By Kenneth Jukpor & Okuneye Moyosola
Otunba Frank Ogunojemite is the National President of Africa Association Of Professional Freight Forwarders and Logistics of Nigeria (APFFLON). In this interview with MMS Plus he shares the unique features of APFFLON, explaining the challenges, prospects and achievements. Excerpts:
Please tell us about your association?
APFFLON is a freight forwarders association. The association is new in the industry, however, the members are not new in the industry. The association was created on the 3rd of July, 2018.
So far what has been some of the challenges of the organization?
Generally, there are conventional challenges that most associations have whenever they are created. Regardless of that, we are working on our membership and we are also trying to get a secretariat. We are also working toward creating awareness for the association in the industry.
What has the association achieved in this short period?
We have been able to gather ourselves together and empower cooperative thrifts which is one of a kind among several freight forwarders association in the country. The association is also working towards organizing insurance scheme for its members. We are also migrating from the cooperative thrift to landing scheme. We have got some proposals from the indigenes and government outside Lagos. However we have just started so the achievement still continues.
We want to be a pace setter for the fellow associations to look after their members because the interest of our members is very paramount to us. We want to have a micro finance and possibly a bank in the nearest future.
How many members are in the association presently?
We have up to 500 members now. However, it is one thing to be a member and there is another thing to activate your membership. Those who have activated their membership are over 200.
What does it take to become an active member of the association?
APFFLON has decided to set a standard. We don’t take members that do not have the idea of what we aim to achieve. For you to be a member, you must be ready to partake in what we are doing. We want our members to have the same philosophy and they must be ready to be trained and retrained. You also need to have the basic knowledge of what we are doing and what you are also doing as a freight forwarder.
Can you tell us about operations at the airport especially where it affects charges?
The situation in aviation is not peculiar. There are different charges. The airlines and sea ports have different charges and we are working to ensure uniform charges. We also intend to know the purpose of the charges and what they are doing with the charges. We are looking for answers to these questions, however we are trying to manage the situation. Sometime ago, I had a meeting with the Group Managing Director of NAHCO, he still received my letter three weeks ago. So, we are working on ensuring that there are uniform charges.
From your perspective as a freight forwarder, how would you appraise the aviation sector under Hadi Sirika?
So far, so good, I will commend the minister. There has been slight improvement in the infrastructure of the aviation industry. In the past, if you travel, before you get your consignment or baggage, it would take hours, but now it takes lesser time. However, there should be personnel improvement. If the personnel does not have standard, they cannot manage the infrastructure. We implore the government to improve and train their personnel so that the requisite standard can be maintained.
Does this problem of personnel also involve Custom officers?
I don’t think the Customs have a problem in any special way because the Customs in the airport are not different from the seaport and they all pass through the same training school. So when we talk about personnel, we also talk about individualism. The Minister of Aviation does not have any say on Customs. Either for the airport or seaport, the attitude of Customs officers is the same. Some of these customs officers go beyond the limit and make use of excessive powers other than what the government asked them to do. That is why we are calling for a synergy between the stakeholders in Customs and freight forwarders so that before some certain decisions are made, they will listen to other perspectives.
Sometime ago, my container carrying vehicles was stopped and I was angry with them. Someone had already given me assessment to pay a particular amount which was paid and some other Customs unit now asked me to pay more. This happened within the port. If I have to go there, the person that gave me the valuation might probably lose his job.
If the valuation is for the customs and the customs stopped me for undervaluation, that shows that the person that gave me the valuation is not competent. Customs need to check themselves because if the person had not given me the wrong valuation, I wouldn’t have paid that money. These cases happen everywhere but in airport you may not have this kind of problem. The main reason why this doesn’t happen at the airport frequently is because when a consignment is coming from the airport, it doesn’t come in container, it comes out in different vehicles. But if it’s a container, you will know that this is coming from the port. That is why it is more pronounced in seaport than airport.
What problem does your association intend to solve in the ports?
The Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) is the premier association was formed in 1954. But in my opinion, I do not see ANLCA as a Nigerian association. I look at them as colonial association because they are older than Nigeria itself. When you constitute something before independence, the influence of the colonial master is more peculiar in the formation. From this association, other associations emerged. We have all migrated from one place or the other. APFFLON is a deliberate formation. The association came on board through the necessity and the emphasis is on the welfare of the members.
At APFFLON, we looked at the terrain of other associations in Nigeria and compared it with the standard of associations outside the country and we realized that major associations in Nigeria do not know what they are doing. We also look at another paramount issue which is basic cooperative which is not in any freight forwarding association. We need to look at the welfare of our people. Our people are not entitled to pension, pencom or gratuity. We thought about their lives after service years and these are the areas that caught the interest of APFFLON.
There are so many benefits that government has refused to give to us. We do not have a freight forwarder estate, land scheme and other basic things. The leadership of other associations do not seek those things and that is why we created the association so that we can come together to do things that will be of benefit to our members.
The process of air cargo in other countries is digital, how prepared is the country’s aviation sector for such development?
I am only familiar with the digitization of consignment. In this case, before the consignment arrives in Nigeria, the Customs will be aware of the content before it arrives. However, they are talking of scrapping the Pre Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR).
In my own opinion, digitalization cannot work in Nigeria because there are lots of human factors which needs to be eliminated. The purpose of digitalization is to achieve 24 hours cargo clearance. There are lots of things to be considered. Most of the things that cause delay at seaport and airport is what the vice president said we should stop doing which is bribe. For instance, if you want a digitalized cargo, a freight forwarder that doesn’t receive pension will want it to be delayed so that he can make some money. Similarly, the officer who is not well paid will also want the cargo to be delayed.
What progress has been made so far on the ease of doing business initiative introduced by the Federal Government?
Some problems can be addressed individually while some are beyond us. These are the macro factors which have become impediment to the progress of this country. Who are the people that we are relating with for this initiative? Which business sector are we dealing with? There is the issue of lack of purchasing power, high prices, unemployment, and lack of loan. I do not see anything visible concerning this initiative. The only improvement that the initiative has made is that the dollar has been stable which means that an average business person can plan.
One of the initiative conceived by the association is the Health Plus. Please shed more light on this.
APFFLON Health Plus is basically for awareness about health and how people can provide solutions for themselves during emergency situations. For example, we teach our members how to use oxygen whenever a person faints. This cannot only help to save a member but also save the life of people in your community. You don’t need to go to a medical school before you know all these things. The association is also in collaboration with hospitals as we have formed a credit value for them to look after our members so that there will be no loss of lives as a result of lack of fund.