In this interview with Oluyinka Onigbinde, the President of African Association of Professional Freight Forwarders and Logistics in Nigeria (APFFLON); Mr. Frank Ogunojemite speaks on the recent Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council report which rated most maritime sector agencies low. He also expresses opinion on other industry-related issues.
“PEBEC’s rating is totally biased and worthless”
“The CRFFN Act needs to be reviewed”
Stakeholders have faulted your defence of the Nigeria Customs Service in the recent PEBEC ranking. How will you react to this?
I want to say that everyone has his own perspective on the issue on ground. My statement is not actually for the defence of Customs, but to neutralize the assessment of PEBEC themselves. This is because PEBEC has not been featuring or visible. I personally have tried as much as possible to be in touch with them with respect to NAFDAC activities. It is surprising that NAFDAC was not featured in that assessment. How will SON be featured and NAFDAC is not featured? Why I emphasized NDLEA was because of all their interventions in the country. So I digressed by saying even if SON is performing, their performance does not exceed that of NAFDAC which was also not mentioned in that assessment. They did not explain why NAFDAC was exonerated or not being mentioned. So I see the assessment and rating as being biased and not substantial. Even they (PEBEC) themselves are not visible. I think the last time I sent a message to them was in 2020. I have sent several messages but there was no single response. Per-adventure, they want to go on with the assessments, stakeholders need to be included. We must be on board. That is my view.
Do you think the Nigeria Customs Service does not deserve the position that was given to them in the ranking?
From PEBEC’s perspective, they are not in any position to rate any of the agencies, because they have also underperformed. They are not visible. We have tried to reach them on many issues. Don’t forget that the issue of Ease of Doing Business was the idea of the Vice President and it was enacted by the President. They have only done one sensitization and that was when I got to have a relationship with them; in 2019. When was the last time PEBEC had a function? So how will they rate the left when they don’t know the right? Some agencies are now doing similar jobs. One deals with consumables while the other deals with non-consumables. So, at what point? The rating is totally biased and worthless.
Are you insinuating that the ratings might have been sponsored?
Possibly, PEBEC rating may have been sponsored. PEBEC needs to be overhauled; they are not working to expectations.
Recently, the National Assembly passed a resolution that every appointment for the CG of Customs should be from the service. Do you buy into this?
Of course, that is how it is supposed to be. How do you become a shipper without having the knowledge of what you want to do? It is going to be a lot of struggle. But if you have worked up to a certain level in your career and in whatever you do, leading that Career will not be an issue. It is a very fantastic move that the CG should come from serving officers in the Service.
Where do you think the in-coming administration should focus on in the maritime industry?
They need to do a total overhaul of the industry and they need to engage stakeholders very well and they will have a positive result. This is because the information that we all clamor for in the maritime industry needs to be handled by good hands. Another thing they should try to do in the next administration is to create harmony among the agencies. This is because most of the problems we are having are due to the cold war that exists between agencies of government. Imagine the single window, who is leading and who is not leading? These are the issues we are facing in the industry. They need to harmonize all the agencies and the stakeholders; that is the solution. So we want the new government to look critically into this.
The CRFFN is shopping for a new registrar and about 10 persons have applied. Are you optimistic that these people can turn around the CRFFN?
I want to specifically say that a system must be created. In any establishment, when there is a proper system, the people working there will have a blueprint on what they need to do. Whoever that leads any organization without a blueprint or system cannot perform credibly. Most of these Western countries you see excel in what they do, because they have put a system in place. Because there is no established system to work with, there have been a lot of impediments. I will encourage the government to make sure they have a system in place. For instance, the CRFFN Act needs to be reviewed. Also the Customs Bill about licensing of freight forwarders needs to be looked into. Whoever needs to be licensed, should come through the CRFFN. If all these things are not done, it is going to make the Council weak. They will not be able to sanction. When you create an establishment, you must be able to give it power to operate. All these things need to be considered if you want it to work out well, either in maritime or non-maritime sector. This should be addressed holistically.
Is any member of APFFLON or yourself pushing for the position of the CRFFN Registrar?
It is not a matter of association pushing for any position as the Registrar of the Council. It is a matter of whoever thinks he is qualified should apply and they should be able to undergo a series of interviews to be able to determine their competency in what is expected of them. APFLLON as an advocate of ease-of-doing-business will always support whoever is ready to reform the industry.
What is your reaction to the recent increase in charges by the Nigeria Customs Service at NAHCO?
Like I said on a radio programme recently, every business outfit is looking for profit. That has given them the right to increase their charges. But we need to look at the percentage and the rationale behind the increment. Is it justifiable or not? For instance, the employees of one of them went on strike because they needed more pay. Also looking at what the President of NLC said that they are going to go on strike and shut the ports because of low wages. That shows the industry is passing through hard times. So they have a right to increase their charges but it must be in a very good proportion. I don’t think they have implemented it yet. It is an ongoing deliberation. We have advised them on the things to be considered. Nobody is going to leave their shares in a company that has no dividends. If the company is operating without profit and the staff are not well paid, they cannot have good services. So I would encourage that they should think on how to facilitate trade and encourage Foreign Direct Investment to this country. This is because at the end of the day, the company will be able to benefit. No matter the percentage of the increment, if the business is very low and the freight forwarders are not able to work, it would not help the country or encourage investors. Looking at the rate of inflation in the country, everyone is bearing the pains. The government has a lot to do in regards to this. When the government makes policies, they should only make them but look at ways on how they can implement those policies and the rate of compliance. For instance, we are talking about handling charges. What about the facilitation of exports from this country? The exports of this country need to be upheld and the government has a very big role to play in this. These are the things that will attract foreign investors to this country. Even the terminal and shipping operators’ charges have all increased. The government needs to make sure that the price control mechanism is working effectively. I have contacted the DG of FCCP sometime ago about unnecessarily increment both at the seaports and airports. You would remember last year, they came to Apapa. We sent a petition and that is one of the reasons why I am still not happy with PEBEC because we have tried to reach them as well, but they are unreachable. If they are working for the public, they should be reachable. We are not calling you because of who you are. We are calling you because of the position you are holding. If they are all on ground we would be able to address all these issues.
The CRFFN Chairman said a Tribunal will be set up to prosecute unlicensed freight forwarders operating in the industry. Do you think this is the right way to go?
That is why I said CRFFN needs to be overhauled. We need to review their Act. You cannot operate outside the Act that establishes you. We would have to consider the Act and it should be reviewed as quickly as possible. If the Act empowers you to do such, then why not? They need legal power. We are not in Banana Republic or the animal kingdom that you can just decide to do anything. The Registrar of the Council working with the Chairman of the Board can come out with robust innovations that will attract people. If they do this, people will come and register with them, but they are not doing that or anything that would facilitate our jobs. So they need to do a lot of things that will attract people, rather than prosecute people.
Lastly, how will you react to the present peace moves in ANLCA?
There is nothing you can achieve without peace and how do you get peace without unity? The unity is sacrosanct and with that, we would be able to achieve in the industry. The more, the merrier. If they are able to sincerely reconcile, I urge every stakeholder to gather their input in the industry and of course the resolve will be highly positive. So, I embrace reconciliation.