National President of Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, Tony Iju Nwabunike recently in this interview with Vanguard Maritime Report’s Godfrey Bivbere, spoke on the gridlock in Apapa, the condition of the port access roads, regulation problems, crisis in ANLCA and CRFFN, haulage cost and many more.
You are embarking on a container terminal project in Onitsha?
Yes, a container terminal and freight station in Onitsha in conjunction with the Anambra State Government. So, it is going to cushion the effect of Onitsha and Nnewi traders.
So, what is the position of the project now?
We are working hard on it to be commissioned before December. Yes. We are working hard on it.
What is the capacity of the train station?
It is about 14,000 TEUs. We have two phases. We are doing phase one now.
What is the phaseone1 about?
Phase 1 is 14,000
What about phase two?
Because the project is large, we are expecting an institution there too. So it is going to be a total composition of freight station, border terminal, dry port and export. Anambra state is really working on that.
Where is it located?
It is at Ozubulu, just 15 kilometres from Onitsha, Onitsha-Owerri road and 10 kilometres to Nnewi.
It is a very good location. But how do you move the containers from wherever to the train station?
Just like we are moving containers to Kano and Kaduna presently because both of them are in the same region, the freight station is not working yet. Even in the Kano and Kaduna, we have been going there without train. Most of them are by road.
I heard you are connected in the one at Kaduna too?
Yes, I’m a director there.
What is the situation there presently?
It is working well. The dry port is finding its foot but the Kaduna Inland Container Depot, ICD, as well as the one in Kano, is working well.
So that is where they do the clearance?
Yes. But the other one you have to have a bill of laden telling Custom that you want to transfer to border terminal. But this one you don’t need Customs permission for that one, you just send it straight.
The issue of the recent directive by the vice president that the port access road should be cleared within 72 hours, and it is over 72 hours now, although there is a little improvement but the gridlock is still there?
Between you and I, you know that the problem of port road have been lingering for almost twenty something years now. I think seriously that we have to go multi-modal. Multi-modal must be in place to do things correctly, meaning that our train station must work.
Again, for those obstructing car park there, they must learn how to do parking because we need to minimize the levels of trucks and vehicles coming to Apapa. Look at Apapa technically, there is no much room for development, the roads are bad, the bridge are tiny, they are having one way-in, one way-out.
So, going out from Apapa is the same thing, coming in from Tin-Can is the same and they did not plan it properly. So the train station need to work, they need to begin to think about 3rd bridge to enter Apapa, yes, very important.
Where will the third bridge be?
The third bride, wherever they think is right, even if it is from Marina straight to inside port. They need to make that provision. On the immediate measure, the container bay, everybody terminal operators must have a container bay where you should go and stack your empty container and bring them to the port when they are ready for export.
I think it is what terminals must have all the reports and that these containers have to come immediately when the vessel is around to load and they take it to that place. That should be a temporal measure; but the permanent measure is that there must be call up system on this issue.
Then, the third option is to decentralize the Lagos port. Whatever is making Lagos port very attractive should be done to allow the eastern ports attractive also.
We just have to do that. Just as I am telling you that we are having another terminal, they should encourage such terminals to come up so that we can take consignments from Port Harcourt and by the time you take more than 15,000 containers to Anambra container terminal, by the time you make sure the Warri port is okay, by the time you make sure that the Onne Port is working, by the time you make Warri port very effective, these are the areas we should have to work on to decentralize the Lagos Port.
One thing a lot of people talk about is the issue of the state governments not knowing the advantages of this port like in Delta, Rivers and Cross River, and that they are not making the federal government see the reason why they should be developed. Do you think they have anything to do in this regard?
Yes, what I think they should do if they have worked very well, you see by the time you now have a partnership with shipping liners they now take shipping trade from Singapore for example, or China to Apapa wharf, it can then pass from China to Warri, the same free charges from China to Calabar, not saying that Calabar will pay extra $3,000 or $2,000 and that is one.
The second thing they should do is that they need to encourage those areas with sophisticated facilities and other things like less charge, terminal charges and all the rest of them.
I think they will come up, but the point is that even the federal government is not even concentrating on the issues of Apapa port if not, that roads would have been planned before now, so the pressure is that they want to be giving targets to Customs. Customs generated one trillion, three trillion, five trillion, but they are not interested about other issues like the one on ground, the traffic gridlock.
They have not gotten a real solution to the problem. Every government come tell us the same old story, so sometimes, people like me, it does not interest me anymore because I know that it is the same story they talk about.
But nevertheless, I think this government is becoming a little bit serious, so if they are serious then we will give them a template on how to solve this finally.
And then the issue of haulage charges, in the centre of last month they said moving of container from Tin-Can to Ikeja used to cost about N250,000 naira, but now what I’m hearing is that to move it just from inside the port to outside the port gate cost about N200,000, is it that expensive?
You see, another problem we are having is the level of nonchalance from the truck owners and their drivers. You see, most times they do things and take laws into their hands. There was a strike, they have issue piled up, they think that the principles of supply and demand is there so because there are no much trucks to pick all the goods out, they now go for jugular and go for the killer. Otherwise, why can’t the Nigeria Shippers council, NSC move in and control them. Anyone who refused to adhere to the Council control will be sanctioned. If they like let them go and strike. They will come back and adhere to the regulations of the government
Everybody is doing what he wants to do and what he likes to do in the port, so he port has become a very abnormal area of indiscipline. Everybody does whatever he wants to do, so I think we should adhere strictly to the regulatory bodies to do what they need to do and they should be up and working.
But government is only interested in giving these people target. If you are going to Alaba, you are made to pay N70,000.
Okay, what about the issue of charges, do you have idea on how much they charge now?
They charge whatever they like to charge. I remember that going to Alaba before was about N170,000 but now is almost N550,000, almost ten times higher so, how can you comprehend that. You see, the problem we have is that nobody is regulating them and there are very limited number of trucks that will carry the higher large numbers of containers that is in the port right now. There is no good road, you know, another thing is that there is no way to store the empty container within 2 weeks because there is no holding bay, if there is holding bay, they will go.
Okay, let’s come to the issue of ANLCA, the BOT chairmanship what is your take? Who is in charge?
Let me tell you, it is not too good for somebody to inherit a disorganized family right? Immediately I was sworn –in that they begin to do this tussle, and I have asked them severally that to let the status quo remain let me do my research and place things the way it should be.
Actually, they do not want to understand why the status quo should remain, so what they have done is to sit down now. I think I have to do that again, I will call them for a meeting, tell the ASECO chairman to conduct another election, let them do election, whoever wins then we will induct him there and then and bring him in, that’s all, immediately. They are not much that they cannot organize another election, they are only eight but that does not matter because they can form a quorum, they can call me in as president to sit down and let us elect ourselves to give it serious legitimacy so that nobody will say no, I was not defeated properly.
ASUCO chairman will have to be there and we do the elections for them, whoever wins in my presence, will be sworn in immediately. But now, I can’t talk much about it because some set of people went to court I don’t even know why. I inherited it and which I used my wisdom to remove it and by the special grace of God I will see some wisdom and understanding to make them understand that you do not need to be rushing to court all the time, this is just an issue that we can solve.
What about the issue of Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria, CRFFN, the election has come and gone, what is your stake in that, are you okay with it?
For me, the election was a good one. I do not have any reason to say that this election was not a good one because it was transparent one, and whatever happened here we need to move forward in CRFFN.
You know CRFFN has been so stagnant, we need to allow it move. Even if it require pushing, we push them, if it requires drawing, then we draw them, whichever way we need to get it right, we should get it right. I think the election have come and gone. If they are inaugurated they need to go and sit down in the governing council and structure out the way to do things properly in the maritime industry and freight forwarding business.
And then finally sir, there is this insinuation that because you were involved in CRFFN before, you mellowed down a little in the demands of Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA for the elections to take place, making it impossible for ANLCA to be as dominant as it use to be in the past?
No, the truth of the matter is that while ANLCA was in court for CRFFN to conduct the election but they were not ready because if you are asking court for CRFFN to conduct an election, you have to be prepared for that election is that not right?
But they are not prepared for the election. But now court said okay, CRFFN is ready for an election so what else are you asking for, now the case is that other associations were ready who have been registering their membership, so but ANLCA was not prepared for that election.
So the ones we could get, you know before now we are dominant but now we are equal to, all of us are Customs Brokers. We are one big family every one of them came from ANLCA, even if you are National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, NAGAFF, it doesn’t really matter, and they are all freight forwarders. The important thing is for them to go and represent us properly and make sure that our voice is heard, that’s all. What matters is that we are Customs Brokers and freight forwarders to represent us properly and champion our course.