President of NAGAFF; Chief Eugene Nweke in this chat with Roland Ekama, spoke extensively on the Pre Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR) that was put in place by the Customs. He also spoke about the sacked service providers and other sundry issues in the maritime sector.
In our recent discussion with you, you said you had no second term ambition as president of NAGAFF, have you changed your mind?
Like I said, I am not going for a second term in NAGAFF and as a matter of fact, I am waiting for the founder and the board to convey a meeting for a new president to emerge. It is not easy as such to lead a great association of ours and any progressive party that is forward looking. I think four years is okay, then give room for another fresh energetic person, allow people to come on board with new innovations and ideas and to me as a person people have asked me severally about this same question; even they want to know what are my achievements in the last four years in office. But I don't even know what my achievements are. When I came on board, I had a mission and that mission was to integrate NAGAFF as a body, then take NAGAFF to an enviable height whereby industry stakeholder will appreciate what freight forwarding stands to represent. Thank God for Prince Shittu of ANLCA and myself almost came on board the same time and we both created what we call JACOFF, which is all about re-integration of the freight forwarders and there was no casualties under my tenure and it was all about initiative and initiatives all the way.
Shittu's second coming to office as ANLCA President was faced with series of controversies, what is your perception about his re-election?
What went down in ANLCA is just power tussle between the board members and the executives. The Shittu of ANLCA I know will not like to handover power in chaos and what he did was to stabilise the process. W e both have a part and that part is that after one tenure, we will allow a new person to come on board, but for him to have gone back as president of ANLCA, which I monitored, I realise that some people are trying to use the process as a vendetta mission, while others have an ulterior motive to take over from him. But give and take, he has the right to continue just like I have the right to say no to second term ambition.
What is your perception of PAAR and would you say it has improved since its inception?
PAAR is a local content initiative that has helped the economy of the country; the federal government of Nigeria has been able to reserve over N250billion from the scheme as against destination inspection service providers. With PAAR the Customs has been able to save cost on behalf of the government, PAAR is working and it will continue to work if given the necessary support because what RAR has failed to address, which is accessibility, visibility and acceptability, PAAR has been able to address it. As far as Nigerian agents are concerned, PAAR is here to stay; the teething problems faced by PAAR initially has been addressed because under six hours in the system, PAAR is issued to the operators. In April alone, the service was able to release over 28,000 PAARs as against what the three service providers were transmitting. Over time, the practitioners have endorsed PAAR because it addresses the peculiarity of the customs formations and PAAR does not only facilitate trade, with the application under the regime we can attain reasonable conformity trade placement and application. With this same PAAR 48 hours clearance of goods will be achievable, it will create a reasonable benchmark to application for all trade, it will reduce human contact of cargoes at the port. It will bring about professionalism and it will further reduced the index of the government agencies that are doing things that they are not supposed to do, thereby eradicating corruption from the system. So PAAR is very laudable and as we speak people are commending the customs management for the introduction of PAAR
But the founder of NAGAFF has said that PAAR is a failure; what's your reaction?
If there is anyone who is the crusader of PAAR, then you are talking about Dr. Boniface Aniebonam, so I doubt if he can kick against PAAR. If my founder said that PAAR has not worked I will disagree perhaps he was misunderstood by the public , maybe Dr. Aniebonam have said PAAR was having teething problem like any other regime , because there are bound to be challenges, but in this case, PAAR was ambushed by those who call themselves service providers and Dr. Boniface Aniebonam is aware of this, so I don't believe that the founder of NAGAFF can discredit PAAR at this moment and also the concept of PAAR was well tutored to NAGAFF members and including the founder Dr. Boniface Aniebonam; we were never bribed to key into the concept of PAAR. NAGAFF bought into the concept of PAAR because of the lofty ideas behind it. But however, Dr. Boniface Aniebonam is a businessman and I need to get across to him to know if what you said is true about his opinion.
Do you think there is the need for the return of the service providers into the system?
Any body who is clamouring for the return of the service providers is not a Nigerian. Any body who want the service providers to come back like the present state of unemployment in the country, that person also like the present state of kidnapping and militancy in the country because essentially most of the money PAAR has saved like the 1% CISS has been integrated back to our own economy rather than being paid into some private accounts and in the past seven years of contract, we find out that over N266 billion have gone into private pockets and that amount is enough to address issues of unemployment in the country. Are you aware that federal government of Nigeria has spent over N4 trillion in the past seven years servicing the destination service providers for Web Fortaine bringing and installing the ASYCUDA, maintenance fee and if you want the statistics I will give you the accurate figure. So I now begin to wonder when some people will now say they want the service providers to come back. Come back to do what? To exploit us? I have always said that the contract of the service providers is enough for a reasonable minister to have probed. When it was obvious that we were crying and clamouring that there was so much delay in the issuance of PAAR as a result of server breakdown only for us to know that Webb Fortane was not working, we expected the minister to set up a panel of enquiry because people involved are being paid money, they are business people, so how come they continue to inflate the price and they are still being paid money and nobody is asking question. So anybody who is contemplating that the service providers should come back does not really know the concept on the issuance of PAAR. However we are watching and I think MAAG is on top of it. I am deeply involved, because I am the head of statistics and research in MAAG and we have the statistics with us; so how some people say they want them to back.
Remember that the sack of service providers led to massive jobs loss?
You didn't get what I said. The whole of the service providers in the past 7 to 8 years never employed up to 5,000 Nigerians, but the Nigeria Customs Service in a single year employed over 10,000 and as we speak they have over 29,000 workforce and it is the little money they are making from the system is what they are using to pay salary of all the staff and that will tell you that they have done far better that all the service providers put together. There are some things we don't have to concession; South Africa for instance didn't wake up and go into concessioning, they metamorphosed and regulated it themselves and that is what I think a developing economy should do or think about. Ghana has two major ports and they decided to concession one and even that one concession they got two hands to manage it under constructive arrangement in the ratio of 30% to 70%, at the end of the day you find out that they are involved, but in Nigeria what point are we involved in the whole arrangement. So it is not in everything that we want investors to come and takeover, we know we can handle some certain project ourselves and we ask why should Nigeria Customs Service dump ASYCUDA++ to adopt a new concept which is the Nigeria Trade hub and PAAR because the ASYCUDA++ cannot address the peculiarity on ground. However anybody that is calling for the return of the service providers is just an army or a lobby group. They are everywhere, but I am not a lobby group and even if I am, I can't be lobbying for what will compound problem for Nigeria and if we are lobbying, people like us should be reasonable and search our conscience that what we are lobbying about is for the generality of country.
The Nigeria Shippers Council was recently given the responsibility of port economic regulator by the federal government, what is your reaction to that?
We are going to mobilise in mass come 2015 to vote Mr. President for second term because the freight forwarders have endorsed him for that bold step he took to make the shippers’ council a commercial regulator; after eight years of past administration he took a step further to do what is right for the sector. This is a man that if given more time, will do more for the industry and if the president can do this ,by giving the Nigeria Shippers Council as an economic regulator that means by the time we start agitating on issues surrounding the industry he will listen to us again. Don't also forget that kudos must be given to the Senior Special Adviser to the President on Maritime Affair, Leke Oyewole and kudos to the honourable Minister of Transport, Senator Idris Umar because they have done the right thing for the industry. I know that MAAG is thanking Mr. President, the president of ANLCA is also commending Mr. President for that singular act; we appeal to the President to extent the council’s tenure from one year for them to perform better, because the nation has lost trillions of naira to the concessionaires with their arbitrary charges and we need the shipping sector to be revamped, just like what is going on in telecommunication and the banking sectors. The maritime sector is yet untapped; year in, year out, we turn out graduates into the labour market, no job for them, but the maritime sector has what it takes to absorb those people and with that local content development will be a reality.