In this interview with the Coordinator of MAAG, Alhassan Dantata, he explains how the group has been active in the maritime sector since inception; the solutions to the numerous challenges in the maritime as well as what happens to the 200 trucks he promised to provide to the truck owners in the maritime. Enjoy the piece.
What is your reaction to the fact that ANLCA, NAGAFF have both threatened to withdraw from MAAG?
When we all came together last year, we signed some documents and I want to believe that all the gossips and back biting that people say make it difficult for me to react to some questions that I found funny at times. But the truth is if ANLCA and NAGAFF say they want to withdraw from the group then I think they should write to MAAG officially and then we can comment. Right now as we speak, I cannot comment because I know for a fact that there are lot of issues mentioned in the past that I have declined to comment on but maybe at the right time I will do the needful in ensuring that I explain in details on the issues. Thank God I have people in the industry who have been guiding me through all the process we going through and I also feel that I am swimming in shark-infested water because I don’t really have a maritime background; I am not a core maritime person neither am I a freight forwarder, a terminal operator or a ship owner or an importer; but when I came up with ideas that we should all come together last year for consolidation purpose; I met with the likes of the Coordinator of Save Nigeria Freight Forwarders Importers Exporters Coalition, Chief Patrick Osita who gave me my first baptism of fire though he also exposed me to the sector and that was how we gradually went into consolidation and we have achieved so many things in the maritime industry.
But again, all I am waiting for is the documents from both associations stating categorically that they have withdrawn from MAAG and then as the Coordinator, I will present the document to the house because I don’t have rule over anybody, and I will expect members of MAAG to take a position. What I only do is that I coordinate and if they present their document of withdrawal, I will just have to sign, write and pass it back. The truth is that I don’t have authority on anybody, I am just a Coordinator, I learn from them every day on the history of the industry and even the way forward.
What are the achievements MAAG has recorded since inception?
MAAG played a huge part in the success of the Pre Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR) and we also played a major part in the automotive policy; for now we are playing a major role in ensuring that all the government agencies in the maritime sector that are not being allowed to do their work through under-funding, get what will make them perform optimally. When PAAR was initiated last year, I remember that it was MAAG that said PAAR is here to stay. We did series of advertorials to the extent that people were saying that the customs had paid me to do so, tongues were wagging at that time and also when the issue of the automotive policy came up, people were also saying that NAC through the Director General, Alhaji Aminu Jalal paid me as well. Now we are working for SON and the Nigerian Shippers Council for the benefit of all and sundry, they also said I have collected money from them but since they cannot write such accusations I don’t think I have any need to bother myself.
Which of the agencies are you talking about specifically?
After some advertorial on papers, I went to the presidential villa to follow up on how the policies will become a success, I discovered that the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) has a sum of N280 million nationwide budgets per annum. How can such an agency of government have such an amount and we Nigerians expect them to perform? An agency that has to do with standardisation with that amount is not worth it when we have an agency like NAFDAC with N6 billion per annum. So, we advised the government to either scrap SON or provide funds for them so that they can do their job very well. Also in a meeting with the Senior Special Adviser to the President on maritime affairs I discovered that the issue of SONCAP seal that is to fight against substandard goods to ensure that it is authentic are not allowed to thrive. What is the point of putting the seal when there is no guarantee to confirm the authenticity of the goods to avoid smuggling galore? Again for the last three years, a lot of harmful items have been imported into the country, a lot of people have been consuming dangerous food, wrong raw materials and you can imagine the drain it is causing to the Nigerian economy and the industries as well who are to be protected by SON because they are to monitor their production. SON has 1,400 staff on a budget of N280 million per annum and I don’t think the federal government is fair in that regard.
There are so many challenges in the maritime sector; what do you think are the ways out?
Let me tell you a secret; at a meeting in the presidential villa, everybody has almost given up on the maritime sector because there is no way forward. There is no solution because this group will want to play and out-smart the other group for the sake of selfish interest. The personal interest syndrome has eaten deep into the system and that is why I say there is no way out of the mess we find ourselves. For the sector to succeed, the interest groups must be flushed out from the system. MAAG has been able to survive because we don’t meet all the time and supposing we are in the port, we would have been dead long ago because in any problem that comes out from the port people will say it is MAAG and with that government will reject us from the ports, just like what happened to SON. I remember at the villa, when I asked a question that since the exit of SON from ports operations, has clearing and forwarding of goods been faster? They said no and I told them that SON is been denied to perform on their mandate given to it by the government.
How true is the fact that you are involved in the forum organised by SON for maritime operators?
I was fully involved in the just concluded forum organised by SON for maritime players and even my members are not aware of it because it was out of the meeting at the villa that I suggested it is high time that SON should be given a platform to explain herself and if anybody is not happy with it can go to court. And if anybody wants to challenge them, let them do it in a formal way. When you say you are taking SON to court, let us know the genesis and we say let it be done in an open forum and it was done. Now the product of that open forum is that there could be a working document which I have initiated that all participants will now endorse and that will now go to the president as the stakeholders’ decision. That is why we demand for advocacy and action. The action is when we now go to press to expose the whole fact for any situation and then move it forward. That is what action is, it is not about closing ports, it is not about anything carrying placards. Our action is to call the press and tell them what we have discovered. But within the associations, some people are saying some sectors will not be happy. Yes, let them challenge us in another advertorial and we will reply. There is nothing like dialogue where we go into the room and lock ourselves, we talk to you publicly and you talk to us publicly, that is all. Have you heard of any court case agai8nst SON anymore? Have we not helped? Now, there is exposure for people to understand what SON is about, why SON is doing what it is doing. SON has a budget of 28 million naira to pay salaries of 1,400 staff, to protect 1,830 factories nationwide, to protect Nigerians’ four million containers coming into the country every year through Tin Can and Apapa alone, all these on a budget of less than 3 million dollars annually. Not only that, they are to man 83 registered customs entry points into the country.
The issue of 200 trucks your company promised to provide for maritime truck owners sometimes last year. What is the latest development about that?
Now, let me tell you something, I spoke as an MD of a company called Multi Trade which has a joint venture agreement with Aulic Nigeria Limited that own the concession at the Trade Fair. We were supposed to make Trade Fair our terminal where we park those trucks and if you notice now, when we now give trucks of about 15-20 million on credit the truck is parked outside the four days, how does the truck pay me? We thought that by now we would have had free flour of traffic so that a truck can do two trips a day dropping container at any point and come back and move to wherever it should go and come back and making about 40 thousand naira every day.
So, the offer of trucks still exists but not under a different company called Crescent House and it will be given to any individual who has collateral or guarantor. The idea use to refill 11:34 the whole sector but we can’t do it because there is no movement of traffic. So, if you now give the credit, how do you recover? There is nowhere we can park the trucks because Lagos State has blocked, they have not finished the roads leading to the terminals. They have not given us a work permit to operate the terminal where the trucks will park. If you now distribute 200 trucks, how do you get the money back? The trucks are supposed to come back and sleep in our yard so that we can service them and make sure they are properly taken care of and all that is necessary is done at the right time. If those trucks don’t come home to roost every day, they cannot work every day and generate revenue.
Right now as i am talking to you, I just finished negotiating with RTEAN for 200 buses and 600 cars through SURE-P. We have concluded the 6 Billion naira deal and I have got the document to show you because RTEAN is a recognised and gazetted operator in the logistics sector in the country. We have been able to create that relationship. My company has taken over 37 workshops across the nation to provide after sales services of the auto policy. I want to make Nigeria great and it is not about me as a person but our great country and our people that is what it is all about. I want to create employment for some people in RTEAN with the 20 buses. Now back to MAAG, some players in MAAG say we should not be joining issues with smaller or unaccredited associations like Save Nigeria Group. Some even came to me in person to say same.
If you remember, there was a joint advertorial by ANLCA and NAGAFF and those advertorials were actually not in line with what MAAG agreed but the MAAG is a group where everyone still has a right. So, all these associations still operate as independent associations so we cannot stop you, we cannot reprimand you. So, same way if you want to leave, you can leave; there is nothing we can do to stop you. We are not here to fight; we are here to look for solutions and put Nigeria first and to seek the way forward. Even if you don’t like me, even if you hate my gut, even if you hate us all in all, the bottom-line is how to move this country forward.
Does it mean that you changed the name of your company from Multi-trade to Crescent House?
No, I said an entity made an offer. What I am saying is that Crescent House has taken over 37 workshops initially done by Federal Ministry of Transport. They are now under my control and with those workshops; we are going to be repairing vehicles, assembling vehicles. Anybody in the logistics sector can also come and buy trucks on credit but through the normal channel. Multi-trade made an offer because Multi-trade had a terminal arrangement with Aulic where we can park those trucks where they can come and operate in the pots and come back at night and we will be monitoring them to make sure the tyres, brake light, head lamp and every necessary thing is changed at the right time but when we cannot get into the terminal, and the roads are choked up and the ports are unoperational, how do we give credit?