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FG encouraging corruption at port- Shittu

Immediate past National President of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, Prince Olayiwola Shittu does not engage in cheap talk nor mince words whenever he chooses to speak. He talks maritime business and politics in a straight, frank and objective manner; much the same way his passion to drive changes has remained unshaken.

In this interview with Eguono Odjegba, Shittu bares his mind on a number of burning ports issues cutting across failed port concession, human migration into the port industry, proliferation of deep seaport, import/export growth index and politics of cargo scanners.

In his usual unapologetic straightforwardness, he declares “Nigerians have very low compliance level, our problem is being Nigerian and it is a catch 2/2 thing. Those who are not compliant get their way in because they pay their way through. It affects those who are compliant.” Enjoy the conversation. Excerpt:

CRFFN appeared birthed to controversy from inception, as a former Council Chairman, can you provide us with the objectives it actually set out to achieve and how best these objectives can be implemented?

All over the world there is what is called international best practices. What has become a norm is that the end always justifies the means. CRFFN was set up as a regulatory body for practitioners to regulate themselves. It is such that even registration of members must be certified by a governing council. Now it has always been there that our practitioners look for avenue to short change the system. So principally a lot of people come in because of what they can get, so that they can boast I am working in CRFFN. The reason ANLCA went to court was that the provisions of the Act must be followed. In fact, if it was a sane society, all the activities carried out by the ministry of transport since 2012 should been declared null and void.

We are faced yet with another port congestion crisis; there appear to be various components of the crisis: holding bays, bad access port roads, non functional cargo scanners, 100% physical examination etc. How best can we resolve all of these?

You remember there was a presidential task force on port reforms of which I was a member. Membership of that port reform were well to do eggheads in the society, it included Cosmas Maduka (Coscharis) and some others. We recommended 5man steps to cargo clearance and that report was received with fanfare, but nobody did anything. Out of that 5man steps was where Customs now brought up and introduced ASSYCUDA, PAAR etc. The summary of the maritime crisis is that people don’t want things to work in order to benefit themselves; it is as simple as ABC.

READ ALSO;Death toll in Rivers building collapse rises to 13

Do you see the various cargo inspection regimes, Destination Inspection, Pre-shipment Inspection being part of the causes of our port problems?

The problem we have is not the type of inspection regime but ourselves. Nigerians have very low compliance level. Our problem is been Nigerian and it is a catch 2/2 thing. Those who are not compliant get their way in because they pay their way through. It affects those who are compliant, he becomes subject of scrutiny. So those who are complaint gets exasperated and says ‘why should I continue to be compliant when I can be non compliant and make more money?’ That is one important factor because those regulators who are supposed to ensure that compliance is done have never given credence to those who are compliant, they just mix everything together, it becomes ‘you are guilty until you prove yourself otherwise’. Another problem is the discretionary powers given to regulators without any realistic means of seeking redress. You cannot seek redress, you cannot have a challenge with the Customs whether on classification or value and you’re seeking redress within the same system, how can you get redress? Police catch your container now and say it is under investigation, ask you to come to their office, who are you going to seek redress from?

Cargo scanners have become an issue, we have old ones government didn’t repair and are littering the ports, and we have new ones having challenges been installed. As an operator of long standing, what do you think the issues are?

It is because of what is in it and those involved. During the port concession many things were not factored in. I was the National Publicity Sectary of ANLCA, we kicked against a concession that will not involve the stakeholders, it was just the Bureau of Public Enterprise, Nigerian Ports Authority and Nigerian Shippers’ Council. Chief Adebayo Sarumi, then Managing Director of NPA was saying it will do well for us but at what cost?  He has finally admitted the resultant balkanization. That what the reform threw up is not the way ports should be, and that is why we don’t have holding bays, export bays, everybody is just managing small, small areas, that is not the way it is done. The terminal operators know that turnaround of vessels and quick evacuation of goods will give them more money than when the place is jammed and no place to berth, no place to evacuate, and it becomes a storage. Now the roads added its own. If they have given terminals the go ahead to install scanners, they will buy choice, long lasting scanners, it will make the job easier for them. As the containers are coming down, they’re going through scanners and the photo of the scanned goods is already there in the system where customs, NAFDAC and all the regulatory agencies will have access. That way only 10% of cargo would have been available for physical examination.

Why is TEUs rated low in Nigeria, such that neighbouring countries like Togo and Ghana get faster turnaround?

Their volume of import cannot be compared to Nigeria. We have a large economy and a very large port while some other sectors of the economy are not performing well. That is why you see large migration to the port because everybody must find somewhere, somehow to survive. I have had the opportunity of going to the port in Cape Town along with our members. There you do your operations from your office online. If they suspect your container, they don’t need to call you because the sincerity of purpose is there, they go and check it and if there is nothing there they let go. But in Nigeria there must be personal contact, that’s what they are capitalizing on, that is why Nigerian is not growing. It is like there is this suicidal means of killing the country. In America a customs broker takes responsibility for paying duty on behalf of the importer and if you short collect government revenue, it is 7years jail term, no option of fine. It is only in Nigeria here you can examine a 20ft container 6 times. This agency will say I was not there when you examined it, go and reposition and if he doesn’t say go, you can’t go.

Let’s look at the Lekki Deep Sea Port that has been positioned to take over from the premier Apapa/Tin Can ports, do you have faith it will take us out of our present challenges?

This Lekki Deep Sea Port like the one they are talking about at Badagry, Ibaka, Gelegele and the rest…when did we develop the hangover that all we need to be doing is to establish new ports, because these new ports are been planned to increase our level of imports without considering export that will turn around our economy, that will make our exchange rate firm and strong. All the roads leading to Epe have not been upgraded, there is no railway connect to the inland. It is like the same Apapa road. That is why some Nigerians began to rely on Cotonou to go and drop their goods because of the bottlenecks we are having here, the problems is for now and we are also creating it for the future. Do you know how much it takes to maintain a deep seaport? Deep Seaports are not something to be dredged like Calabar and Warri seaports that have been giving us problems because of silts. Why do you start thinking of establishing deep seaports that will run into trouble within 5years?

Prince Olayiwola Shittu recently pulled together the crème of society during his 68years birthday colloquium; government agencies at the event accused freight forwarders of underperformance and unethical practices. Were you concerned about those allegations?  

When you’re a regulator, a government agency, what stops you from performing your duty? You are being paid and your job involves what government says you must do, what is your handicap, when you have the power of government behind you? You now turn around to say freight forwarders are engaged in unethical practices, when you are induced to take bribe must you take? That is why we say the Federal Government is the one encouraging corruption at the port because posting of officers, not only in Customs but in the other Services, are based on political consideration. When you give me your invoice I want to track and look at similar value for that cargo. Imagine the job you have carried out due diligence on and the importer had paid reasonably, but just because they want to collect money from you, he now says your classification is not correct? Sometimes he is wrong, you now argue with him, you go and meet his boss…right to the CAC. At the end of the day, when they discover that your classification is right, they say okay, ‘you can carry your goods’. You have lost time, money and energy.

READ ALSO:N150m tramadol Bribe: Group wants Customs to disclose identity of Importer

CRFFN appeared birthed to controversy from inception, as a former Council Chairman, can you provide us with the objectives it actually set out to achieve and how best these objectives can be implemented?

All over the world there is what is called international best practices. What has become a norm is that the end always justifies the means. CRFFN was set up as a regulatory body for practitioners to regulate themselves. It is such that even registration of members must be certified by a governing council. Now it has always been there that our practitioners look for avenue to short change the system. So principally a lot of people come in because of what they can get, so that they can boast I am working in CRFFN. The reason ANLCA went to court was that the provisions of the Act must be followed. In fact, if it was a sane society, all the activities carried out by the ministry of transport since 2012 should been declared null and void.

We are faced yet with another port congestion crisis; there appear to be various components of the crisis: holding bays, bad access port roads, non functional cargo scanners, 100% physical examination etc. How best can we resolve all of these?

You remember there was a presidential task force on port reforms of which I was a member. Membership of that port reform were well to do eggheads in the society, it included Cosmas Maduka (Coscharis) and some others. We recommended 5man steps to cargo clearance and that report was received with fanfare, but nobody did anything. Out of that 5man steps was where Customs now brought up and introduced ASSYCUDA, PAAR etc. The summary of the maritime crisis is that people don’t want things to work in order to benefit themselves; it is as simple as ABC.

Do you see the various cargo inspection regimes, Destination Inspection, Pre-shipment Inspection being part of the causes of our port problems?

The problem we have is not the type of inspection regime but ourselves. Nigerians have very low compliance level. Our problem is been Nigerian and it is a catch 2/2 thing. Those who are not compliant get their way in because they pay their way through. It affects those who are compliant, he becomes subject of scrutiny. So those who are complaint gets exasperated and says ‘why should I continue to be compliant when I can be non compliant and make more money?’ That is one important factor because those regulators who are supposed to ensure that compliance is done have never given credence to those who are compliant, they just mix everything together, it becomes ‘you are guilty until you prove yourself otherwise’. Another problem is the discretionary powers given to regulators without any realistic means of seeking redress. You cannot seek redress, you cannot have a challenge with the Customs whether on classification or value and you’re seeking redress within the same system, how can you get redress? Police catch your container now and say it is under investigation, ask you to come to their office, who are you going to seek redress from?

READ ALSO:Panic as tanker driver, conductor stab mortuary operator to death in Rivers

Cargo scanners have become an issue, we have old ones government didn’t repair and are littering the ports, and we have new ones having challenges been installed. As an operator of long standing, what do you think the issues are?

It is because of what is in it and those involved. During the port concession many things were not factored in. I was the National Publicity Sectary of ANLCA, we kicked against a concession that will not involve the stakeholders, it was just the Bureau of Public Enterprise, Nigerian Ports Authority and Nigerian Shippers’ Council. Chief Adebayo Sarumi, then Managing Director of NPA was saying it will do well for us but at what cost?  He has finally admitted the resultant balkanization. That what the reform threw up is not the way ports should be, and that is why we don’t have holding bays, export bays, everybody is just managing small, small areas, that is not the way it is done. The terminal operators know that turnaround of vessels and quick evacuation of goods will give them more money than when the place is jammed and no place to berth, no place to evacuate, and it becomes a storage. Now the roads added its own. If they have given terminals the go ahead to install scanners, they will buy choice, long lasting scanners, it will make the job easier for them. As the containers are coming down, they’re going through scanners and the photo of the scanned goods is already there in the system where customs, NAFDAC and all the regulatory agencies will have access. That way only 10% of cargo would have been available for physical examination.

Why is TEUs rated low in Nigeria, such that neighbouring countries like Togo and Ghana get faster turnaround?

Their volume of import cannot be compared to Nigeria. We have a large economy and a very large port while some other sectors of the economy are not performing well. That is why you see large migration to the port because everybody must find somewhere, somehow to survive. I have had the opportunity of going to the port in Cape Town along with our members. There you do your operations from your office online. If they suspect your container, they don’t need to call you because the sincerity of purpose is there, they go and check it and if there is nothing there they let go. But in Nigeria there must be personal contact, that’s what they are capitalizing on, that is why Nigerian is not growing. It is like there is this suicidal means of killing the country. In America a customs broker takes responsibility for paying duty on behalf of the importer and if you short collect government revenue, it is 7years jail term, no option of fine. It is only in Nigeria here you can examine a 20ft container 6 times. This agency will say I was not there when you examined it, go and reposition and if he doesn’t say go, you can’t go.

Let’s look at the Lekki Deep Sea Port that has been positioned to take over from the premier Apapa/Tin Can ports, do you have faith it will take us out of our present challenges?

This Lekki Deep Sea Port like the one they are talking about at Badagry, Ibaka, Gelegele and the rest…when did we develop the hangover that all we need to be doing is to establish new ports, because these new ports are been planned to increase our level of imports without considering export that will turn around our economy, that will make our exchange rate firm and strong. All the roads leading to Epe have not been upgraded, there is no railway connect to the inland. It is like the same Apapa road. That is why some Nigerians began to rely on Cotonou to go and drop their goods because of the bottlenecks we are having here, the problems is for now and we are also creating it for the future. Do you know how much it takes to maintain a deep seaport? Deep Seaports are not something to be dredged like Calabar and Warri seaports that have been giving us problems because of silts. Why do you start thinking of establishing deep seaports that will run into trouble within 5years?

Prince Olayiwola Shittu recently pulled together the crème of society during his 68years birthday colloquium; government agencies at the event accused freight forwarders of underperformance and unethical practices. Were you concerned about those allegations?  

When you’re a regulator, a government agency, what stops you from performing your duty? You are being paid and your job involves what government says you must do, what is your handicap, when you have the power of government behind you? You now turn around to say freight forwarders are engaged in unethical practices, when you are induced to take bribe must you take? That is why we say the Federal Government is the one encouraging corruption at the port because posting of officers, not only in Customs but in the other Services, are based on political consideration. When you give me your invoice I want to track and look at similar value for that cargo. Imagine the job you have carried out due diligence on and the importer had paid reasonably, but just because they want to collect money from you, he now says your classification is not correct? Sometimes he is wrong, you now argue with him, you go and meet his boss…right to the CAC. At the end of the day, when they discover that your classification is right, they say okay, ‘you can carry your goods’. You have lost time, money and energy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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