. Zebulon Ikhokide, is the President of the Nigerian Institute of Freight Forwarders and Customs Brokers (NIFFCB); in this interview, he explains why the visits of the institute to the various freight forwarding and customs licensed brokers are necessary; he also explains why training is necessary for freight forwarders, the plans of the Institute to concretise their plans and their expectations from the government among other salient issues. Enjoy the interactions.
In your visits to registered freight forwarding associations in the past three weeks, you have not visited ANLCA, why?
ANLCA was not left out, what happened was that ANLCA was the first association we intended to visit but then their president traveled out and they told us that when they came back, they would let us know so that we could visit them but then we cannot just stop and wait for them.
So, we decided to visit others and that is why we visited the ones we visited so far. Among the people we intend to actually visit was also the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, but we have not visited them because the Chief Executive has been on and off, we have not been able to visit. And you can also note that when the President of ANLCA came back he was also going here and there, we have not been able to arrange a date to meet him. We are still going to visit ANLCA, as soon as they give us date. When we get another date from ANLCA we will also visit them.
So what exactly do you want to make out of these visits?
You can note that the Institute of Freight Forwarders and Customs Brokers was formerly Institute of Freight Forwarders and when the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) feels that there is need for an institute in Nigeria that has to do with institute of freight forwarding, they asked us to ensure that the Institute of Freight Forwarders be transformed to a new status. And now when we got a new name which is Nigerian Institute of Freight Forwarders and Custom Brokers, we decided to let all the freight forwarders know our new status and what we intend to do with it.
And as you have been following our progress which is to ensure that the freight forwarding industry becomes an institute that is a professional body that can handle every aspect of freight forwarding in this country and that is exactly what we want to do with these visits. We want everybody to know now that the freight forwarding body that everybody can count on. We don’t want it to where any new comer can come and claim to be freight forwarder. But once you know you have a professional body and you know the position of the professional body just like any other professional body we have in Nigeria that is exactly what we want to make out from these visits.
We want everyone to know that the institute is now positioned to be a body that is professional. People should not be abide in doing what they know how to do best which is freight forwarding and we want to make it a profession that people will be proud of.
Recently, Apapa Customs said that they were going to train members of ANLCA leaving out other registered Associations under CRFFN. Why?
No, I think that is a misplaced comment, maybe they are misquoted because we have only one profession which is freight forwarding. ANLCA members are customs Brokers and customs Brokerage is part of freight forwarding. If they want to train people on Custom Brokerage alone, that is not complete. And I don’t think members of ANLCA want to be trained on custom Brokerage alone.
Today, anybody can train anybody in any arm of the sector of freight forwarding. One can be certificated for custom Brokerage but you should know that if you are certificated for custom Brokerage, you cannot come back to say you can do any other aspect of freight forwarding but it will be better that you know everything about freight forwarding not only on one aspect of it alone. But that is what customs want to do but of course that is there area-Custom Brokerage. So if they want to do that, who is going to train them on other aspects of freight forwarding?
And that is what we want to do.
We won’t bother, if they can go ahead and do that, but I am not sure that is exactly what customs mean. Customs want to train them on their aspects of business. But we in the institute we know everything about custom Brokerage and other aspect of freight forwarding. We want everybody to know everything about the business in other to carry it out effectively. So if you want to concentrate one aspect and master it very well, that is good too.
If any Association does not oblige to the training, does it have any negative implication on the member?
Yes, it will because we have a depth of knowledge on the business. If you really want to have good knowledge of the business, it is good for you to train. So, if a custom Broker feels that it is only an aspect of custom Brokerage he is interested in, he should also know that he needs knowledge of other areas because there are things that you need to know to be able to fully carry out your work.
Examples are the laws governing international trade. International trade does not start and stop at custom Brokerage, there is a lot of other areas you need to know about.
As part of the re-branding and re-structuring of the institute, what do we expect from the institute?
We expect to have a good office, adequate training which is part of what we are going to discuss with the Shippers’ Council. And the CRFFN has promised to support in that area. And after our discussion with the Shippers’ Council, we are expecting that the Government also will support us in this area so that we can have befitting place for the training.
As of the moment, we will be hiring locations for the training but we are hoping to have a permanent place soonest. If you go to Ebute Meta where you have the ICAN complex, you will know that the institute is doing fine. These are our expectation that is why we are beckoning on the government to support us. Freight forwarding is an international trade; until Government is made aware that importation will never stop, we will not stop asking them to help especially for a permanent place to train new comers in the business.
And we want everybody to know that freight forwarding is a profession that anybody can go into, if the person is duly trained.
What is the relationship between the Institute and CRFFN? Is there a cordial relationship between them?
No, there is no clash of interests, the relationship is cordial. We are the training arm of CRFFN. The law that established CRFFN does not allow them to train people, but they can set the standard for training. Just like NUC that directs universities on what to do, that is what CRFFN is. CRFFN can set the curriculum for training of freight forwarders. They want to set up a branch for training but settled to use the institute for training.
How do you get your funding?
That is exactly our problem now. The Associations also agree that they need to collaborate for the funding of the education of freight forwarders. And the government is also looking at how to get the freight forwarders have their own funding.
If that funding starts coming in, we expect to be getting funding from there. We are hoping that the government approves a source for the funding of the Institute, where the associations will also be funded from. We are expecting assistance from Government Corporations like NIMASA, Shippers’ Council, and CRFFN also.
Customs have allocated some funds to the training of Custom Brokers but in time funds like this will be centralized; it will not be given to individual Association only again. So if the funding will be coming to the institute then you will train their people, they can send people overseas for training , and can also send to the institute for the training, if such a thing happens, then the funding will be centralized. All the associations agree that there is need for fund for the training of freight forwarders.
How soon do we expect the take-off of this training?
Recently, I just approved the Acting Executive for people now. We will start very soon; maybe by ending of this month they should be able to start the advert for the training to commence. But the training will start fully when we have a permanent place. We cannot at the moment hire a bigger place because the funds are not there now. CRFFN is planning such a thing; very soon they will bring their headquarters to Lagos.
What can you say is the impact of some of the seminars some freight forwarding association members attend abroad on their jobs in the sub-sector?
As at the moment, I can’t confirm if any of them is going abroad now but at least during our time we use to have training abroad. It is one of us who was trained abroad that put up this institute of freight forwarders and a lot of conferences are also going on abroad which freight forwarders can take advantage of and these are the kind of conferences we will be organizing here when we take off fully.
We will be inviting people from abroad for networking. Freight Forwarding is actually a product of networking and when you network with people you will be able to know what they are doing and what others are doing. It happened in Tanzania recently when the Associations of freight forwarders invited their Nigerian counterparts to their meeting and there we met and with so many people who we still interact with up till now.
Through the Institute, we will do that so that we can network with other people and from there, we can get a lot of learning and experience about freight forwarding. ANLCA has been doing that, going abroad for such conferences and seminars but we will domesticate it here in Nigeria.
The last visit to NAGAFF Executives, the Executive Secretary of the Institute talked about creating a resource centre for freight Forwarders; what are the plans towards achieving that?
That is part of the larger plan for the institute. We would do that as soon as Government comes with approval of our blueprint. If we have a permanent complex, such resource centre will be part of it. We don’t know the location yet but it will be very close to freight forwarders.
The CRFFN does not have a Governing Council, what do you think can be done to revitalize the present state of the Council?
Who said they don’t have? The Minister of Transport appointed some set of people into the acting capacity of the Board, they are not yet inaugurated. They are to act within the period before the inauguration of the broad. Before then of course, there will be elections.
And to arrange for the election, the CRFFN needs fund and that fund is not yet available and government is not ready to spend their money on it yet. They want the funds that belong to CRFFN to be used for such election and until such election; there can’t be a full board. That is why you have people that are just selected for such purpose by the Minister at the moment. We can’t do anything until government start funding the institute or provide a source for the institute. We are waiting for the Government to come out with the plan.
What are we expecting in a short while from the institute?
You will be expecting a good rhythm of news from the institute with especially as soon as government grants our request for source of funding. And the programme of the institute is very robust; we feel that if everything goes according to plan, all the problems of freight forwarding will be a thing of the past.