“COVID-19 pandemic has brought the importance of logistics and supply chain system to the fore” ……Paul Ndibe

Mr. Paul Ndibe is the Acting Executive Director, Chattered Institute of Logistics and Transport(CILT). In this interview with Anozie Egole, he speaks on the effect of COVID-19 on the logistics sector. He also touched on some sundry industry issues too.  
What do you think is the implication of COVID-19 for the economy?

The implications of COVID-19 are enormous from any angle one wants to look at it; in terms of availability of human capital to adapt to the new normal, availability of the infrastructure or the network to facilitate switching on to the new normal and in terms of revenue losses to so many organizations, in terms of logistics and supply chain disruption, even ability to refinance their programme or projects and as well as difficulty in servicing the debts or even managing the supply network. In terms of items or products that could be affected by their wholesomeness in the area of time. So it is a huge level of distortions in the economy and it is something that has to be critically evaluated.

How would you say the logistics sector has been coping with the pandemic?

Well, it is like the COVID-19 has brought to fore the importance of logistics and supply chain systems. Previously, logistics has been underrated, but with the disruptions that followed the COVID-19 and with the treatment and the supplies to treat patients, it actually brought to fore the essence and importance of logistics. All along just like in Nigeria, the country has not taken the issue of transport and supply chain logistics very seriously, but I think with the Covid-19 they are beginning to look more inward to appreciate the contributions of this sector to the development of the economy. Even if you look at the team that the government assembled for Covid-19 headed by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation; Mr Boss Mustapha, there is no specialist on logistics in that team, even in Lagos state although the state would have involved the Ministry of Transport where we have the bulk of professionals. Other than that, the government has not demonstrated that interest.

There seems to be a massive job loss in the logistics sector due to the pandemic, what is the sector doing in the area of manpower development?

The logistics sector’s response to that will not be uniform, it will vary according to the organizations and the subsector in the logistics sector and also in terms of the holding of the logistics sector. Why I am saying this is because it does not end at moving goods from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ or opening the port; it doesn’t stop at that. What if you open the ports and a raw material is being delivered to a factory in maybe Oshogbo, the factory workers are not there in Oshogbo to receive the raw materials or the warehouse where they will put the raw materials have not been evacuated because finished products are still there. So it is a single sign of logistics disruption. In terms of manpower. like I said the new normal is what people are beginning to look into and how it will impact on firms will differ and also subsectors will also differ. But the critical thing is that people are now looking more into ICT. Because of ban on travelling, meetings and all that, people are thinking of other ways to communicate and then the online conference meeting is coming to fore. But there is also the idea of the knowledge base for that, availability of facilities for that and the awareness of use. For the few engagements for online meeting you see people sitting in their cars and attending meetings, you see children crying and asking for food during meeting and a whole lot of distractions. So there are no protocols in place now for having meetings and that has affected also the output of the meetings. 

Secondly, in terms of manpower, many organizations are yet to upscale to the new normal by training and acquiring the required facilities. For CILT that is also involved in training and manpower development, you think of your students; they are to write examinations and you are not in touch with them because you cannot meet at the regular classroom sections. So what do you do, you start having online sessions and even if you fix your own online, the students may not get there because not all of them are connected to laptops and not all of them have the resources to buy and also the air time. So people are quite unprepared for this and the service providers have not expanded their broad band base in other to accommodate this huge demand for such services. And there is also need for training because you need to also transform what you need to discuss into the format that people will see, understand and respond to. So there is a lot of transformation that a lot of people will need to go through and they are human capacity based. For some organization; because of social distancing and because of the type of products they have, they require social distancing. Just like airports where they are introducing robots that may not be afflicted by virus, but we are looking at the virus that can afflict human nature, nobody has taught of virus that can also afflict systems and if they can afflict systems they can also afflict the Robots that was introduced. So for now we are looking at the virus that can affect human beings, we should also be mindful of the virus that can afflict Robots and other things those ones will be more devastating that’s a big challenge. And then for people to be able to interpret these Robots because they can only give you information and if you can’t interpret the information, you are on your own, and it becomes a challenge. There should be need for awareness, training and an up-scaling of knowledge in other for people to interact. Outside of that, look at the warehouse system, you are also thinking of Robots to help you do packaging and identification of packs and packets; it is a whole lot of training and this training cannot hold on account of  social distancing. ban in travelling and organization loosing earning and cannot be able to fund some of these things. So it is a huge dislocation for a number of firms.

Are there strategies by CILT to deal with some of these challenges you have pointed out?

Of course, in the last six weeks both CILT Nigeria CILT International have been engaging in Webinar conferences looking at challenges people and organizations are facing in different countries and looking at how they have overcome such challenges. And we have been sharing it among the CILT member families across the 35 countries, so that if you are facing such challenge you look at the applicability of the solution adopted in one country to see how it fits into your own environment. So knowledge sharing is what we have been doing in the last six weeks, even last week, we also held a conference on cost of flying post Covid-19 and that was in anticipation of the government relaxing the issue of aviation sector. Before now someone can hold meeting here in Lagos and fly down to Abuja the same day, but it might not be possible again under the new normal. Reason is because the transaction time at the airport will increase now; so it increases the cost. And what we discussed at the meeting is the cost of time and we will be coming out with something new as we progress which will enable people grow and make appropriate adjustments towards this.

What is the relationship between CILT and IOTA?

I will describe the relationship as that of the two organizations that are trying to understand themselves better. And the reason for this that 90% of members of Institute of Transport Administration (IOTA) are also members of CILT and many of them are principally members of CILT before becoming members of IOTA. And because they are professionals and in the same sector pursing the same goals, there is no much differentiation other than the identity cards. But the critical thing is that they are pursuing the same goal and looking at the membership thing and their network worldwide then the individual chooses which one to align with.

What are the lessons you would say you have learnt from the COVD-19 pandemic?

Yes, the lesson learnt is that I must praise the logistics sector because they were the first to rise up to the situation; despite all obstacles they were very supportive in sustaining the economy. Although they were not listed as part of those in the frontline of the fight against Covid-19, but they sustained the fight against the virus by doing all they could to move cargoes, supply goods even to the market places. If they were no supply chain people, the market will not open and because they see themselves as a center point of activities. So logistics, transport and supply chain sector must be applauded because they help in sustaining; even the capacity of people to withstand the Covid-19. Look at the supply of drugs, N95, Respirators; there are all logistics sector that did all that. What if they had shut down, what would have happened, a lot of people would have been affected. So logistics must be applauded by all sectors and also the beautiful thing the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) did to ensure that the ports were open. Those who could not pick their goods were not charged for demurrages and lots of mitigations even bringing out vehicles to carry freight forwarders to ensure that cargo imported were cleared it shows how they take their jobs.

CILT seems to be very quiet, are there programmes you are working on?

Our programme calendar is out, but they are more of conferences and workshops. In March our African Forum which was scheduled to hold in Ghana was postponed till next year on account of Covid-19. Our international convention scheduled to hold in Australia was also postponed on account of Covid-19, some of our local programmes have started, but on account of Covid-19. we have suspended them. Like I said, what we did lately was to engage our members and the public on conferences. So soon out programme for July will be out.