Prince Segun Oduntan, is the immediate past Chairman of Tin Can Port Chapter of the Association of the Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA). In this Interview with Oluyinka Onigbinde, he speaks extensively on the genesis of the crisis rocking the association, his recommendations and other sundry industry issues.
How will you access your performance as the chairman of ANLCA at Tin Can Port?
I cannot access myself, it is outsider or members that can access me, you cannot sit for an examination and you will be the person that sets the exam and at the same time be the person that will mark it. Because if I want to access myself, definitely I will say I have done 100%, so I will leave that question for the people of Tin Can to do the assessment.
What challenges did you confront at Tin Can?
Definitely with the type of job we do, there will always be challenge because it’s an operational work. Part of the challenges is that that we have people who are not coordinated, we have the challenges of customs doing whatever they like and all that, my predecessor tried his best and I have to continue from there.
How were you able to surmount these challenges?
When we were coming in, we had a mission statement about five of them, concerning the things we want to do, and part of the mission statement is to improve Customs – agents relationship, trying to let the customs respect us and see us as their partners, we are the ones that pay the duty and assist them; which is one of our mission statement, we also said we wanted a permanent functional secretariat, we ensured that the secretariat is functiona,l we built our own website, we had trainings and we also found out that a lot of our people are always careless with their health and we realised many of our members died for things that could have been avoidable and some even died with nothing for the family to fall back on. We had instances when people will come and meet us and say they couldn’t pay children school fees and all that, so we set up an insurance scheme and I was paying for the members that benefitted. We also made sure that a doctor comes around like twice a week to do medical checkup, we also had empowerment programme for our aged; those whose strength cannot carry them again we had some supportive programmes for them; all these we did even the one of insurance that has never been done in any chapter, the records are there.
How were you able to do all these?
We were able to do it because I am a manager of people, I have close to about 26 staff working for me; both in Lagos and outside Lagos and I relate with my staff very well, apart from that, I grew within the system and I know how tedious our work is, I know how an average agent feels, I have been there on the field and I am not just an administrative head, I am an operational head, so it is the replica of how you see me handle my office that I have put in the association. For the years that I served as the chairman, because the electricity had problem, we were on generator all through and due to proper maintenance and coordination of people, it is still running and that’s why a lot of people will leave their office and come to the secretariat to come and relax.
What are your expectations for the maritime industry this year?
My expectation is high, because we know the issue of the pandemic created a lot of bottlenecks in the industry and I hope before the end of 2021, the industry will bounce back
How will you describe the impact of the Tin Can road on the operations of clearing agents?
The problem of Tin Can has to do with the construction company, because I went out I saw and I discovered that whenever they are doing any major road you don’t shut down the whole road, you have to create an avenue for motorists. But I don’t know where the contractors came from that nobody can talk to them, during my time as the chairman, I tried to manage a lot of things, because there was buck-passing, some people will say its NPA, and we will look at it to see where NPA has fault, some people will say police and some time we had to sleep in Apapa to resolve this, we had dialogue with them but at the end of it all we saw that the people are making money from the traffic. We went to MSC Shipping about the traffic and they promised which they never did, I also had dialogue with the head of the Presidential Task Team and I also invited Tokunbo Obanikoro, the General Manager of the transit park at second gate, because I believe in dialogue; we sat to resolve the problem and we found out that if the construction company can just fix a small part there and allow movement there, but the contractor in charge said nobody can direct him to do it and he refused to fix it, what is causing problem there can be done within one month that will create that access, so all what is happening in Tin can are human problem and the construction company are not helping matters.
What impact did the ANLCA crisis have on your tenure as Chairman?
I have been a practitioner for 31 years in the industry, I came into ANLCA the year I came into this industry and I saw a vibrant association and this is a profession that I have been practicing over the years to take care of my family and friends and making headway. I thought it was time for me to give back through ANLCA. A lot of people may not have access to me if not for ANLCA, for instance if not that I have given you appointment you may not be able to see me, so also for my colleagues too, but once I became the chairman they can access me. We have been in the association for so long but playing the back role, I have been supporting some former chairmen and some national executives, but my people came to me and said you have been supporting us, this time around we want you to play a role and that was how I came into elective office. I came in because we saw what is happening in the association, a very vibrant association and all that, but however the crisis started when we were about a year in office and I can tell you the height of the association just dropped down and the crisis have affected everyone, it has affected procedures and we have lost our regards. So it has affected everything, you know if the head is troubled it affects the whole body.
What is the genesis of this crisis?
I am not a board member, but I can tell you ego and all that leads to all this, but I know that I have had series of advisory meetings with the National President for almost 10 to 12 times. I told him that you are the father of all and that this issue is the issue of the board and in the constitution, the constitution did not say the board will run the activities with the NECOM or on their own, it is stated in there that the NECOM will run the activities of the association, so let the board sort their issue out themselves. He has to be neutral about this, if an Igbo man is the President and an Igbo man is the chairman of the board, it has happened before and there was no crisis, so if this time you have seen some agitations, because we learn every day, so if we have seen some people agitating saying that let an Igbo man be President and a Yoruba man should be chairman of the board, you should know that something is coming that should be handled with care and caution and with a lot of moderation because you are not a kid, you are the leader of all. Personally I spoke to both left and right, I spoke to Chief Henry Njoku , I spoke to Alhaji Mustapha, I spoke to Chief Elochukwu, I was speaking with everybody including going to late Aare Sani Shuttu’s house to ensure peace, even when I spoke with Prince Taiye Oyeniyi he made it clear that he has nothing that he is gaining from the board, it is not that he is collecting salary, nobody is collecting salary, but what I see there is that for history and posterity, these people don’t want a thing that will look like they are not registered and somebody will say tomorrow that they are not registered and that they are not board members and that is why they went and normalized the registration of the association, if they have now gone ahead and normalized it and the CAC now gave them the certificate and immediately the CAC gave them the certificate, I met with the National President Tony Iju and told him that now that this people said they have a certificate and that they are satisfied that they are certified BOT members and I spoke with them and they said they are okay now and I persuaded them to write a letter requesting to see the President and they agreed. I called the president and asked him to attend to their request and ask them how many months you want to give them before conducting another BoT election. These people wrote the letter sent it to him, but I don’t know why the President did not honour that meeting, he wrote them back some days after; that he lost somebody and that he was going for burial. That meeting that he did not attend where that issue could have been resolved was what broke the peace talk, and the day he said he lost somebody and that he was going for burial, that was the day he went and met with some administrators at the Airport chapter and that was how we got to where we are today.
Why is it difficult to resolve the crisis?
Why is NECOM so interested in the issue of the board?
But we have members of NECOM who are not with NECOM?
We have about three members of NECOM who are not with NECOM Joe Sanni is not with the NECOM, John Offorbike is not with NECOM and Bayo Oyekangun , but it’s not that they are fighting they just said they respected the order of the court, since the court has said they should not parade themselves as NECOM, so they chose to respect the order of the court, it is not that they are fighting with other NECOM members.
But the board is also divided
The board is divided and one person abstained, we now have two against five and the two is Chief Peter Obih and Chief Henry Njoku; although they said they have written letters that they are no more BoT members. So you can see that this issue would have been resolved if the President handled it the way it ought to be handled, but there are some other forces telling him to go on and you know he has forgotten that whatever that happened it is going to be his regime.
What will you advise as the way out?
The way out is only God, God is the one that knows the beginning and the end, what we don’t know he is the only one that knows it, because the light that will destroy the whole village during harmattan may just be a cigarette stick, we have had opportunity when a judge told us that with what he is looking, it is better for the two parties to go and reconcile, saying if he gives his judgment, it will the end of the association and he gave them like two three sittings to address the issue but nothing was done.