By Godwin Oritse & Eguono Odjegba
THE National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, NAGAFF, Office of the Vice President Western Zone has inaugurated a 100 per cent Presidential Compliance Team to promote compliance and facilitate trade at Nigerian seaports.
Speaking at the inauguration ceremony at NAGAFF headquarters in Lagos last Friday, Vice President of NAGAFF Western Zone, Alhaji Tanko Ibrahim, who leads the team, said the initiative is to partner with the Federal Government in ensuring that corrupt practices militating against trade facilitation are stamped out of Nigerian ports.
The team, among other things, is to ensure that importers make correct declarations for Customs purpose, while at the same time ameliorating challenges faced by freight forwarders with shipping companies and terminal operators.
The team, according to him, would also abolish the use of ‘camp boys’ by officers of the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, put an end to excessive sampling of imported products by some government agencies at the port and bring about a permanent solution to the traffic gridlock at the Apapa port environment. Tanko assured that NAGAFF members are ready to comply with government regulations, but that Customs officers, shipping companies, terminal operators must also be compliant themselves to promote good practices at the port services.
He assured that the 100 per cent compliance team was not out to witch hunt any operator at the port, adding: “We are not here to witch-hunt anybody; we are here to do what the law says; we would start from our importers; every importer should do 100 per cent declaration.
“Secondly, we the freight forwarders, it is our duty to ensure that all our cargo are examined by the Customs. We are tired of being slaves. Today, shipping companies and terminal operators, we are just like their slaves. We are tired of this. We have agreed now and we are ready to enforce compliance.
“Our duty is not to Customs alone; people think we are here to face the Customs; it extends to shipping companies, terminal operators and other government agencies. If you don’t comply, then we would do the needful. I want everybody to understand that we are not alone; the compliance team is not alone; we attached ourselves with government and they are ready to hear from us.”
While admonishing his team members who would be unleashed on the Nigerian port system anytime soon, Tanko said, “anybody who comes under my leadership must respect himself; he must be loyal. As you see me, I take instructions from my superiors; therefore, they must take instructions from me. Today, NAGAFF is a moving train; if you are ready to join the train, you can come onboard; if you are not ready to join, you should give way.” Already, the 100 per cent compliance team has got the backing of the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria, CRFFN, even as its Chairman, Alhaji Tsanni Abubakar, disclosed at the ceremony that the Council would give the team the teeth to bite.
Represented by Prince Ozo Chukwura, the CRFFN Chairman described the NAGAFF initiative as the best initiative that freight forwarders need to help them in doing their job. He urged the 100 per cent Compliance Officers not to be deterred or intimidated by any government agency or operator.
“This issue is like ‘Operation Amotekun’. You will have problems, people will criticize you and make you feel like disbanding this initiative, but please don’t be deterred; you are trying to protect your people at the grassroots.
“I will take this initiative to the Council and they need to give it 100% support. The first thing to do in compliance is to task your committee members to be a member of CRFFN. It is then that we can give them the backing and the teeth to do anything they are doing legally.” he said.
Abubakar tasked the committee not to limit their operations to NAGAFF members alone, but that they should try and find out what is responsible for the increase in cost of transporting cargoes out of the port.
He also charged the team to investigate trailers being parked on top of the bridges leading to the port at all the time for so many years.
Executive Secretary of Nigerian Shippers Council, Barr Hassan Bello, described the initiative as a timely idea that is needed to restore sanity into the port system.
Bello who was represented by Mrs Ada Okam, Director of Special Duties of the Council said, “It is a very timely idea, especially to restore sanity in activities within the port. The Nigerian Shippers Council, as you all know, has played a vital role in ensuring that sanity is restored in the Apapa port area and we would continue to do that.
“We are willing and always ready to partner with the freight forwarders to ensure they get the best from our port.”
On his part, founder of NAGAFF, Dr. Boniface Aniebonam, assured that the compliance team is to add value to the essence of the ongoing reforms in the port industry, at the Customs level, as well as shipping companies, terminal operators and other accessories attached to moving goods out of the port.
Aniebonam confirmed that already, port industry stakeholders are jittery as to the intentions of NAGAFF in setting up such team.
He however assured that the committee is only going to have a challenge with operators who are not ready to play by the rules.
While addressing the freight forwarders, Aniebonam said, “You are at liberty now to advise your clients and importers to make genuine declarations for Customs purpose, we cannot continue this way, those on the fast lane have to go under, while we join hands to build this country.”
According to him, freight forwarder plays a major role at the port in terms of security, revenue and advisory roles.
“When we get our facts, we would get it across to the appropriate authorities; NAGAFF is known for advocacy. In my interactions with the Comptroller General of Customs, he has tasked me to come up with the names of one or two Customs officers doing anything to the contrary.”
Aniebonam said the compliance team will kick-start its operations in March 2020.
“Between now and first of March, all of them will undergo training, we are going to bring resource persons to speak to them, because the worst thing that would happen to you is to go to farm without a tool. They would undergo an intensive course for one week on what they are expected to do; you are not expected to go there and distort operations” he said.