“CRFFN Has Become An Opportunity For People To Get What They Want” —Olayiwola Shittu

“I Am Very Proud That ANLCA Today Can Be Referenced As An Association That Meets Up With Professional Standard”

 

Prince Olayiwola Shittu is the immediate past National President of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), and member of the first governing council of CRFFN. In this first part of a long interview with Shipping Position Daily, Shittu bares it all on the controversies surrounding the CRFFN, the new Port Process Manual and other industry issues.

Price Olayiwola Shittu

What’s your assessment of the Maritime Industry so far?

The global pandemic has affected the operation of the maritime industry all over the world, and Nigeria cannot be an exception, and I need to commend Nigerians for the resilience to withstand the rigours occasioned by the pandemic.

So far, the port industry didn’t do badly, there were so many challenges and we were able to overcome them one by one. It takes a while to do a turnaround in an industry like maritime, but so far so good there is nothing to condemn for now. Individuals hiccups like the gridlock and all that are there, but eventually it will fizzle out, road construction are not done especially when it has been abandoned for so long and you think overnight it will get right, no. And people are talking about congestion in the port, the government cannot by fiat divert cargo, it is the consignee that has the determination of where is cargo should be discharged.

People say Lagos is congested and overloaded with cargoes; they should divert to the east, but you as the consignee should take the cargo to the east, because we have clients whose cargoes go to the east, why can’t your own go, what attract importers to Lagos can be replicated anywhere. So far, all the agencies are trying their best, it is that Shippers’ Council needs to be pushed harder by giving them the muscle to regulate the industry, the commercial regulation is the area that is still lacking, all the technical areas are still okay and I think with time, it can also be sorted out.

Recently, NPA launched the novel idea of electronic call up, do you think it’s the solution to some of the problem in the industry?

Of course you know everything about Nigeria you have to be experimenting to know what is good for us, but for every good idea anybody brings in, we are always talking about Nigerian factor, there is no factor in Nigeria that is different from any factor elsewhere, rather than the fact that we like to do things that will suit us easily. All the previous arrangements could have worked if there is sincerity of purpose, but the Nigeria factor in the maritime industry is the level of extortion, the level became so uncontrollable that there is urge for anybody to just get what they can get and just get out and nobody is thinking of the long term effect. So no matter the system you introduce, if there is no sincerity of purpose, it will fail, it’s too early to condemn the new call up system, it will work fine if there is sincerity and cooperation will only come by enforcement and sanctions, because most of the problems we have in Nigeria is that people get away with anything. So I think we need to give them time to run it.

So you think the hiccups we are facing now will fizzle out with time?

It should fizzle out, when the roads are free, when the construction is done and I foresee people already arranging to take their cargo to other ports including NIWA wanting to use barges to take cargoes to the east; how visible that one is I don’t know, they have the technical knowhow, they should be able to do that, but once the corridor between Tin Can and Mile 2 is done, then I am sure the whole thing can work better.

Recently the Federal government launched the National Port Process Manual (NPPM), which you are part of, are you also optimistic that this will help resolve the issue of cargo dwell time and corruption in the port?

Yes, but all of us should be involve, it should not be a selective affair, if we all know what is good for us, the best thing is for us to do it right, most of our problem in Nigeria is that people want to take advantage of where they are to enrich themselves and they do it obscenely in excess of greed. It will be very difficult for Shippers’ Council alone to get over it, because they belong to an agency under supervision of the ministry, other agencies in the maritime industry belongs to different ministry including the one that belongs to the transport ministry and they were all enacted and created by law and each law gives them their powers. There are some that are interwoven, but out of cooperation they can resolve their differences, but you see one of the major issue is that we have NPA that has been doing both commercial and technical operations of the port. Now Shippers’ Council is being saddled with the responsibility of commercial regulation and in doing that, there is no way they won’t step on toes in NPA, because NPA also put charges and if they are going to regulate the charges of NPA, then you will be seeing the claim of superiority, except those things are properly defined and other acts amended, to give responsibility to an organization that should regulate our commercial interest we will not go too far. And that’s why we are always going two steps forward and two steps backward, most of the private operators in the industry are there to make money and most of the government agencies we have turned to Internally Generated Revenue agency, apart from the budget allocation. So there is this thug of war going on as to what will concern me or what concerns you, they want to maximize profit and the officials of government that are posted to this place are looking for ways to enhance their position by meeting their target; almost everybody has a target. So what we are saying is that the transport policy that we hope Shippers’ Council will be the driver of, will make the operation of the NPPM become reality. So far NSC has started well, doing consultation and getting everybody involved and that’s beautiful, because there is no way they can do it alone, and they have started getting stakeholders involved in giving them ideas and having meetings regularly. In fact, that agency is one agency in the maritime industry that consults on daily basis with stakeholders and probably that’s why they are recording some successes so far. Most other ones don’t bother whether you are there or not, they just passed the law and ask you to go and do it, but NSC is still very engaging, but they need to be given the power to sanction.

You are a pioneer member of the governing council that put the structure in place what does the act stipulate about tenure?

The Act was very clear, we are going to have two ‘councils’ simultaneously to make four years, after that, election should come in every two years; that’s the provision in the Act, there is nothing more; anybody who is telling you that after the first two years there is going to be another two years, it can only happen in Nigeria. You know people interpret law to suit themselves and having been successfully selected to be on the council then automatically it’s like a property handed over to you, nobody cares that even if you are not there, somebody else can do the work. I was not interested in the first council after the first two tenures, and in fact mid-way I had to resign when decision about the council was becoming an issue, but I didn’t know a lot of people who still have the hangover of the past are still running after the council now. We were all together those years back, I didn’t even know they have their own plan and they know what they are looking for and that is why we are having problems in CRFFN. Otherwise, CRFFN is a regulatory agency that can operate within the sphere of this my office, computerized system, people who want to go to school to study freight forwarding, customs brokerage, you will direct them to go to appropriate institutions to go and train, you accredit the institution that people are going to and for that reason, the practitioner pay you for their own practicing, company practicing, staff practicing, and renewable every year that’s a lot of money. If you multiply these charges that are embedded in the Act for the council to make use of, that’s a lot of money, why are they not chasing after that money, why do we have thousands of people roaming round the port who are not even registered and why do we have thousands on the register of CRFFN who are not paying up to date; those are the type of people they should sanction. But now they are erecting structures all over the country to regulate people that are concentrated largely in the seaport, so I was not surprised when the immediate past Chairman of the council (let me put it that way, until the court decides whether is current or not), is a man I never knew in the industry, and I have been in the industry for so long, so people just come up because they see it as an opportunity, CRFFN has become an opportunity for people to get what they want, how successful they will be, depends on those who are interested, for me it’s a closed shop. If you look at COREN, we have different type of engineers, just like we are having freight forwarders, customs brokers, ship chandlers, shipping agents etc. those are the people that make up the CRFFN those other council members are to assist the registrar and the staff on how to attend to the affairs of members. The only the only option that is not in the act, if it were to be in CRFFN Act, there will nobody in CRFFN; that’s the choice for you to pull out, but you don’t have the choice, if one must practice in the industry you must register and if people like me register and I pay my dues up to date, I don’t owe the council anything and let me tell you the false thinking of our people that CRFFN should go and fight the shipping company, the terminal operator and all that, it’s not their (CRFFN) job, it’s not an advocacy group, it’s not social and welfare group, let them go and read properly the functions of the council, even the council representing us in FIATA is an anomaly, we can have has many associations as possible, but who regulates, the association can only control their members to make sure that they work in line with what they want , but it is the council that can sanction somebody registered under them by law to act the way they want. If what we put in place then (before 2012) were to have been followed as a guideline, it will have been a very responsible and respectable organization that people will be using as a reference, you don’t even need to know who the registrar is, now anybody can just go online pay money and come and tell you I am a freight forwarder and that’s why we are seeing distortion in the port, because even CRFFN is not able to control inflow of those who are registering with them, so anybody can come from Alaba market and register with CRFFN and they give you your ID card; you enter the port like that, the port is not supposed to be a gathering area, it’s not supposed to be a market, the port has specific purposes and if you are a customs broker before customs give you a license they want you to have an office, don’t go and loiter in the port, that’s why you see that responsible people who practiced our profession are detached from the crowd because that’s not the way it should be. I hope we get there and I can tell you that I am very proud that ANLCA today can be referenced as an association that meets up with professional standard, there is hardly anybody who is well known in ANLCA that does not have an office, and they don’t have to be seen roaming around the port. So there is a lot of things to be done, but the overwhelming number of those who distort the provisions in the maritime industry is a challenge that only the CRFFN can cater for at their own end, if they want to register everybody by law, they don’t to start chasing people for money, money will come and meet them because every year you must renew your license.