Prince Yinka Bakare is the President of the National Association of Freight Forwarders and Air Consolidators (NAFFAC) and a member of the Governing Council of the Council for the Regulations of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN). In this Interview with Oluyinka Onigbinde he speaks about the CRFFN, and other sundry issues about the Nigerian maritime industry.
“I don’t think Nigeria can maintain a national carrier”
What is your take on the activities of shipping companies in Nigeria, many stakeholders believe that they are becoming too powerful for the country to handle?
The truth is, in as much as I don’t want to blame the shipping companies because they are business people, they will want to maximize profit and at the same time they want to reduce cost, so when they see loopholes in the law they will capitalize on that, because of the political situation of the country a lot of them are now using that to play politics. I don’t know how powerful they can be that they will become more powerful than the government. I believe that if the government wants to do anything, if the political will is there, they will get it done. So I am not seeing the shipping companies as too powerful for the government to control, but I am seeing more of politics coming to play.
Why would Nigerian Port Authority or Nigerian Shippers’ Council give instruction and the shipping companies will say they won’t obey; then they should be ready to leave the country. The truth is; we have to look inward as a nation and decide what we want as a nation and not what the shipping companies want, but because we already jettison the interest of the country for the interest of few individuals, that is why we are having these problems of arbitrary charges, demurrages and all that. If you are shipping to South Korea, there is a port in South Korea called Busan; you cannot take a cargo that is more than 21 tons, into that port, it’s a standard rule you don’t go against it, and you don’t to be in South Korea for you to know that, as soon as you are putting up the weight here in Lagos, you already know that if its more than 21 tons it can’t go. And if you force yourself to bring in what is more than 21 tons, they know how they will charge you for bringing in a cargo that has such weight into the country, but here we don’t have such regulations, because it is in Nigeria you can do anything as you want. So if we can put exceptions to what we are doing and do away with politics, then we will get things right. If you get to some shipping companies now, many of them don’t even have holding bays, you see people drop empty containers anywhere as they like.
Are you aware of the insinuations of ghost workers at CRFFN, how true is this?
How old is CRFFN that they are having ghost workers, but well I am a council member of the CRFFN and not part of the management of CRFFN, and what’s the work of a council member, it’s just to formulate policies, so it’s only the management that can say whether there is ghost worker or not, but as far as I am concerned, I don’t think there is anything of such.
There are allegations that members of CRFFN are pushing for the amendment of the Act, because of tenure elongation, can you tell us more about this?
I want to believe that there is something a lot of people do not understand, and that is the draft of the Act in 2006 that led to the Act in 2007 and up till now a whole lot of things are wrong. I will give you a very good example, the council is made up of 32 members, 15 from practitioners and 17 from government institutions. Out of the 17, six is from Ministry of Transport, which includes representatives of NPA, Aviation, Railway, Ministry of Transport itself NIIT, NSC. Also the Ministry of Finance has two, one from the Ministry and the other from Customs. Then the Ministry of Education has four because of training. Can you imagine? For God sake, are we saying NPA is not training, don’t we have training department at NPA, do we now have Ministry of Education in NPA? Is NIMASA not training, do we have Ministry of Education in the NIMASA board, do we have CRFFN representatives at NIMASA, or CRFFN representative in the NPA? The answer is no, so why don’t we just have a representative of the Ministry of Transport who will then instruct other agencies under the ministry, that will help reduce the number in the board, so the tenure amendment is not about tenure elongation. The CRFFN governing council only has two years; what can you achieve in two years when every other government institution is having four or five years, so it’s not about individual desire to be there, I won’t be there for life, but what are the things that we have been able to achieve under two years. I can tell you that a lot has been achieved under this CRFFN governing council than the previous ones, and they can testify to that, a lot has been done and a lot has been put in place. So we need to do the right thing, we need to reduce the burden, we are also looking at the office of the Registrar looking at his powers under the law and all that. The truth is under ministry of transport, they see CRFFN as a non-serious agency because they see us as if we are not relevant and we are like inconsequential. But the truth is we are relevant; you saw how
Shippers Council was begging the freight forwarders during the lockdown to come to the port.
Are you not worried that NAGAFF is still pushing that CRFFN is not a Government agency?
Anybody can look at the law from different angles, we are not worried about anything, it’s just the way I understand it, NAFFAC has always stood with the law, we are not looking at it as a result of what we want to benefit or gain, but what will be of the profession in the next 10 years, the profession should be about how it should be done and not for personal gains.
Nigeria spends about N9 billion dollars on freight annually due to lack of indigenous fleet, do you think we can sustain this, in spite of our debt profile rising annually?
I will answer your question by asking, how many countries has national carrier, you know one of the most expensive businesses you can do anywhere is the maritime business, and I can tell you that there is no single business that covers every sphere of the maritime sector. As big as Maersk Line, is some of their business are still franchised out, because you cannot cover it all. So if you say Nigeria debt is rising because we don’t have national fleet, I won’t agree with that, a lot of developed countries don’t have national fleet, I am not saying Nigerians should not trade on Nigerian waters, but it’s not compulsory it must be a national carrier, Nigerians should be encouraged and I think that is why we are having the CVFF to help indigenous firms, because maritime business involves a lot of funds. On the money spent on freight, it depends on government policy, I will give you example, in India when it comes to maritime business you don’t pay in any other currency than the Indian Rupees , you can give the invoice in dollars or any currency you like, but as long as you are trading in India, it has to be in India Rupees , so that means if I am from India and I want to pay for freight , I don’t need to look for dollars, I will pay in Rupees, but it is different here, if I want to pay for freight here , it means I have to look for dollars, so it puts pressure and demand on dollar. So these are the policies that the country should look into, and not about whether we have a national line or not, if you ask me, can we even maintain it, I will tell you I don’t think we can maintain it.