The above statement is credited to the chairman, Shipping Association of Nigeria (SAN), Mr Val Usifoh, when he led members of the association on a visit to the acting Executive Secretary Nigerian Shippers’ Council, Mr Hassan Bello last week.
Apparently worried about the way things are still being done in the port and the level of abuse of the process, especially years after the ports have been concessioned and years after government’s attempt at professionalizing freight forwarding, many are justifiably worried that it is still business as usual at the seaports.
"They call themselves freight forwarders now, but they are clearing agents, many of them go to cyber cafes and even in these cyber cafes, we know the Customs have problems and recently the CGC arrested some people involved in cyber crimes", the highly-respected Usifoh had told his host; Hassan Bello.
Ironically, shortly after the visit of SAN, another team (this time, the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) came calling at the Shippers Council.
Oblivious of the damning verdict on its profession, the NAGAFF team, which was led by its founder; Dr Boniface Aniebonam, threw its weight behind the widely acknowledged quest to become the commercial regulator of port activities.
And when it was reported in the newspapers the following day, NAGAFFF took a swipe at Mr Usifoh for not respecting the new nomenclature of clearing agents, who since the enactment of CRFFN Act now prefers to be addressed as freight forwarders.
Taking a swipe at Usifoh, NAGAFF wrote in a statement that: “It is our considered opinion that Mr Val Usifoh should be told that those who live in glass house should not throw stones. To educate him, he should know that internationally freight forwarders are recognised and celebrated professionals, what he calls clearing agents may be Customs brokers”.
But, rather than crucify Mr Usifoh, NAGAFF; nay, all the so-called freight forwarders, should answer the following questions.
Does the creation of CRFFN automatically create a new professional identity for licensed customs agents? What is the difference in what ‘clearing agents’ are doing prior to 2007 when CRFFN came on and what ‘freight forwarders’ are doing today? Don’t we still see the ‘freight forwarders’ very visibly involved in hand-carrying documents across terminals and ports? How many of them are computer literate enough to match the demands of the Nigeria Customs Service? Don’t they still deliberately bend and take advantage of the cargo clearance process? Has anything changed? How many ‘freight forwarder’ of 2013 does more than what a ‘clearing agent’ of 2006 did?
The answer, in all sincerity is, very little has changed.
Does like the Hood and the Monk, the title Registered Freight Forwarder (RFF); courtesy of CRFFN cannot make a clearing agent to become a freight forwarder.
Whether he is called a Customs Broker or a Freight Forwarder, he remains a clearing agent in the consciousness of the port user who, like Mr Usifoh has not seen anything new.