After leaving ANLCA almost 11 years ago and after contesting and losing in what he called a questionable election into the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in 2008, he distanced himself from his colleagues in other associations It was the recent strike that was embarked upon by licensed customs agents that brought him into limelight again. He told me that the country’s economy would be better- off without port concessionaires. He also spoke on many issues ranging from destination inspection to port congestion and to various battles that he is currently fighting.
The concession is not having any regulator, nobody regulates the bonded warehouse operators, the shipping companies and the concessionaires
Performance of the sector so far?
The performance so far is that we are still not having any respite; we just finished a three – day withdrawal of service due to the manipulations, illegalities and impositions of providers of shipping services in the maritime sector such as the concessionaires, shipping companies and providers of transport services.
Do you foresee a repeat of 2008?
We are having a repeat already, if we don’t have serious government intervention from the presidency and the ministry of transport, if we continue to play the same politics of manipulation by the agencies, we will continue to experience what we experienced in 2008.
A lot of people have said often times that the problems persist because licensed customs agents engage in insincere declarations
I don’t know what they call insincere declaration, I think people have to look at the law; the law is very clear, you have destination inspection system which allows for discrepancies and ones you allow for any discrepancies, it means that if there is any thing that is questionable, then you issue a demand note. What are you talking about licensed customs agents having penchant for insincerity, because the law allows it, the law says if there is any discrepancies, you should issue a demand notice; that is what the import guidelines stipulates and that is why it has been deficient. The immediate past Comptroller General, Customs (Hamman Bello Ahmed) did not understand what he was doing. I am telling you this as a member of the road map committee on destination inspection. What we noticed is that most of the assessments that are being done by these service providers are blind assessments because they don’t see the goods; what they do is to access on paper and if you access on paper, then you must have problems when you want to look at the goods physically. You must know that destination inspection is an off-shoot of pre-shipment inspection; it is not the Customs and Excise Management Act. Even in that pre-shipment inspection, if there is any discrepancy, a demand notice should be issued, that is when form101 should be issued. If your consignment is supposed to be 100cartons and you have 250 cartons in the container then, they issue a demand notice, if the consignment is suppose to be clock and you see tomatoes, you issue a demand notice to cover it and that is what the law says; its not CEMA, it does not have anything to do with CEMA, CEMA is an outdated law.
All those things were lifted from the old law of CEMA; CEMA has not gone through amendments apart from minor amendments like Acts 20 of 2003 and some few amendments that have been made. But the CEMA itself has not gone through any structural amendment; it has been the same Act and the same CEMA. How can you be quoting a 1958 document to represent an import procedure of 2008 and 2009, that is the truth about it and that is what we said. Put a law on ground so that the law will take care of the case. I think the Nigeria Customs Service should be pro-active enough by trying to see how it can amend this law to suit most of the conditions today. What we are operating now is electronic system and the Kyoto convention is very clear on that, the Kyoto convention says that if you want to operate an electronic- driven system, you just have to change your paper based law to be in line with electronic system. For instance, in CEMA you don’t have what they call Cotecna, in CEMA you are talking about management on paper but management now is being transferred electronically, so where do you have that in CEMA? CEMA is in contradiction with the new import guideline and the procedures. The Customs Service is lazy; the service should go back to the drawing board and start to think about what to do.
It does appear that you are arguing that destination inspection has failed?
The truth about it is that destination inspection has not failed, it is the best thing that can happen to any country, it is only being mismanaged in Nigeria and that is why we have written to the National Assembly that they should review the process. There are three things that are technically defecting, for instance they are talking about RAR, what is RAR? If RAR is not going to work why don’t you scarp it and allow Customs to do their job, you are talking about scanning, if it’s not bringing out the best result, we should look at it and see how we can review the whole thing, we are talking about Web Fontaine, and the DTI has not progressed. These are the short falls, the connectivity is not working, there is systemic collapse, there are many impediments to the system, the concept, the design, the technical structure and foundation have some defects and these are the things that we asked the government to review for the children yet un-born. Under the arrangement, the service providers are expected to transfer them to Customs after seven years and we have spent almost four years, so they have three years to go and are you sure that Customs is ready to take over those things? And what is the plan of Customs, do they have a team that will be able to take over from these people, are they going to be using RAR? These are the things that need planning, but Custom is not planning anything, they are still working with these people and tomorrow those people are going to tell you that they want an extension of seven years.
So what should be done?
Customs should start to work towards knowing the job. They look at us and call us so many names as agents, but I want to tell you that most of the things they are benefiting come from the agents. Agents are the ones that write to the government and make noise and these things are taking place, I think the customs now should be proactive and try to do these things in a proper way.
Was there no other option than the recent withdrawal of service by licensed customs agents?
There was no other option, because the truth about it is that these multi-nationals are manipulating everything. They have taken over the maritime family, about 90 percent of the people around you are white men, the white men have taken over the whole industry and that is what they can not allow in their own place. I was browsing the internet recently and I stumbled on the fact that the Americans have what they call Federal Maritime Commission which regulates the maritime industry in the USA in terms of charges and all the rest, there is the China Shipping decree in China that regulates all these things, but in our own country, we do not have any regulator or controller, so you find out that concessionaires like APM Terminal have actually overloaded the industry with high port charges. For instance, you are telling me that my country should be paying =N=12,000 in a day, these are people who probably have not even finished paying their own concession fees; =N=12,000 in a day! Where do you have that in the world? They are charging terminal handling charges on everything and you will find out that most of all the bonded terminal are working for APM Terminals, for every transfer that is done, APM is making up to =N=58,000 without doing any work or putting any investment. They came into this country to come and exploit this country. That is part of what created the congestion apart from Customs, you will find out that the congestion was actually manipulated and they are now moving out the containers, they are not investing cargo handling equipment.
Before licensed customs agents finally took the decision to go on strike, did you write letters of complaints?
We wrote so many letters, the minister of transport has been here more than three times and I think this issue is beyond the minister. It is an issue that is the life of this country and its economy. If the Presidency does not want to intervene, there is going to be a problem. The concession must be revisited, because it was not done on the basis of law. Come to think of it, you concessioned the ports without passing then Ports and Harbour bill as well as the National Transport Commission bill. These two bills have not been passed and they were actually drafted as part of the concession agreement. So what law are they using to actually midwife the concession, the concession is not having any regulator, nobody regulates the bonded warehouse operators, the shipping companies and the concessionaires. That is why you find out that the prices are just skyrocketing.
Do you have fate in the current intervention?
Well, we are watching because the truth about it is that those who are now intervening, if they had worked very hard, we would not have got to the stage we are today. We are in this stage because Shippers Council and NPA were looking; I started protesting almost two years ago over this port concession, I wrote to government, to the Senate and to the House of Reps. that this concession must be revisited because we noticed that this thing is coming to the level that you call it a monster. Under what law are the concessionaires operating; you gave them the right and nobody is controlling them. NPA can not control them because the people who are running the concession are bigger than NPA, Shippers’ Council can not control them, we are running a concession that is bigger than NPA, they will pick up the phone and call the Presidency. But, the Presidency is not the owner of the ports; the ports belong to Nigerians and Nigerians are saying that the concession is not well managed. Lots of people are losing their consignments because you cannot access the goods in the ports, the concessionaires don’t have any equipment or plants, one of them called the President to come and commission a dead cargo handling plants, after the commissioning, the next week one of the plants collapse. The truth about it is that where are we going as a country? What is the essence of the concession? It is to reduce cost by 20 per cent and that is what they told us; that they are going to give us so much, but what we have noticed is that the concessionaires only paid $10Million to go into the port and take over the whole place, now they are paying as they make money and that is not concession, that is wrong. Concession is that you pay what they call the concessionaires fees upfront and throughput fees. What we are saying in essence is that these things must be corrected and if its corrected, then our children have hope, but if it’s not corrected, then God will come and correct it.
If the current efforts to resolve the issues don’t yield results, are we expecting another strike?
The issue is that what took place was not a strike, but withdrawal of service, we have only suspended it and everybody is watching. We believe that the government will not make that mistake because the truth about is that the secret of everything is out now, we have seen that many of the services are being overloaded because nobody controls this people and they are here to manipulate, they here to exploit and to destroy the economy and when everything collapses, they will just go back to their country.