In this interview with Oluyinka Onigbinde, the Vice President of Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents; Mr Kayode Farinto speaks on the allegation that Nigerian ports are a riddled with corruption. Among other issues, he also talks about the crisis rocking his association.
“As far as I am concerned, we have not conducted elections in Tin Can”
Recently, Transparency International released a report which tagged Nigeria a very corruption nation, will you agree to this, especially looking at taking the Nigeria port system.
The Nigeria port system is riddled with corruption, there is no doubt about it, we cannot be deceiving ourselves, these things are happening in the industry. Let me take the call up system for example, we took our time in the night to investigate, and we saw the unethical things that are happening and how police have hijacked the call up; making money to the extent that now the people that are constructing the road, HI-Tech officials are being given money at night to discourage them and slow down the pace of work, that is how the level of corruption in Nigeria has become. We did this investigation at 2am it was only God that saved us. I have the documents for transparency international last year when they even scored us high, but honestly the rating is not biased and the realities of the things that are happening and honestly that is why we are asking the government to stand up because a lot of unethical things are happening.
In what other areas do you think corruption thrives in the Nigerian port system?
Yes, a lot of things are wrong, shipping companies want importers to pay through their nose, we have a situation now where to bring in an empty container is a problem, ideally the shipping companies are supposed to bring the empties to their holding bays and nobody is querying them, meanwhile the deposit that importers pay is depleting on a daily basis. It is unfortunate that we have found ourselves in this situation, I keep saying it that we do not have port developmental plan, little thing you must bribe your way through, even genuine declarations are being frustrated, we have a situation where if you have a consignment you have to book FOU, and book everybody, so it’s unfortunate, freight forwarders are so frustrated that the only thing they could do is “If you cannot beat them, you join them”, if not you will be sent of business. So there is a lot to talk about, for instance when a vessel berths, importers are paying demurrage, while his consignment is still on board vessel and yet to be stacked to the quay apron and nobody queries anybody. Every sector and department in this industry is riddled with corruption, when you manage to bring your consignment out of the ports we have the officials of NPA, NCS, with about five vehicles booking holding consignments and conducting examination, just before our very eyes, and nothing has been done about it. So the Transparency International report is not biased, it is apt, and that is why we have to stand up, and don’t forget that it is not in line with international best practices and now that we have signed a lot of conventions, Nigeria will start paying penalty in the next few months.
So, what do you think the government can do about this?
I have said it several times; reorganize the maritime industry, create a Maritime Ministry, then stop recycling old people, that is when we can have sanity. Let us see where a sectional head is dealt with, above all, it is high time we had a proper officer as the Comptroller General of NCS, that will reduce the level of impunity that is going around, because presently now, when you report anything, nobody listens to you. For instance, if you get a valuation from valuation department in Tin Can, for a 2015 vehicle and you pay the duty that is given to you, before you know it, somebody will put alert and you will start begging, extortion of the highest order is going on here. I believe Nigerian freight forwarders should be given the highest award for perseverance, despite the unhealthy and unfriendly situation they still manage to maneuver to deliver cargoes, it's rather unfortunate.
With the introduction of NPA E-Call up, do you think this system will curb corruption and traffic gridlock in the port environment?
It’s a lofty idea, but if the e-call up system must work, then NPA needs to rejuvenate its security department, because with this kind of system now, it is still the same set of security agencies that are doing it, before that they will use, and if it must work, NPA should come out decisively and inform the various shipping companies must stack their empty containers outside the port area, not what we have now, if it is what we have now, it is like putting an old wine in a new keg. It is very unfortunate that it is going to be jeopardized except the MD of NPA makes the sacrifice to come down herself to see what people are going through, then she will know how to solve the problem.
Are you aware that there is a N10, 000 fee payable for this service?
If it is N10, 000, is it not better than the N500, 000 we are using to bribe, it is better and that means you are paying to the government and you will have receipt, what about un-receipted money that we are paying, that is over hundreds of thousands of Naira and nobody is saying anything. So I don’t think it is too much; provided that there is no other money you are paying, so I think this is logical.
Some people are of the opinion that terminal operators should handle this e-call up, instead of NPA?
No, I don’t think so, because they will mess it up, because when they bring it (e call- up) to the terminal operators they will want to give preferential treatment to cargoes of their terminal, but NPA is the landlord and should not show favoritism. So I think NPA should handle it, provided they rejuvenate their security apparatus, if not that lofty idea will be killed because of personal aggrandizement.
Recently, ANLCA conducted chapter elections in the eastern zone, and there seems to be bedlam over a 3rd term ticket given to one of the candidates which is said to be against the constitution, why?
I don’t know why people are using paracetamol for another person’s headache. Firstly, it is true, but in law if anything happens they will ask you is there any precedent, yes there was a precedent. The problem we inherit was Olayiwola Shittu (former president) problem, Shittu actually allowed somebody to come back and contest in the name of two term, and that has been haunting this administration, when we even made attempt to disqualify this guy, you need to see the near crisis that we would have witnessed in the eastern zone. The people at the chapter said they want the man, so law is made for man and not man for law. So when we talk about administration, if you don’t have administrative acumen you will fail, okay why was it that when we have crisis, there was period that some people who have actually disowned us as NECOM; we told them to come back and that was against our constitution, ideally we are supposed to expel them, but because we want peace, we have to do it. In fact, in the east they are celebrating; the election has come and gone, you won’t hear anybody going to court, so it just some few people, the so-called leaders because of their greed that are using people who decide not to open their eyes. The issue of eastern zone is concluded and there is no uproar anywhere, we have not receive petition from anywhere, even we know that after now it will never happen again, so it is only people who like to see ANLCA in crisis that are insinuating here and there.
Recently Tin Can Chapter of ANLCA conducted an election
There is no crisis, because as far as I am concerned we have not conducted elections in Tin Can, the last chairman we had in Tin Can is Segun Oduntan, and he used overtime for his tenure, so there is no crisis in Tin Can because we have not conducted elections in Tin Can.
But Segun Oduntan has handed over to a new Chairman?
I am not aware of that, I am the Vice President of this association, if election was to be conducted I will be part of that election, except you are telling me I don’t know what I’m doing or our laws are faulty. So I cannot be commenting on an illegitimate child that is born out of wedlock, and you want to legitimize it, it is not done, an illegitimate child is illegitimate child, you don’t expect me to comment or react when some people who are selling puff-puff and groundnut and somebody who was once a board member that is tenure has expired will conduct an election and I will react, so it's not an issue and there is no crisis and very soon, we are going to have an election in Tin Can and you will now know that ANLCA is well represented in Tin Can.