“In the next few months if you are not certified, you cannot be able to practice freight forwarding”
In this interview with Oluyinka Onigbinde and Adewale Buraimoh, Dr Kayode Farinto; the acting VP of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents speaks about his profession, the ports and related issues
How will you describe the operation of VREG since its inception?
For you to access any new system, it will take minimum of 90 days. But because this has to do with trade, we thought that if there’s any delay the multiplier effect goes to the final consumer in terms of storages and demurrages. I would say VREG or VIN valuation is on and has not been totally successful. There are two categories of vehicles. We have the standard chassis vehicles and the non-standard chassis vehicles. When you input the chassis number of the standard chassis vehicles, the VIN recognises it, brings out the history of the vehicle. So far so good, I think that is going on well for now except, the non-standard chassis that needs human contacts; where you’ll need to write to the Controllers and go to Valuation unit to seek assessment. This is being done haphazardly and has not been going smoothly. We are imploring the Nigerian Customs management team to, as a matter of urgency see how they can speed up on the issue of non-standard chassis vehicles so that it would start working like the standard chassis vehicles where you just go to the system and get your value assessment. I will also use this opportunity to plead with the Federal Government to review the age policy of these vehicles. If you look at the 12-year policies of these vehicles, it implies that legitimately, only vehicles from 2011 that can be allowed to come to Nigeria. Then what happens to the vehicles of 2009 or 2008? You will agree with me that even a common man will not be able to afford a 2009 vehicle in view of the current price in market. The fact that you have a 2009 vehicle, the system forces you to pay a duty for 2011 or 2012. So we want government to review the issue of the auto policy because 2009 vehicles are still newer vehicles and how many people can afford it?. We should also consider that there are some of our youths; the moment they leave the University they would want to be self-employed and they go into Uber business for commercial services. They may not be able to afford these categories of vehicles again if government insists on the 12 years’ auto policy.
What is your take on the proposed automation of the Nigeria Customs Service?
I look at it as one of the mistakes this government is making, and it is very unfortunate that a government that is fighting corruption. It is an act of nepotism. It is very unfortunate that it is happening during our era because we now have a situation whereby this government is signing jobs or settling the boys. I am an Apostle of the fact that we have indigenous engineers who can partner with Nigerian Custom Service. Look at our weather now, will have been witnessing rain in the last few days. Even the WebFontaine that was brought from an outsider is not a success. Many times we have server downtime or what have you and nobody is challenging anybody for that. Bringing in a Chinese firm; saying they want to automate our Customs operations is a misnomer, and aberration and it is very wrong. The issue of the e-Customs is the worst thing that will happen to the maritime industry. It is very unfortunate that even the company that started the MoU have issues and was jettisoned for a new company that was registered April 7th. That alone is enough to send somebody to jail, because due diligence was not done. Thank God people are in Court. Personally, I want to join that suit because it is my right because the future and generations yet unborn will ask us what actions did we take when these things happened to the Maritime industry. It is better to take an action, than sit on the fence. We want the e-Customs or modernisation of Customs which we have started doing the era of the Late Dikko (former CG of Customs) through the implementation of PAAR and e-payment. All we have to do is to look for an indigenous company, improve on whatever we have on ground and see how we dot the ‘i’ and cross the ‘t’. But giving it to a Chinese company or foreigner is called neo-colonalisation.
Why do you think the Customs scanners are not working?
The issue about the equipment is a very funny thing. I am waiting for Customs to say they want to implement that without putting all the things that they are supposed to put in place. I want to believe that customs are enjoying the 100 percent examination of cargo, because of the physical contact and this is encouraging corruption; whether we like it or not. On the issue of vehicles, we said we are tired and we want VIN valuation. We still have some Customs officers who are stopping this VIN valuation and who do not want it to succeed, because of the fact that it is going to reduce this physical contact between the freight forwarder and the Customs officer is more than 70%. We even have situations where you pay what VIN valuation gives you and some overzealous officers who still want to be given bribe and would put alerts on the consignments. That is why we said we are compiling the names of these categories of officers and we will forward it to the Headquarters of Customs. If nothing is done under one week, we would make it public to the whole world and forward it to the Presidency. The issue of the deployment of scanner machines will have added value to the port. In the last month, I am one of those that led the committee on behalf of our association to the National Assembly to argue on the need for us to have scanner machines. Now the scanners are available and the Customs is refusing to use them, which means something is happening somewhere. Somebody somewhere still wants us to rigmarole. It is very unfortunate.
Recently, one of your association members was arrested for drug importation. What do you have to say about this?
He was not arrested for drug importation. He is the freight forwarder or the Custom broker which in the cause of customs examination, illicit drugs and psychotropic substances were found in his container and he was arrested. We have told all freight forwarders to make sure that they sign indemnity form with their importers and to do due diligence by at least notarizing it. Unfortunately, this was not done. He is not the importer of the consignment and we have told him to cooperate with the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) by making sure that the importer comes out, so that he can be given bail. He is not the importer and he was not arrested for the importation of illicit or psychotropic drugs. At that time, he was the clearing agent and the laws says he is the owner of that consignment until he is able to provide the importer. Which I know he has to do in due time.
How have you been holding forth since you became the acting National President of ANLCA?
There is nothing spectacular about being an acting President. I am seeing myself as the vice president just holding the forth for our big ‘oga’ who is not around. This is a role I have played for some time before now and it is not a new thing to me. There is no challenge, I am used to it.
Do you enjoy the cooperation of the chapter and zonal executives?
Yes, they are cooperating. We call them for meetings to brief them on how far we have gone. Even at the Eastern zone, we are planning a Presidential tour which I am delaying because of the fact that there are too many works on the table for now. Very soon, we are going to embark on the Eastern tour. We have the cooperation of all the chapter executives.
How true is the rumour that you want to become the next President of ANLCA?
I don’t know what you mean by rumour. It is an aspiration. I have been a member of ANLCA for quite some time. As the vice president, if I aspire to be the president, there is no big deal about that. It is a normal thing in life. there’s no big deal about that. But if I see a better offer by the government giving me a Ministerial appointment. I can jettison ANLCA because it is a thankless job. It is a job that no one appreciates what you’re doing. If the government gives me an appointment tomorrow, I will just step aside for another person to come on board. But it is my aspiration to be the President of ANLCA.
You are the Chairman of the Educational committee of the CRFFN, what should we expect?
You should expect a lot. We have to do empowerment and capacity building. They accredited some institutions when I was the Chairman the first time. We will look into it and how far we have gone. They gave accreditation to more institutions to offer freight forwarding and we encourage our members to be certified, because in the next few months if you are not certified, you cannot be able to practice freight forwarding. We would arrest anyone who is touting. That is why we want to separate the wheat from the Chaff. This is why you as a freight forwarder, you should know your responsibilities and where it ends. We are also going to discourage situations where a Customs officer posted from Gombe state will come with his camp boys and when they are going back, they do not take them along and he becomes a freight forwarder.
We are going to do a lot of sanitation and empowerment in the industry. I expect our members to come out for training to ensure they partake in the training which will be done free of charge.
Should we expecting the compilation of names of “corrupt” officers?
I didn’t say corrupt officers. I said officers who are frustrating the implementation of VIN Valuation and officers who are insisting that our agents must still give them money. It is now left for the service to determine whether they are “corrupt”.
How soon should we expect this?
Very soon, we are already compiling the names; in fact, we have even started compiling the names of officers who have stayed more than four years in the port. The moment we send it to the CG of Customs and nothing is done, we will blow it out to the Ppress. We are tired of being called names because we are professionals. We are sanitising and telling ourselves what should be done and our expectations from the public. We have gotten to a stage where multinationals have taken over our jobs, even shipping companies are now registered by the board of customs to practice freight forwarding and Customs brokerage. It is a pointer to the fact that if we do not sanitise the job and ourselves, we may lose the job and that will not happen.
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