Prince Segun Oduntan is the Tin Can Island port chapter Chairman of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA). In this interview with Anozie Egole, he speaks on sundry issues affecting the ports and freight forwarding.
What informed the formation of a Adhoc committee by ANLCA at Tin Can chapter?
The committee was formed because of the perennial problems in our ports on the issue of traffic gridlock that has got to be level where it is now unbearable. For everybody assessing Tin Can port, it has become an issue to the extent that for you to even load a container in this place, it can take you over one month’ I am a living witness and it affects me too. So it gets to a point where we feel we have to form an Adhoc committee, although we have a task force in place. I have to call a meeting of all the former chairmen of this chapter for the fact that it (traffic gridlock) never happened during their own time. But there is always a gain in learning from past experiences. And what we have seen is that we are to address issues of shipping and terminal arbitrary charges and transportation. This one has to be people who have experience. The task force was inaugurated in December and when it was inaugurated we visited some terminals. We found out that inside the terminals there was no issue, no operations were going on, the issue is from outside. From our findings, we observed that it is human factor that is contributing to 80 to 90 percent of these problems, people are benefiting from the logjam that was artificially created. The problem about this thing that I will call human factor, is when you are working with human being you don’t know what is in their minds. We wrote to shipping companies and we told them that we want to see them at the terminal and it was only two shipping companies that showed up the rest didn’t come. The problems have to be shared and solved by all operators with all hands on deck. You cannot be operating as if it doesn’t concern you. People cannot return back their empty container because the holding bays that they are supposed to provide are not enough. In as much as we still have empty containers going back inside the ports, these problems will still continue. We have people at the helm of affairs who are regulating the shipping companies we have to tell ourselves the truth. Nigeria is not a war zone; we are not supposed to be paying containers deposits here. Because I have deposited money, you are not bordered and you even charge me more. I have some containers with me and they said my customers owed and they said they owe because they didn’t return containers. Meanwhile they have paid over N5million on those containers. After several meeting we came up to say if trucks are not going let people be take their consignments by barges. And we went to customs to tell them and they were proactive to give provisional approval to this because a house is supposed to have alternative exit. But now you can see some people are still not happy, they don’t want to key into it, but I am not relenting.
You said the Adhoc Committee has intervened in the area of transporters, shipping companies and terminal operators, what about Customs?
You see, even some people are saying that Customs generated huge revenue but none was given to us (clearing agents). But there is always one thing with me, I am a very complaint agent and I am a professional broker, I work; I am on the field; I know what is happening. On the issue of intervention, we thank God with all these problems, at least for our own period the customs is not saying they are stealing at Tin Can like they used to say. It is now a different thing; we thank God the command met their target because we continued to engage our people to be compliant, you cannot fight the government let us do things according to the law. We also have a listening Controller who is ready to tell us the way things are despite all odds the customs in Tin Can were able to meet and surpass their target for last year. That is a plus, even for stakeholders, now what my people are saying is where we are going now. As I am talking to you now I have ANLCA Tin Can intelligence unit, their work is to gather information and we go and intervene. Where our people are wrong we tell them, now it is everybody on their toes; it is not going to be easy for any officer to do what he or she wants. We have been complaint, so officers are also to be complaint now.
The Nigerian Shippers’ Council has over the time be advocating for the stoppage of containers deposit. As a licensed agent, how best do you think the issue of container deposit can be addressed?
On the stopping of container deposit, they have to be fair with it. We are licensed customs agents, if you want people to bring back containers to take their deposit, there is no problem with it, if I am to give it to you on behalf of my customer or if the consignee is the one to bring it there is no problem. If it is insurance, there is no problem instead of asking for some amount of money which you know will disappear. So if they are sincere with it, let them come up and we will rub minds together and we tell them the best way to go about it, they are the regulators of the shipping companies. So whatever they say they should bring the stakeholders together.
There seems to be high rate of containers falling off the trucks due to the use of rickety trucks, what is the committee doing about that?
As I am talking to you, we have heard about two meeting with truckers on Ubber Truck providers. And they are ready to bring it to the trucking sector and to be able to assist existing serious transporters that have at least five trucks in their fleet. Once you have your Terminal Delivery Order (TDO) you go to the platform and put that and submit your TDO, the truck goes to pick the cargo. Once they pick the cargo the owner will be notified; because he will be able to track the cargo and once the cargo is picked the owner will pay. And as soon as the owner pays the cargo will be delivered to him, the platform is about 80% completed; it is a matter of choice you can now choose which one to follow. And for people that have smaller number of trucks, if you are committed they will provide you a platform where you can borrow money and they will give you more trucks at a minimal or no interest rate. So when there are issues, don’t wait and die with the issue you have to be thinking of a way out. Because I can tell
you that if the roads are not cleared to the ports today and if the issues of taking back empty containers are not resolved, we will continue to have these problems.
On this, Uber innovation, are you in touch with the existing truckers’ unions or associations?
Don’t let us live in the past, let us be positive about our thinking, we are bringing in innovations. They made their presentations to me and I looked at it and I told them not to meet with anybody. When Uber was coming, did they meet with Lagos state Taxi Drivers Association? So let us not talk more about that; it is free entry business, all the issue they are going to encounter, they are also on the field trying to study their challenges. They have been on that one for the past six months trying to study what the challenges could be.
There seems to be many abandoned trucks in some terminals, what are you doing about that?
Those trucks that you saw there are containers that have exited customs, that are supposed to be going to the warehouse, but some of them said that they are there because agents and transporters have not been paid. But I know that they must have been paid because you can exit the gate if you have not been paid. But there is always an issue, some will say that they need to fix their tyres and some other complaints. So they now use that place as a garage which is not supposed to be so, NPA is not supposed to allow that to happen. There is collusion somewhere and from our investigations we will tell you that those drivers and truck owners held meetings with NPA security and the Police because you can’t park there. If you are still in the gate it is a different thing. It is not the fault of customs and we saw that, the one that is the fault of customs we know how to tackle them. Any container you see at the point must have gotten to the OC Gate, NPA is supposed to know, then the terminal operators; they have to tell us why the containers are parked there.
Do you think these terminals are properly equipped?
It is not about equipment now, as you can see Sifax recently acquired new equipment, go to TICT you see the equipment they have. What we are saying is that there should be another route to bring in empties. You cannot be taking out FCL containers and also be bringing empties it should be a one-way thing. Any truck that is going inside the ports should go in without a box it should just go in and load. Go to Ikorodu lighter terminal now you will see over 20 badges lined up to discharge what stops them from making Ikorodu terminal a one stop short for empties and they should engage the barges to be taking empties back to the terminal.
One of the issues that will affect agent soon is the collection of POF which CRFFN will soon start, what is your reaction to the development?
Let me tell you something, there are lots of issues going on concerning the POF. It is only when people are happy that they can do something willingly. The issue of POF would have come naturally without any resistance anywhere. For me, I didn’t say nobody should collect POF but the timing is what we are talking about. Why is it that now that we are having issues that is when you will come up with the payment? Do you know how many things we are paying for, there are too many things we are paying for and people are not doing the job in a conducive atmosphere, people are suffering in the job. When we study the position of our national body, that is when we will deliberate with our members