When we published the first part of this interview last week, the plan was not to advertise his ambition for a second term as chairman of Apapa chapter of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents. But, since that interview was published, a lot of attention has been drawn to the chapter and it has elicited political interests. On our part, we have always maintained that this page is for stakeholders; hence whoever wants to use it to reach out is free to take advantage. We see the achievements of Mr John Oforbkie, we feel his humility and we acknowledge that he has the right to aspire for a second term in office as ANLCA chairman. Let us also thank him for being bold about his ambition; others would have ‘cleverly’ said that they are waiting to hear from God!
How true is the allegation that terminal operators are ripping importers and their clearing agents off?
When you talk about the terminal operators, I guess you are talking about the concessionaires and the shipping companies, I want to tell you this: it is quite unfortunate that our leaders have taken positions but have never thought of taking responsibilities of their positions. It is quite unfortunate; we are talking about the legacy of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, (forever he lives on not only in the south west but in the whole Nigeria, he was a great man), we are talking about Chief Nnamdi Azikiwe (the champion of African liberation from the colonial masters), look at Tafawa Balewa who are the founding fathers of Nigeria and are being remembered every where. Everywhere you go, you will see places and streets named after them: that is a good legacy. But the people we have today; I believe they belong to one cult or the other and what makes the cult happy with you as a member is when you imprison your people and lock them up. It is quite unfortunate that foreigners came to Nigeria to exploit us and the rights of the consumers and the citizens are not being protected, the law of the land is not being obeyed, somebody is there to protect and enforce the law, but because one or two persons are involved, most of these multinational companies have ex-this and ex-that and big men who are Nigerians as their chairmen so that they can freely exploit us, if you go to the Vaswani brothers that people are talking about today, you will discover Nigerians occupy top and commanding positions in their companies, if you look at Maersk line and all other big companies, they put Nigerians as their chairmen. Tell me, who took Femi Falana or late Gani Fawehinmi as chairman of their companies; the people who caused the problems of Nigeria today are the people the companies choose. We went on strike and withdrew our services from the ports for three good days in order to get government’s attention that Nigerian roads are now used as a container depots, that truck owners are using their back as storage facilities for containers. We cried to the government that peoples’ containers are being sold, that peoples’ containers can not leave the port because of high charges, that the essence of concessioning the ports is to bring about efficiency in the port operations and for Nigerian importers to save 500 per cent and 250 per cent for using Nigerian ports. I saw the agreement and I have it, when they now came to hand over the Nigerian ports on 3rd of April or thereabout, I heard the message read out they said that why they are concessioning the ports is to have smooth operations, for cost reduction and to make Nigerian ports affordable for every port user, but now the reverse is the case. A container stays in the port you are paying N12, 000 or N10, 000 per day after two weeks you are paying storage charges of N360,000, you have not added the cargo handling equipment charges and added other operational charges. At the end of it what you pay is about N500, 000, whereas the tax and duty that you pay to the federal government on the same container is aboutN150, 000, and if per chance you stay there for two months it is times two. At the end of the day you discover that you are losing and somebody is smiling home with millions of Naira and they say they are investing; what are they investing?
How true is the claim in certain quarters that APM Terminal is losing patronage because of high charges while terminals at Tin Can are doing very well?
Yes, let me tell you this, that APMT is almost dead because the charges they have there is much and you know that the Apapa Customs Area Command has been given a very high revenue target which is more than any other command in Nigeria, believing that it’s a large premier port without knowing what is on ground, so every Comptroller in Apapa is squeezing water out of stone in order to get revenue, every customs officer is on his toes in Apapa, customs agents are not making anything and importers also are squeezing. The bonded terminals under Apapa command are being starved of cargoes. We have about 17 bonded terminals under Apapa and most of them are where the government is thinking that it will generate revenue and these bonded terminals are dry and dead, why? The shipping companies are supposed to bring cargo to the port, but now, NPA allocates ships to where they will be taken to, now the shipping companies have come to establish there own bonded terminals; SDV established their terminal in Area 4 (KLT command), Alraine has there own in Area 2, PIL also have their own outside Apapa, so what they do now is that when they bring in their cargo, they shift it to those areas, and now every customs officer that comes to Apapa will be struggling to meet revenue, without knowing that the whole outlet that Apapa would have used to generate their revenue are being starved of cargo, when you go to Tin Can, PTML, they are booming, even a dry port like KLT, if you go to Ijora container terminal, it is booming, because it’s the same Maersk line that owns APMT that also owns Ijora terminal. When they bring in ships, they shift everything over there: Safmarine, Maersk line, P&O Nedloyd; be it whatever they are all under Maersk line and they will shift it there. They are all sister companies to APMT, whether you like it or not.
It appears to me that the strike that clearing agents embarked upon sometime ago was not successful, otherwise…
(Cuts in). It was successful, it is the Nigerian factor: the minister of transport is not a sincere man, the Nigerian Shippers’ Council boss; Captain Adamu Biu is not sincere. That strike was headed by me as a unionist and I was not concerned whether I was killed fighting for the cause of Nigerians. During that strike, we mentioned many issues: containers occupying the major roads, not enough holding bays for trucks, excess charges by terminal operators, mostly APMT and that they should reverse to the status quo of N750 and N1, 500 during the NPA era. These charges are supposed to come down when the ports were concessioned, but now they are saying progressive storage charge and that is why they have jerked it up. I want to ask: since they have introduced it, has it reduced the cargo dwell time in the port or increased it? These are the questions and so many other illegal charges by the shipping companies, we brought it out in the committee that was set up by the minister through the committee that was headed by PM Apapa port (Ashanga) of NPA. When we brought it, Abdusallam could not sign it and we went to Abuja to the minister and he said there is truth in what we are saying; because the minister is a very fresh man, from his position he never knew the truth, until they persuaded him and the man later on reversed himself. After three months, they say the minister has given them approval to strangulate Nigerians by way of going back to N12, 000 and N10, 000 again and every other terminal operators followed suit because one thing about Nigeria is that if you do something wrong and nothing happened, another person will follow suit. The minister was not sincere, we had an agreement, but next thing he told us was that he has waived something for us. Nigerian bonded terminal operators say they are charging two naira over COT and whatever, they are charging tally charge of N5 that he has waved that for us and I said, look at what he is saying, when we are talking about. I cry for this country.
You seem to be implying that port concession is not success?
It’s never a success, because the mind set of the government for concessioning the port is not what we are seeing. We had thought that why government concessioned the port was for efficiency and reduction in cost of doing business in the Nigerian ports and making it friendly and giving us our pride of place as a feeder port for land locked countries. If you go to Cotonou, we are the ones using their port because our ports are not friendly to Nigerian importers, whereas, the essence of concessioning it is to make it friendly by way of being efficient and reducing cost.
Your first term will soon expire, and it is natural that you will seek ea second term, are you nursing such an ambition?
My brother I want to tell you something, for the love that I have for this great association and the love that I have for this very important chapter and you can see this for yourself. You have been following ANLCA’s politics for years, you have visited other chapters and what you are seeing here marvelled you as a person. You know that nobody will build a house and want to abandon what he has built and because there is time limit you will definitely want to do something so that your name will be written in gold. Bola Ahmed Tinubu (former governor of Lagos state) is a hero to me, the man is such a wonderful man, he is not just a human being, but a spirit. He was hunted by the military, but he stood his ground and eventually emerged as the governor of Lagos state. During his tenure, he was able to transform Lagos back to its old glory, back to the old ‘Eko’ that we used to know. The power that be shook him because they saw where he was going. Such things are also in the bible; you remember when Joseph’s brothers saw where the man was going, the evil spirit conceived in them and they conspired against Joseph, sold him out so that the boy will not achieve what he was destined. That is what the enemy of Lagos wanted to do to Bola Ahmed Tinubu; the first person said he forged his certificate in Toronto, all these things were ways to bring him down, but at the end of it the man came out, and everybody will agree with me that Bola Tinubu performed well. He would have done more provision for tenure, if there is a third or fourth tenure; he would have gone to complete what he started for the state. But, after his second term, he discovered that there is somebody who would complete it and that is in person of Raji Fashola, everybody knows what Fashola is doing today and because Fashola loves Lagos state, it might not be in his mind to continue, but he will go back because he is doing a good job. Because of the love he has for Lagos he will go back to demand for another four – year mandate, for him to at least consolidate on the progress so far recorded and at the end of it, he will consolidate on these programmes and whosoever he hands over to will continue from where he stops. Naturally you have seen that I have so many things, the manifesto that I had, I have completed them and I have other things also for the association. It is my dream to acquire a property for the association in Apapa chapter, with God all things are possible, if God can use me during the crisis in the first tenure to give me this position where the flag of ANLCA is hanging with the flag of the rest of the world, I believe if God permits me I will like to come back to consolidate on the efforts made so far, in order to have a permanent place for the Apapa chapter, that is my dream.