Dr. Obiora Madu is the Chief Executive Officer of Multimix Academy. In this interview with Anozie Egole, he spoke extensively on some issues in the Nigerian maritime industry and the way forward.
“Of all the things that CRFFN was set up to do, how many of them have been achieved”
What is your assessment of the Nigerian maritime industry in the first half of this year?
The Nigerian maritime industry are far from tapping the potentials in terms of performance, I don’t think much have changed in terms of result that we had in the first half particularly with the worsening situation in Apapa.
So, I think a lot of work needs to be done; we need to see the potentials of what we stand to gain from the industry and invest properly. For example, if the government is receiving over 40% of their normal revenue from the two ports at Apapa and Tin Can, then it means that anything that will disrupt operations there should be a major concern that the government should seat at the Federal Executive Council and give order and follow it up. But we need the political will to do that because we have executive orders that I have not seen the result. The Vice President had visited Apapa twice now may be a slight relief and that is like slicing the problems.
You spoke about the Apapa roads and the visit of the Vice President; do you think that the government is serious in the effort to fix the roads?
Well, it is difficult to say that they are serious because if they are serious we are supposed to have started seeing changes. Let’s take Onne (in (Rivers State) for example, for a very long time now entrance into Onne ports was like that of Apapa, if you have something to do at the port you have to leave earlier. And when the present Rivers state government came onboard they did something immediately. I think they contacted the major organizations at the port and said that they are all concerned and they agreed and made some contributions and fixed the road and improved it even if it was not completely done but they did it drastically more than what it is used to be. Are you telling me that if the government says to Julius Berger, we want the road to be passable then we will start talking about full work on the road you will see it happening?
You talked about Onne Ports, some people are saying that the government is reluctant in utilizing other ports around the country, what is your take on that?
You know Onne port is essentially a Free Trade Zone and there was a high volume activities when the oil and gas industry was still booming because right now the Onne port is also suffering a decline of activities. So talking about the activities at the ports because there is a Port Harcour, Warri and Calabar ports, generally talking about tapping the potentialities at the ports, the deepest port we have is Apapa port and is about 14meters depth. There are vessels that need 17meters and anyone of those vessels that need 15meters cannot berth; that is exactly why you see so many transhipment where the ship will berths on the high seas, then the small vessels will go and be carrying the loads. But this is costly, if that ship will berth normally then crane will move containers out of the ship; those other smaller ships that will go and pick up the vessels are paid and it is costly and at the end of the day the entire cost will be passed to the final consumer. I think the Port Harcourt port is like 7meters and Calabar 6.5meters then tell me which type of ship will berth there.
I think some of these things are political, I don’t know but Lagos is even asking for something to be done about the other ports and before now they won’t say that because they are earning the revenue and the economy of the state is booming. But right now it has come up with a massive challenge that the governor is calling for something to be done to other ports.
So, if we are looking at a balanced development of the maritime industry then there is need to do something about all these. The Lagos ports can be dredged to the 17meters that the big ships are looking for, it is not rocket science; you pay dredging companies to do that. The same thing can be done to Port Harcourt and Calabar. We are short-changing ourselves.
So many controversies have been trailing the CRFFN election with a former Customs Controller calling for a probe of the election. What do you have to say about that?
I don’t have much to say, the only thing I have to say is that if our government runs like a normal organization, what it means is that after some time you check if some agencies are doing well. Because I need someone to tell me what has been the major achievement of CRFFN since it started, before we start talking about the election. Because it points to the same challenge we had last year, people are scampering for positions in the council because obviously they know that there are things to gain. Of all the things that CRFFN was set up to do, how many of them have been achieved, why is it just to be scampering and struggling for position, why is the people’s concern.
The culture of not measuring is a major challenge in our government, there was a reason that agency was set up, can we say that the agency has achieved the objective of setting it up rather than people scampering for positions. If it has not achieved its objective what are we doing to assist it to do that, there was a gap that the CRFFN was created to close, the question is- has it achieved that and if it has not, who is responsible, is the government providing enough support or is the challenge coming from the management. Because, for me it is good to have a board to give it a direction but, have we done an analysis to know if they have achieved it. Typically everything in Nigeria is a national cake.
What do you have to say about the use of intermodalism in the ports?
Integration is what the whole globe is looking out for. The only way you will get the full benefit is when you have a multi-modalism not even inter-modalism, inter is between one mode and the other, but multi-modalism is when all the modes are connected. If you go to the Jebel Ali Free Zone (in UAE), it is like 10 minutes to the cargo airport, and then it is like also 10 minutes drive to the container terminal and all modes of transports are there. So when a big ship is berthing before you can close and open your eyes you will not see any of the cargoes again because they must have been taken out from there, you can hit the airport and all that.
Look, the founding fathers of this country saw everything that we needed; there used to be rail lines to Apapa ports. In fact one old man who had worked with the ports said that the day they were removing the remains of the rail lines from the ports he wept. Because what it means is that we are going back from what it was when it was there, that is why we are having these crisis. The reasons the roads are permanently bad, the heavy loads on the roads are also one of the reasons; if the rail lines are working then the roads will be relieved.
How will you assess the export sector of the economy, talking about yam and Cocoa exportation?
The government does not export, what the government does is to provide incentive and encourage people to export. But I guess that the foreign exchange from the oil is not making us to look into export and do what we need to do. So, I think that we need to get more incentives to work; we need to build the logistics infrastructure. One- it requires a cold chain and it doesn’t exist for now, a temperature controlled environment that will keep it in the state that it is supposed to be until it is exported. People are exporting yams from Ghana and people have also exported from Nigeria, so it is not anything that cannot be done. But the fact is that we are in a hurry, exporting is not a cash and carry business; it is not a fast business it requires patience, planning, infrastructure of course; it requires funding. We have about seven agro commodities that will warrant production globally, but we are not listed as a major exporter of any of those items.
There seems to be a serious decay of education in the maritime sector. Talking about getting the importers to know the rules of the trade and all that, what is our opinion on that?
I don’t know, but I think you should be asking CRFFN and the Nigerian Institute of Freight Forwarding and Customs Brokers. Freight forwarding is a supply chain sub, it is not any how business, what standard have you set, what you have asked me is what CRFFN supposed to do, professionalize the industry. I have also not been able to see the collaboration between the CRFFN and Customs. A situation where the CRFFN will be professionalizing and the Customs will be the one giving out license creates an issue; unless both of them agree, such that, the customs will say if you want to renew your license, you need to go to CRFFN and pass a particular course, you cannot renew your license unless you pass the course. That industry can only go for education when it is compulsory. I won’t mention the association but when they were having an election and they said that unless you go through the training you won’t participate in the coming election, this place was filled up with over 90 persons registered for the training. So it is an industry where people believe you don’t need to go to school before you get it done. That means that, for you to get them properly educated it has to be by force and one way to it is for customs to say for you to renew your license you need a particular training. In overseas customs training and all that are annual courses, you do them every year, because things change. So that is the problem and again people get away with non- compliance issues, when you don’t punish non-compliance then you are encouraging it. Because you need education for you to comply, but here anything goes. If you are the managing director nobody is saying that you must pass the exam, what we are saying is that there must be somebody in your company, on your staff list who has passed the exams.
What is your reaction with the recent statement by a Customs Area Controller the 5000 containers move out of Apapa ports weekly without proper examination?
It is so sad to hear that kind of thing, since there are scanners, how would that kind of container leave the ports without proper examination, who do we hold responsible, is it the importer of the agent. What will the customs be doing while containers going out without proper examinations. For saying that, it means that the customs should actually take a second look at themselves; check their systems and see what is happening. For a customs officer to say that, it means we are in trouble. For some time now we have seen containers of guns and all that, so how many of them have moved out, if it is so easy for containers to move out, how many of those type of containers have moved out.