‘’ As far as security on our waters is concerned, Nigerian government has not there yet.”
Reverend Chiori Cole is not your usual shipping sector stakeholder. He was one of the thousands of freight forwarders who were inducted recently by the Council for the regulation of Freight Forwarders at the Unillag Auditorium. It was there that he struck a relationship with our correspondent, Roland Ekama. A few weeks later, it became obvious that Reverend Chiori has a lot to share with us about the Nigerian maritime industry. Enjoy this brief interview that was conducted by Roland.
Can You Briefly Tell Us About Yourself?
I am Reverend Chiori Cole, I have been in the Ministry of God for a while before registering this business called Oceanglory commodities limited in 2006, I am happily married with seven sons and they are all working with me. My first son is the Managing Director of the company and my second son is the deputy managing director and so on.
What Are The Services rendered by the Company?
Basically we are into shipping, Oil and gas, transport and freight forwarding.
What Is Your Appraisal of CRFFN In View With The Recent Induction?
The Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria CRFFN has helped in bringing freight forwarders together, the council was able to bring all the freight forwarding associations together which depicts that there will unity among them. ANLCA, NAGAFF and Council all came during the induction. Before then it wasn’t so, there had been divisions here and there.
It has been speculated that there are moves by the CRFFN to merge some of the associations, what is your take on that?
I do not think that is true. CRFFN is a regulatory body; theirs is to regulate Nigeria freight forwarders and they are not in business of competing with anybody. They are to control, regulate, monitor and to make sure that there is standard in practicing freight forwarding in Nigeria so that quacks cannot be involved in the business. The federal ministry of transport is fully in support of CRFFN and like I said earlier, they are not competing with any clearing and forwarding company or competing with NAGAFF or ANLCA.I am one of those that supported the council for being a purely regulated body, so if they belong to any international association it is normal or if they belong to a local association is also normal because they have the right to belong to any association.
Do you support the move by some government agencies to find their way back to the port?
The government agencies at the port were just too many and government has been streamlining them but for them to come to the port is disrespectful to the government. It is the proliferation of the government agencies that led to the traffic gridlocks we have been experiencing in port and also outside the ports. So I do not support them coming back to the port. Those that are legitimate to stay in the port should stay and those that have been ordered to leave the port should leave .These agencies we are talking about have created bottleneck in the port and it is not the best way to run the port. As it is, nothing has changed but we believe that things will surely get better for the nation’s seaport.
How can you rate the performance of the presidential committee on port reforms vis a vis the desire to achieve 48- hour cargo clearance?
It is possible if it is properly implemented, for example if the customs do their work the way it should be done ,if every relevant agencies do their work the way they ought to do it, then it is achievable and the process of clearing goods out of the port will be faster and easier and that was the reason for the setting up of that committee to help the Nigerian ports to compete with other ports in the world, because what happens is that the more a container remains in the port, the more it attracts demurrage. Some of the concessionaires cause arbitrary delay in order to make more money. If the committee is able to carry stakeholders along to know what their needs are in the port, then we are close to achieving 48 hour deadline and from there things will get better. Since it is a presidential taskforce, they have their words and order to make the port progress because if they work well pilfering will stop and things that cause delay in cargo clearing will stop. The concessionaires should be mandated to make vessel come in, off load and sail out within a short period.
Are we not having too many committees in the maritime sector?
That is the Nigerian factor for you, I mean what we should ask is what are their findings? what are the white papers on the report of these committees that have been set up in the past and what has been the result of the committees .At times ,after getting what they are expected to do, those that are affected will want to lobby so that they can sweep it under the carpet. I pray that the present committee will stand on their words so that good recommendation will be given about them.
What is your take on tax identification number [TIN]?
TIN has been in operation from time, every registered company has a TIN, both for VAT and tax even individuals. For example in my company every member has a TIN in other words it is better for Nigeria.TIN is necessary because it is from that process that you can identify a tout and that is what CRFFN is all about, in order to know those that are serious- minded businessmen and those that are touts in the industry. Operating without a TIN simply means you can’t do business with other organizations, it is not possible to do business without it, so anybody that is cheating the government of this country should stop it.
CRFFN has said that unregistered freight forwarders can no longer do business in the port, is it achievable?
I see every Tom, Dick and Harry in the business and before it can be achieved then a lot has to done on the part of CRFFN. They will need to work with the shipping companies, they will need to work with importers and also work with international communities on the source of the goods to know who is who. I thank God they say they are going to standardize things in the port, but truly they have to start somewhere and it is going on in the right direction. There are few officials at the moment working with CRFFN and if they can employ hands that will monitor the all situation then it will be achievable.
The federal government has set N1Trillion target for the Nigeria Customs Service for the 2012,is it feasible?
It is possible and in fact , they can collect more than that because their job is to collect duties on every cargo that is suppose to pay duties, the customs can get more than that, but the fault is that they look the other way. Goods that are supposed to charge, they do not charge for such goods; in other words we lose so much in that regard. Those goods that are supposed to pay duty should be collected from the customs; I know such duties collected will not lead to inflation. There is no point bringing in rice into the country from the land border while we have the sea port because those who bring in rice from the land borders do not pay duties. Most of them come into the country duty free and that is why rice has flooded the Nigerian market and those that come in through the authentic routes run at loss. If duty is collected on every goods that come into the country, then it is not a problem on the part of the Nigeria Customs Service to meet the N1Trillion target by the federal government. Leaving the borders and staying in the cities are some the reasons that can lead to inflation. Customs should leave checkpoints in the city because the process of double checking by the Federal Operations Unit of Customs on containers that are out of the port on our highways is also a factor that can cause inflation not necessarily the duty collected or paid to customs. It is not fair for container to leave port and later encounter men of the FOU on the highway and collect another money from you because it is a factor that can lead to inflation because those containers are being imported into a country that is highly import- dependent.
The traffic gridlock in port access roads is quite alarming at the moment, what will you proffer as a possible way out of this?
The planners of the port environment did a very wrong planning, in the first place the tank farms we have along Apapa and Tin Can Island should not have been there. They should have been very far away and I want to say that it is the major cause of the gridlock that we are having in Apapa and Tin Can. I do not think we experienced all these before the tank farms came and before now business activities in the Apapa have been free before the tank farms came into existence. However, if the tank farms can be relocated, it will be better for us but as long as they are there we will continue to have miserable traffic gridlock. No matter how government will expand the roads in Apapa, the only solution to solve traffic is through the relocation of the tank farms in Apapa.
Do you support the concessioning of Nigerian maritime waters to a private firm by the President?
The Bible says that “the watcher watches in vain…….”, last year one of our vessels; MV Warrior was attacked by pirate and the crew members wounded on Lagos waters, but thank God, NIMASA handled it very fast and the attackers were jolted and the vessel was allowed to come in because it was as a result of congestion on the high sea of our territorial waters. As far as security is concerned in our waters Nigeria has not got there yet. Federal Government should look into our territorial waters, NIMASA is talking about getting search and rescue boats, but the big question is how many do they have at the moment? The naval police cannot go out of the bar but the marine police and the navy too should step up the tempo as well but as for today security on our waters is very poor. He is the President and as the head of the country, he is planning for tomorrow, so if he says that he wants to privatize our territorial water to a firm, then it is for futuristic purpose that is how I look at it, but I do not think the private hands will be capable of securing our waters effectively because it is purely a naval work and a military task. However we have retired naval men who can go into it and get good result. But whatever decision the President takes is to ameliorate the problems of security our waters.