“There is no money to run my chapter ‘’ “

In this interview with Roland Ekama, Sir John Ofobike; the Chairman Apapa Chapter of Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents [ANLCA] opens up on many issues about port operations, his association, his chapter and others.

How can you rate the performance of terminal operators in Lagos port?

In this interview with Roland Ekama, Sir John Ofobike; the Chairman Apapa Chapter of Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents [ANLCA] opens up on many issues about port operations, his association, his chapter and others.

How can you rate the performance of terminal operators in Lagos port?
I will say that it is zero in the area of cargo delivery and service delivery is zero and the reason why I said zero is that terminal operators are supposed to hold the goods in custody for the Customs because every goods that come to the port is in the customs port and one of the duty of the terminal operators is for them to provide services to enable the customs to do their jobs diligently.  So the terminal operators have not been able to meet up with their responsibilities as the law provides. So when you look at all these things, you find out that to appraise or evaluate the terminal operators you will agree with me that they have not lived up to expectations. For instance, it is the duty of the terminal operators to drop cargoes and position it for physical examination by the customs and when this cargo is not being positioned, the customs cannot do their work and as a result, the importer cannot take delivery of his consignment to the customer at the right time. If I request for my cargo to be dropped for examination or inspection, it is supposed to be automatic and I have made all my payment expecting them to release my cargo in two hours time or for them to give me a day , that is what it is supposed to be, but that is not what it is in the port; what we have here is to show people that we live our house by 3 am to 4am coming to the port to queue at the point  where the loading takes place and after you go to that spot in the morning they are yet to resume work for the day and before it gets to 9am, the booking had stopped, therefore those who left their houses that morning we’ll not get service from the terminal operators. That is why I will say that the terminal operators’ performance is zero, because we are not getting what we are supposed to get from their own part.

As the chairman of ANLCA, Apapa chapter, what has been your advice to them?
What kind of advice can I give to them when the last time the Minister of Finance with three others from the presidency which included Professor Sylvester Monye, the minister of transport r Idris Uma told stakeholders to speak from the heart? You may recall that the minister of finance  made a pronouncement  in which she said the terminal operators are businessmen who are here to maximize their profit, that there should have been a regulatory agency that will regulate the activities of these businessmen. I know that when an order is given and that order expires the next thing to do is to enforce the order and when they start enforcing the order, we will see the difference. Until the government takes up the responsibilities of having regulations in the port to sanction and punish the terminal operators, they will continue to feast on Nigerians.
What is your take by the move of the Lagos state government on the restriction of container trucks from 7am to 6am?
I think whatever the government is doing and most especially the Lagos state government is that they meant well for the citizenry, because I am part and parcel of this government, they have my mandate, I voted for the government of Lagos state from the era of Ahmed Tinubu till today I am on the side of both Tinubu and his successor Babatunde Raji Fashola.  Thus I will continue to vote for them, every idea by this government is meant for the well being of Lagosians.

Don’t think that this move will hamper the smooth flow of cargoes out of the Lagos ports?
How will it affect port operations when we all know that ports are on 24 hours a day and seven days a week? Our ports run 24/7 so if the port run 24 hours ,why should we be using only 10 hours in the day and allow 14 hours of the night to waste. But I believe that Apapa is a commercial area and it is very important to the nation as well as the state and it is not only port operations that is in Apapa because there are other businesses too that are making use of Apapa as a local government and the Nigeria constitution states that you cannot use your own business to arm  or disturb others from doing their legal businesses, so if the state government decides that all cargoes should move in the night ,all operations of T.D.O and examinations to take place at night or at night all the loadings should take place then by  5am, they stop, then I think it’s a good idea. It is not going to affect service. If you take delivery in the night and so empty containers come in the night, it does not actually stop anything because in Cotonou all the big trucks are allowed to move in the night. When the government of that country discovered that the roads were not enough, they made the same law that we are talking about, the law stipulates that from 10pm till dawn such trucks should be moving and in our own case it will make the port operation adjustable. So to me I must say that the move by the Lagos state government on the restriction of container trucks is a very good one, but I think they should also provide security all over the routes in Lagos, repair the roads and ensure that the highway lights are in good conditions. I know the government will put all those things in place for optimal performance and the earlier we start from somewhere the better for all of us.

As the chairman of Apapa chapter of ANLCA, what have been the major challenges?
The greatest challenge so far has to do with cash to run the affairs of the association in my chapter because there is no organization that can succeed without cash. We need funds to organize seminars for my members, cash to organize training for members; cash for the welfare of the members, in summary availability of funds has been my greatest challenge since I came on board as chairman. My people are lacking in terms of knowledge because we have not been able to put heads together to see the rudiment of the clearing procedure. Clearing procedures of yester years is not what we are having today, it changes from time to time and we must move along with them so that there will be total compliance in the system, so I must say that it is a big challenge to me.

As a registered freight forwarder what is your expectation from the CRFFN about the forthcoming elections?
My candid advice to the council or the forwarders is for them to be mindful of whom to choose. They should look for humble, educated intelligent human beings to represent us. We should also shun money bags and look for  the right people and things like ethnicity and sentiment should not be a yardstick in the forthcoming election of CRFFN because ethnicity is to divide people and what we want is for the right and qualified people to represent our interest because we have never ever gotten any good representation, but  that does not mean that they have not done anything positive in the sector .The likes of Segun Odegbami, Emmanuel Okala, Best Ogedegbe were all good footballers in the 1980s, but later the younger ones came up and also  did very well in the round leather game called football. So I think we should look at that line as well, by that I mean we should look for young people that are knowledgeable about the industry with ideas that will make the industry to grow and that can take the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria [CRFFN] to the next level. I am not saying that they have not done well, but I believe that we have to get fresh hands I mean fresh from A-Z.

What is your appraisal of the national executive of ANLCA?
In all ramifications and in all sincerity, I will say excellent.
Are you satisfied with the performance of the Presidential Committee on Port Reform in line with the desire to achieve 48-hour clearance of goods?
I am not satisfied, though the young man that is leading the committee came to do a good work, he tried for taking a bold step to implement the order of the President, but along the line he was deceived by the caterpillar and devourers by telling him lies that if they allow these trucks to come at night, ships that are coming to Nigeria may chose not to come again and they will continue to pay thousands of dollars and he took their advice.

What is your assessment for the maritime industry in the first half of the year?
Most of the time we continue to assess the maritime industry from time to time and we are still at the same spot. But the area of the Customs N1Trillion target is one area to assess, because if everybody comes out to give genuine declarations on their consignment and comply with the law, I think that target will be achieved by them.

In your own opinion, why is it that importers are not making genuine declarations on their consignment?
It’s not about importers, but Nigerians in general because it has to do with attitudinal change in the area of compliance, but I think the government has to put things in place because I have gone out and researched on why people do not comply and I find out why people do not comply to government laws which make them to cut corners. One, I discovered that because government has not lived up to their responsibility. If you go to Britain, UAE, America, Canada, France and Japan, things are very okay for them and things are working, then why is it that such things cannot work in Nigeria? My own response to this is that the governments of those countries have been able to provide infrastructures for them by meeting up with their responsibilities, especially for their citizens. When we talk about their social infrastructure we take a look at facilities on ground .The social contract they have with the people is to provide an enabling environment for the citizenry to thrive in whatever they are doing. There must be equal opportunity for the people, there must be employment for the citizens, and there must be a good health system, good roads, water system, electricity and security for the people.  By the time government is able to put these things in place, Nigerians will comply with laws of the land. Citizens that are paying their taxes regularly should benefit from what they paid for. However the government on their own needs to provide amenities for the people so that issues like non- compliance will reduce to the barest minimum in all that we do, so that importers can comply by making genuine declarations of their consignments.