Prince Olayiwola Shittu is the National President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA). In this chat he takes looks clearing process at the ports and role of Customs agents in the global village.
What were the things you should have loved to be achieved in 2014 that were not achieved by government or stakeholders?
The most important one is the five smart steps in cargo clearance. You know the presidential committee on port reforms came up with the five smart steps to cargo clearance. The customs was able to have fulfilled the part of their side which is the introduction of PAAR (Pre-Arrival Assessment Report) and the ICT, but the other side that was supposed to be done by the Minister of Transport has not seen the light of the day which would have given us one-stop shop for payment and cargo clearance. So, if that had happened last year, it would have helped us to meet up the 48 hours cargo clearance. Non-fulfillment of that is still going to drag us further back because all over the world, with ICT, you can do your declaration, payment, you can do everything without going into the port and until we achieve that stage, in port process, I think we have not really gotten it right. That is the major area I see me would have done last year so that this year, we would have just fine-tuned.
A lot of stakeholders have said that NTC, Ports & Harbour Bills ought to have been passed by now?
I was more concerned about the one that will have positive and direct impact on our own profession, because I am talking to you as the president of ANLCA. The one that is hanging in the National Assembly is a national embarrassment. I don’t see how these National Assembly people will sit down there, we pay them so much money for doing nothing.
Why is it taking you so many years to meet up with what all of us including them have agreed? If these bills including the Petroleum Industry Bill are passed and signed into law they would have met all our desires. So, how come it is not happening? So, that one is an embarrassment itself. I am not blaming the National Assembly alone, we need a president that would have pushed for it because most of them are executive Bills. So, if the executive is lackadaisical about it, the National Assembly will just be looking. So, that one is a disappointment, and I don’t really want to dwell on that.
For a year now, they have been talking about training of officers and agents by customs; there have been controversies about the venue, about non-renewal of licence without the training…….
Why do you worry yourself? We have customs licensed agents and we have those who call themselves agents without license; they are the ones that are clamouring that there is no need to use customs clearance to clear cargo, that they don’t need that licence. We are an association of customs licensed agents. There is no dust between us and any other association; at WCO level, they decided that customs must train customs brokers and we are party to the agreement done at the WCO headquarters. So, we made representation to the Comptroller General of Customs based on this WCO directive that we wanted our members to be trained; our members who are licenced by the customs. Customs is not training everybody; customs have no business training transporters for example. Customs now said how do we do it, we now begged customs that in order to make it easier for people to be able to come, do the training and still be able to go back to their work, to tidy up their operations, we said we had facilities in headquarters. It is as simple as ABC, we only made it easier for our people because I know that if it were to be in Abuja, it means we have to travel and the attendance will be poor, if they do it at customs training school, which we have had that experience before, attendance will also be poor and then we remembered that Edike of Apapa, also did training for customs agents and the same dust we are talking about was raised by those who don’t have licences and the man said no we cannot train people who are not licensed. It’s just common sense, we have not said that ANLCA alone has the monopoly of association of licensed customs agents, we have never said so but ANLCA does not engage any other person as a member unless you have a licence, that is the different between us. Some of her associations have licensed agents among them but they have majority as non-licensed, how they go about it is their own problem. I don’t see any association that has made representation to customs to come and train them and the customs say no, it has not happened. I will even say because it happened in our secretariat does not make you any different from which association you belong, it doesn’t matter. If for example, there is a training going on in NAGAFF and I know that the training will impact knowledge within me, if I go for such training in NAGAFF, does that make me a NAGAFF member? Because it is a free training, we are not paying anything for it. It is just unnecessary issue that people are raising, very unnecessary. Now, the training is going again to port- Harcourt and we have made arrangements for the facilities for the training; why can’t others do that? Customs has said it is tied to renewal of licence, whether they are starting it this year, I don’t know because they said the training was compulsory. We are proactive I can tell you and if they are going to do the next step now, we have already taken the first step. So, those associations should look inward if they have licensed agency and the way it is even done is that one company will be represented by one person for you to get that knowledge and those who have participated are happy. I can tell you that some other association members come here including NAGAFF members.
After fracas at MMIA, the CG directed that no one can come into the cargo terminal without a licence and a lot of freight forwarders complained because they were not allowed entry. As an association, how would this affect free trade?
Is the port supposed to be a gathering area boys? Whether airport or sea port. When you go to the port now, you will be allowed to enter because you are one a journalist and you are accredited to cover all those areas.
When you see people loitering, it is because they don’t want to comply with the modern system of cargo clearance.
There are concerns that it is only in MMIA that cargo clearance is really taking place that there are no much of anything ANLCA is doing to address the issue?
Any where there is customs process, we have our members, that is why we have larger members of chapters across the country.
We have our members in Aminu Kano Airport, Port- Harcount International Airport clearing cargos. It is only in Enugu where they have not installed PAAR facilities that we don’t have our members. The usage of the port depends on the importers, they decide where they want their goods to come.
The SSA to the president on Maritime Matters said last year that operations in the port would be automated and if the automation commences, many freight forwarders are likely to be out of operations in the port. How much effort are you making towards this?
Our members cannot go out of business because we have licences. We are only bowing our heads in the sand like an ostrich, you cannot speak in the port on individual basis, it is not done anywhere in the world.
CRFFN gave some guidelines last year that would help them to be effective this year, how well are the associations moving together for the success of the council?
I don’t know of others because I heard that NAGAFF is declaring war on CRFFN. I read it in the papers, and they said they were the ones that give birth to CRFFN, we respect the laws of the land, if it is fate that makes the chicken and the pigeon to be under one roof and that happens to be rain. That is what has brought us together under CRFFN and as long as customs licensed agents are mentioned in the Act, we are supposed to cooperate with them. So, we cooperate, attend their meetings. We don’t have any problem, we can identify ourselves, the others may not be able to identify themselves because the plat- form of anybody wanting to be a member, going to CRFFN to register yet they still engage in their traditional business. The question now is why were artisans encouraged by some people to come and register not only in their associations but also with CRFFN? That is why among the six thousand membership that CRFFN is boasting of, they cannot account for more than two thousand, but we folded our hands and we are watching. We have even raised several warnings that were ignored because we know that one day, the chicken will come in to roost. They encouraged people to register because they are waiting for CRFFN to conduct elections into the council so that when the time comes, they will go and wake those people to come and vote, the way Nigerian elections are conducted. So that they can get high votes. The purpose they want to go into the council is to go there and use the power given in the Act to decide how much is going to be spent. I am telling you from the benefit of being an insider from the word go. Right from the time the Act of the CRFFN was being done in the National Assembly in 1997, I used to leave Port Harcourt to go there. What we had in mind was to have a different platform because ANLCA for example is the only one being controlled by two regulatory agencies, the Nigerian Customs service through CEMA and CRFFN.