Prince Adeyinka Bakare is a member of the governing council of the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN). In this interview with Shipping Position Daily, he speaks on issues pertaining to barge operations, hindrances to collection of Practitioners Operating Fee (POF) and other sundry issues.
“We have too many big men in the industry and they believe if they are not the one in the council the POF will not be collected”
As a leading barge operator, do you think it is well-regulated in the country?
I don’t think it’s not well-regulated, let me give you an instance, when you look at vehicle registration in Nigeria, you see the Vehicle Inspection Officer (VIO), Road Safety, LASTMA all doing the same thing, the same documents VIO will ask you is the same documents road safety officers and the Police will ask you.
So, we should be able to have a particular agency that is really regulating this, but as is it now there is clash of interest as to who regulates what and what, and if you don’t register with anyone of them you become an illegal operator, but I think having a single window for documentation will help resolve all this.
Which agency regulates barge operations in Nigeria?
NPA has its own license, NIMASA has its own license, NIWA has its own, LASWA has its own, Marine Police, Navy; so you can see that we have a lot of people to work with when it comes to regulation. But I still believe all these people can come together under one single platform and once we have lesser agencies controlling barge operations, it could also bring down the cost of operation.
Would you consider that as one of the factors hindering barge operation in the country?
I wouldn’t say that, barge operation is something that just came in; we started using barges in 2018, and in 2020 a lot of people went into barging and now you see many running out again because it’s not what they expected they got, and many were frustrated because of the condition of registration and other challenges. But if things are done properly, and let me also add that majority of the ports were not built for barge operations, so in most cases some of them were just trying to come into it, naturally the crane they were using before was just for vessel and they can’t use that for barge. So they have to start coming into it, and for those who are doing RoRo, apart from Grilmaldi and Five Star, probably no port was built for RoRo operations and now we have a lot of people who want to do barge in RoRo form. So It is not something we have really prepared for before now, so those still remain the challenges we are facing. Then safety is another challenge, for instance we can’t move at night and when you are moving you see the indigenes who are fishing and dredgers, so we still have those challenges, more so some of the channels are not well dredged, so these are still the challenges but as times goes on, I am sure we will get some of these things resolved.
The e-call up system of the NPA is billed to start soon, do you foresee any challenges?
For the eto platform, I don’t think there is going to be a problem, the problem is going to be for the agencies. The biggest problem we have in this industry is the collaboration of the agencies; when you have one agency feeling more important than the other or feeling more superior. Let me give you a very simple analogy, for instance the Presidential Task force was disbanded and the Ministry of Transport came up with another taskforce in collaboration with NPA and Shippers Council on the decongestion of the roads in Apapa, and before you know it, Lagos state government came up with another task force and from nowhere again the Inspector General of Police brought in some Police for the same assignment. So I don’t understand, if you get to those bridges in Apapa around 6pm, you won’t know the difference between Idumota market and Apapa and this is what we expect that e call-up platform to take away, but to be honest with you these people will not allow it to work.
Who are these people?
When you have the Lagos state task force, the Inspector General of Police Squad, the Ministry of transportation taskforce and other Apapa miscreants who are also coming to clear the road it will be difficult. The funniest thing is that if you go on that road now you will see sanity, but once its 8pm to around 4am, you will be surprised at the congestion, and a lot of atrocities they want to commit will be carried out at that time and when its 5am in the morning, it will be smooth again; so that’s the problem the platform is going to have.
Are you aware that there is a N10, 000 fee payable for the Truck Transit Park?
The fee is not an issue and I will tell you why, it takes you nothing less than N200,000 to move from Ijora Olopa down to the port; nothing less than that, now if we begin to pay N10, 000 to have a smooth movement into Apapa, I don’t think that will be an issue, if it is well regulated, but the issue is paying that 10,000 and at the end of the day, you still have to pay another thing. We hope that the e-call up works, it’s going to be to the advantage of everybody, but we are waiting for the kick off.
Do you think the e-call up will complement the barge operation?
It totally has nothing to do with barge operation. If things were to be done properly, barge operation should be pushed outside of Lagos to places like Ikorodu, Epe, Badagry and those areas, because when you take a barge from here (Apapa) to Kirikiri, you are still congesting the same Apapa axis. We should also understand that this same Apapa road, is the same road flour mill is using, it is the same road Dangote is using and adding to it the tankers, but if this path could be taken away then the number of people coming to Apapa will reduce.
You are a member of the governing council of CRFFN, why has it been difficult to start the collection of POF?
Well, I don’t think it is difficult, the issue is that in this freight forwarding profession, we have too many big men and they believe if they are not the one in the council, the POF will not be collected, there is this mindset that why will it be the tenure of this current council that we will collect it. So they rather feel going to court to stop the collection will cost them nothing and that’s why we have the court case we have on the collection of POF. But I think the current council has done everything reasonable to start the collection of the POF, but you know we have some big men who feel they are bigger than the council and they will tell you the genesis and origin of the council.
Can you mention two or three of these persons?
Like I said, this industry is one of the most difficult industry to see in this country, because we people that think N10 million is money that they can waste and they fight for practically no reason. We have talked to some of them to withdraw the case for us to move forward, but they keep saying CRFFN did not come to their rescue and all that, but you cannot do anything if you don’t have money, there is no two-way about that. Also have it at the back of your mind that CRFFN is a baby to other sister agencies and some of them have been in existence for years; they have had a good structure. I happened to be the Chairman of the technical committee that integrated a whole lot of CRFFN things to the agencies’ platform, so I wonder how they will start the collection of the POF when the integration was yet to be fully carried out.
There is this allegation that the tenure of the current governing council members has expired, but you don’t want to leave, how true is this?
I ask a very simple question: Did our tenure start the day we did the election or the day we were sworn- in, so you can’t come and tell me we did election in June and when it’s July the next year you are asking the council members to leave. Secondly, the interpretation of the Act is there, if you want to dissolve a council, I believe there are proper ways of doing that, this is the council that could not meet for months due to the pandemic, after the pandemic we met we discussed, we even set up a motion on how the election should be conducted; even when you are now saying they don’t to leave office, if we don’t want to leave office we will not set in motion, how the election will be conducted.
Then the next thing we saw on the governing council platform was that we have been dissolved. I think it’s an insult to the council, I think the right thing for the management to do is to do a proper send forth or disbandment of the council, let’s do the proper things that need to be done, I am not collecting salary from the council, rather I am spending my money, I think it’s honourable to do a proper send forth for me, if you say I should go, but the Act is there and some of us have gone to the court for the interpretation. As for me, I have left the council since yesterday.