By Kenneth Jukpor
Prince Olayiwola Shittu is a former President of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA). In this exclusive interview with MMS Plus, Shittu speaks on several pertinent issues in the maritime sector. Excerpts:
What is your take on the recent suspension of the Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Hadiza Bala-Usman?
One of the biggest problems with governance in Nigeria is putting non professionals in office instead of professionals. The truth is that we cried out but, as usual, nobody listened to us. Do you know how Hadiza got to that position? The industry didn’t welcome her apart from people with sentiments that she said is a woman, let her be! As a Chief Executive of one of the maritime agencies, she had no experience and had to learn on the job. Why must we have people learning on the job when there are experts who know the job out there?
I can tell you honestly whatever their relationship is; the bottom line is politics and 2023 elections. Hadiza has bitten the bullet, but it could have been anybody else. Possibly she was reluctant in playing ball that could have landed her in trouble but it makes me also remember when a petition was written against me to one of this anti graft agency, just for me being a nice man and head of ANLCA.
When summoned, I was trying to prove that I was born straight and I would like to be straight but the guy laughed. I wanted to take umbrage at how this man was laughing at me while I was talking about a serious thing concerning my life and my integrity. He said the cleanest person in the world that everybody is concerned about is the Queen of England but the queen and everyone in authority such as Chief Executives, have flaws.
Look at the maritime industry today, who are the professionals there that are also Chief Executives? Apart from Hassan Bello of Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) who rose within the ranks then we can talk of Bashir Jamoh at NIMASA of late but you look at the numbers of years of experience, Hassan Bello still tops. That explains why he is so calm in what he does, probably his agency is not reaping as much because when you’re assured of quantum sums of money being generated the next thing is that those who put you there would want something. When you say no, they set you up, when you say yes you can still be a victim. So, I don’t have sympathy for politicians who eat themselves. That’s why it is said to be a game of dog eat dog.
If these financial misappropriations are real, what’s the idea of having General Managers and Executive Directors? A situation where only one person is being suspended, no comment, no issue of query and one of the Executive Directors is asked to replace, what’s your opinion on that?
That is what I meant when I gave the signal that she bit the bullet. That is more reason for people to speculate because there is no way Hadiza would prepare vouchers, do approvals, prepare invoices, and do everything herself. So, this makes people more skeptical. In Nigeria, when the ploy is to ruin somebody they build up insurmountable challenges before the person.
It is okay to say somebody is going for investigation but without even concluding the investigation she’s being condemned. Why don’t you do the investigation first and get somebody culpable and then you can say this is why the person must be suspended but you first suspend and that is why people in government service don’t respect their longevity in service. They’re not happy with the retirement package so they help themselves when they’re in service because they know that whatever they do can never be equated to the type of accolade they could have gotten and that’s why Nigeria is in a mess.
The civil service is supposed to be the base of the progress of a nation because they’ve seen it all. Politicians come and go, headship comes and goes, but they’re the repository wisdom of the government in ministries and agencies but what do they use them for?
Can any Permanent Secretary say no we can’t do it sir to any Minister? Such a civil servant will be fired! Does the Civil Service Commission even work? When one looks at what is happening to Hadiza, there are procedures. It’s because of this type of shame that why nobody cares about Nigerian survival but their personal interests. Other Chief Executives will be looking at Hadiza, the “daughter” of Buhari that came in on a chariot of white horse and say to themselves, if Hadiza can be treated like this, who am I? Minister, do you want me to transfer everything to you, just take but oga find me something. That’s Nigeria for you.
There are speculations that what the Minister of Transportation is doing currently is just an experiment as other CEOs in the sector may suffer similar fate. Should industry stakeholders be worried?
They’re acting scenarios. Amaechi is somebody I’ve known for a very long time but we’re not close because of his character. Most times, he acts as if he’s the one that knows everything. Have you gone for a meeting with Amaechi? Rather than have the meeting, you’ll end up with lectures. That’s not the way to run an organization like the Ministry of Transportation, it’s an overwhelming position and the capacity is being consumed by a guy-man way of doing things.
Is that the way you want it ok call me tomorrow? That is the typical response you can get from Amaechi on a serious issue but that isn’t the way to run an organization. Recall that Amaechi and the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika had a tug of war that resulted from his leadership style. Amaechi doesn’t believe that there is a boss. The truth is that this is his way of life and in politics some of these things are respected.
People can interpret what has happened to Hadiza in two ways, and either way she’s a loser. Her chances of coming back to that position again are very slim, even if they finally give her a slap on the hand for doing whatever she did. Everything has been pre-planned, there was no board meeting that would say let us find out why this woman did this and let the board make a decision, except they’re doing that one now to patch the affair because the board should have met earlier on this. They should have studied these allegations, see what they can do before making recommendations to the government.
If they find Hadiza to be culpable, then they would use that to showcase the integrity of the President, as the anti corruption posture that even removed his “daughter” that they never thought was corrupt. So, if that is the case, Hadiza still remains the loser.
Right now, the Minister is believed to be having a serious issue with his friend and Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El Rufai. Does that mean that the 2023 election is in jeopardy?
I don’t think the fracas is about Hadiza. Recall that some months ago, Ameachi flew a political kite that he’s from the core East that he is one of the Ohanaezes. He was flying a kite that in case this thing swings to the South East it’ll favour him having being the Director General of All Progressive Congress (APC). When was he returned as Director General of APC, he just conducted an election that they came in for four years, they’re making him a Director General of an election four years ahead. I called it pranks because it’s so childish.
Hadiza and Amaechi may have crossed paths during the electioneering that brought this administration into office in 2019. You’ll discover that Ameachi was Chairman of the campaign team while Hadiza was the Treasurer. How can you be a Treasurer without knowing the source of funds, and when you’re sitting on a gold mine it’s easy for you to dip your hand in order to satisfy the people who want you to be in office. I’m not saying she did.
We need money is what the Chairman would be saying and here you are as the treasurer and you say there’s no money. My friend, go there and open your vault. It could have played out that way and then leave a lasting disagreement that has resulted into what you’re seeing today.
Funny enough I subscribed to Tiktok when I want to relax my mind I go there I look at some funny issues. And one woman was asked what do you regret about being in Nigeria? And the woman responded, she became a Nigerian by force, adding that it’s the fault of the parent for bringing her to Nigeria. Perhaps, all of us should blame our parents for bringing us to Nigeria but we’ve found ourselves here.
If we were born in America we would be thinking of American way of life. However, Nigeria deserves something better, a lot of things are wrong with this country over a long time. Look at other countries colonized by Britain, why is it that Nigeria is the only one left behind in everything, up to clothes?
I read that the people of Japan are taught in Japanese language but the only time they use foreign language is to translate religious books. In Africa it is the reverse, because the only time youyou’re your naitive language would be in the Qur’an or Bible.
There is a recent development by Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) to make use of Vehicle logbook for clearing used vehicles at the ports, what’s your opinion on that?
I don’t know what came out about that but I’m not happy with it. It’s retrogression because we had debated this issue. When I was the president of ANLCA one of the challenges we said we must face was this issue of vehicle assessment and valuation. The Assistant Comptroller General at Harvey Road, ACG Kaycee Ekekezie can tell you that the Comptroller General set up a committee to look into this vehicle assessment where a vehicle you clear in Apapa is different from the one you cleared in Tin Can Island port and I heard one PRO say it’s nothing like that but it’s true.
If they want to be very sincere with themselves, if you go through their system you’ll see a vehicle with almost the same mileage, you won’t even know the difference, the same model and from the same source paying different duties. Whatever formula they used we insisted and appealed to customs to make that formula of assessment open and transparent? What are we hiding in knowing how much we should pay as a duty?
Why must you present yourself to a valuation officer whose job is to value a vehicle you have brought from abroad and he has the final say on whatever amount to give you? In such an instance, if there is no incentive, he could inflate the cost. Nevertheless, it’s just a matter of how much you should pay, pay your money and go; all this nonsense would not be there.
Nobody uses logbook all over the world. What is a logbook the day you buy your car, they open a book for you, all your servicing records, if you sell it to somebody else they put it there, If you had an accident they put it there, that is logbook. Nobody uses a logbook again because car facts are online, the one that you pay for they give you the history of the vehicle because it goes straight into the national database.
We have told Customs to do us a favour and create on its NICIS website a page where somebody standing in front of a car abroad can ascertain the cost of clearing that vehicle in Nigeria. It’s worrisome that as someone who has been doing clearing since 1969, you can’t ask me how much to clear this car I tell you because of the inconsistencies involved.
In Ghana and other responsible countries they just get the VIN number, they don’t ask for anything about the car. The details of the vehicle from the VIN number gives you the year of manufacturing and the value placed on that vehicle as Customs duty. There is always a value for everything, the fact that you got something free abroad does it prevent you from paying customs duty.