Mr Frank Ogunojemite is the President of African Association of Professional Freight Forwarders and Logistics of Nigeria (APFFLON). In this interview with Shipping Position Daily, he speaks on the recent customs modernization project, CRFFN and other sundry aviation and maritime issues.
As a frontline player in the aviation sector, how has the aviation industry been coping with the challenges of COVID 19?
Basically, we thank God that the pandemic is not peculiar to Nigeria, it’s a global problem that has affected the whole sector and the aviation sector is not left out, so basically, it is not palatable; especially for countries that have national carrier and even Nigeria too.
What’s the update on the clamour for 100% demurrage waiver at the airport?
APFFLON did their best because we were not happy with the position to pay rent, because when the government gave the directive, we realized that the handlers were flouting the government directives and imposing rents which is in form of demurrage to freight forwarders and importers as a whole, which obviously will lead to inflation in the country, so we decided to fight for waiver, though we were not able to achieve the 100%, 80% was achieved which we were not happy with, but we just have to live by it.
Can you put a figure to how much the aviation industry has lost due to the pandemic?
We are talking of billions of Naira, which have been lost in the sector and it will take time to recover fully, even when the situation subsides people will be afraid to travel, and we realize that if government put incentives in the aviation business, we could have high improvement, because most of the aircraft now will carry only about 50% of its capacity, so if the government decides to help the aviation industry, things may likely fall back in place again.
What informed the formation of APFFLON?
APFFLON was formed to fill the lacuna in the industry, though the other freight forwarding associations are doing their best, but you will still found out that there are lapses and some things that need to be addressed. So that’s what brought evolution of APFFLON, if you look at the full meaning of APFFLON, you will discover that it’s not limited to Nigeria and last year if you recall, we had a summit, and the summit came after Nigeria signed to AfCFTA, so we realize that an association needs to be in place that will coordinate the AfCFTA, so APFFLON came up to also add inputs to the African Free Trade Agreement.
How well can you say the objectives of your organization have been met?
Yes, you will realize that before the inception of AfCFTA, we have the ECOWAS Trade Liberation Scheme (ETLS) government moved from the ETLS to saying let’s sign agreement with the 54 countries that we know as AfCFTA, we now look at it that there is need to have an association that will cut across all these countries, and that was why APFFLON came on board, so presently we are in Nigeria ,Ghana, South Africa and Kenya is working on their formation too, though most of our inputs have been limited to Nigeria, but with time you will see the inputs cutting across the association in the various countries, so APFFLON is not here to rival any association but to fill the lacuna in the aviation and maritime industry.
How popular or acceptable is APFFLON among freight forwarders?
Looking at the number of membership that we have, it’s like the people have been waiting for the child to be born, if I tell you our membership strength, it’s unbelievable, some members migrated from other association to join us, so I think we are moving at a good speed.
How comfortable is APFFLON with the recent statement by the Registrar that CRFFN will no longer register any new association?
We don’t look at the accreditation by CRFFN as anything to be worried about; the primary thing is the constitutional right of everybody to the freedom of association which APFFLON has fulfilled, the secondary thing is that CRFFN itself needs to be associated with FIATA which they are not as I am talking to you, so most times we feel so sad when they are talking about FIATA when they themselves have not been admitted, though they were once admitted during the time of Chief Olarenwaju Hakeem, but they are no more there and what they are doing now is giving excuses as to why they are not there. So, for APFFLON what we are trying to do is to be relevant, what’s the benefits of those association that have been accredited and besides that, I as a person do not believe that CRFFN accredited those associations, I believe it is those association that accredited CRFFN, because most of these associations are older than the council itself, so for me I believe CRFFN did not accredit those association rather it was the associations that accredited CRFFN because even the performance of CRFFN its not visible.
Are you saying CRFFN is a failure?
As far as I am concerned CRFFN is not a failure, but the management is a failure; in the last two years what have they achieved, take for instance how many times have they had stakeholders’ engagement, I spoke with the chairman of CRFFN myself and he told me that they are not obliged to have meeting with any association. So how do you be a shipper without a ship, so we realize that they need to have stakeholders’ interactions; not even the past executives had meeting with the associations, what we are after is having relationship not man-know-man, let’s see what you can contribute to the industry, let’s see your legacy because whoever you are, you will not be there forever what whatever you do, will speak for you forever.
What do you think can be done to correct the wrongs in CRFFN?
Engagement, constant engagement, if they have engagement with the people in the industry, they won’t fail, they need regular engagement with the stakeholders, but in a situation that you want to remain as an island, it will be difficult, a tree does not make a forest; you cannot be a warrior without battalion, so there is need for constant engagement with executives, stakeholders and key players in the industry, so that they can get a better performance.
Do you support the move to amend the CRFFN Act?
Amendment of the Act should be a gradual process, if your tenure is supposed to end in two years, you are supposed to act according to the Act that brought you into the council, now when you intend to do some amendment then you need to engage too, you bring it to the people, you don’t just say you want tenure elongation when some have been there before you, we are not saying the Act cannot be amended, but we have to know details of why it should be subjected to review.
What’s the stand of APFFLON on the controversial Customs Modernization Project?
If you remember last year October, APFFLON was the first association that brought this issue to limelight of concessioning the customs. Government has the right to concession any of its parastatals, but the rationale behind the concessioning is the issue- the modalities and approach to the concession is our concern, if there is going to be a concession or modernization, then it should be in the way of public hearing, because for me what they are trying to do now, the private people they are concessioning to, have they profiled them, so if the modernization is for good reasons then I don’t have anything against it, but if you check those things that have been concessioned , do we have results, look at the shipping and terminal operators do we have result from them; so those are the issues, so the rationale behind the modernization or concessioning is the issue, why is it not properly discussed , government has the right but they must handle it properly.
What’s the relationship between APFFLON and government agencies in the aviation sector and the maritime sector?
We have good relationship with them, most of the issues we are raising are professional issues, there are no private or personal issues, when we talked about CRFFN, we are not attacking the people, but the issue of output as far as I am concerned; we have good relationship with them even with customs.
members, due to crew change crisis? By the way, everybody is writing and talking about crew change crisis, but there isn’t much talk about freedom crisis – basic human freedom to take a leave in port of call. Leaves in ports of call are, psychologically and physically, a must, if talking about crew health. Not your bloody health checks and compulsory wear of poisonous masks, but real health, body and mental.
Container ship MSC RAVENNA, IMO 9484431, dwt 165963, capacity 14000 TEU, built 2011, flag Liberia, manager MSC.