By Frank Odinukaeze
An encounter with Dr Eugene Nweke, former President of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) is always a rewarding experience.
Call him an educator,a philosopher or an orator you may not be wrong.
For just like the Greek philosopher Socrates,you come to him empty but after an encounter with him,you leave a better and well informed person.
He talks maritime with passion and with so much depth and authority,little wonder he’s fondly called the encyclopedia of Maritime.
As it is customary with MMSPLUS to always serve you with well informed and educative views of great minds in the industry,we had a chat with Dr. Nweke who gave his considered views on some trending issues in the industry.
He spoke on a wide range of issues in the maritime industry. Find out his informed opinions on port congestion, customs modernisation project and the much famed Lekki Deep Seaport amongst others.He Spoke with Frank Odinukaeze Excerpts.
The major Ports in Lagos:Apapa and Tin Can ports are deeply congested .What is the cause of the congestion and who picks the bills arising from that: The importer, shipping company or the freight agents? And whose responsibility is it to ensure that the ports are decongest?
I want to ask you as a journalist, a question. Have you found out that the ports are congested .For God’s sake ,the ports either directly or indirectly touches the life of an average Nigerian by its activities. Now the loader point where ship and its content exchanges with other modes of transport, it is assumed to be congested. Have you ever sat down to think about the economic implication? The security implication and the societal implication of a congested port?.
There are three things that cause port congestion:Port congestion arises where the outwards cannot go out ,and inwards keep coming in..What this means is that those that are supposed to go out are not doing so. For example, if you take a bucket of water and you bring 25 liters gallon of water to pour into a10 liter bucket,when it gets to the brim it is going to spill over. It is the same thing with the port congestion.But if there is an outlet where the water being poured into the 10 liter bucket is going out there will not be spill over,and that means there won’t be congestion in the ports.
What am I trying to say? When the inwards out number that which the port can accommodate,then port congestion is bound to happen.But what will make cargo that has arrived not to leave the port? This is where we look at International best practices.We will start to look at the equipment on ground.We will start to look at efficiency in terms of man power and port design structure.And also what is the stacking level? What are those performance indicators that are required of a port operator?It is when you have assembled all these that you can now identify the challenges. Most times they say that the problem we have is dwell time of cargo which is with the customs. But customs has refuted that by saying that the dwell time is with the shipping companies as being arranged. The shipping companies will come and say that it’s when they receive cargo from terminal operators.
So they start passing the buck. But the situation does not call for buck passing. It is for us to settle down and find out where the problem lies. Why do we have longer dwell time of cargo within the customs and the shipping lines. For the shipping lines.for instance, there is no way in international shipping parlance where you have office structure in the country and you still ask shipper and the agent to wait until you get release order from your overseas office.That takes days,even when you try to send it through e-mail.They are still holding you down for the next three days.That three days that they held you down is attracting storage charges.For that three days,cargo that is supposed to leave the port is still lying inside the port.That is not a sign of efficiency.
So if you put together what I call the port cargo delivery process, handling and delivery process, under a chain and you touch light it ,you should be able to say this is where our problem is coming from,and this is what government should do .But the final question is:who plays the supervisory role ?Who should enforce what?These will take you back to: what was the structure of the port concession agreement?You heard the NPA managing director say their hands are tied.That they cannot even invoke certain concession agreement.That means that the concession was done against national interest.Just like I have been hammering on the e-customs concession
Talking about the e-customs modernisation, the issue has elicited litigations ,with one party asking the court to restrain the federal government from going on with the project and getting injunction to that effect,and the other party, this time,the NCS,is seeking vacation of that order.How will all these pan out in the end?
At any given time when certain Nigerians choose to conspire against the nation because of the urge for money they will end up putting the entire nation at the mercy of foreigners. It is condemnable. Most of the people projecting this project are retired customs officers .The constituency that has given them all that they have gotten, they retire to destroy it, forgetting the future. Who were they when they were looking for coronet and the customs gave it to them? They have served thirty five years, government spent money to train you,catered for you ,only for you to go and connive with vultures. I call them” army of occupation” from the United Nations.Some of them , use their sons as appendages. Most of them want to work from outside.They are never satisfied.
This was why I challenged the former administration that for you to integrate some of this your customs officers that have the technical know-how , let’s expand the concept of valuation.We should have alternative valuation dispute resolution and you will head it.But I want to tell you that in every act of conspiracy that God is involved, you see them killing each other.It’s just like when armed robbers go to steal or rob,they may successfully do it ,but when the sharing comes ,they will start killing themselves and then the truth will come out. In fact, the e-customs modernisation is a conspiracy against the nation.
And they know themselves. It’s not hidden.My articles and position papers are for posterity.I’m not writing for myself.But there will come a time when people will ask questions -the unborn generation.Then Eugene Nweke’s name will be remembered that he said some of these things in the past.
One of the major criticisms of the e- customs modernisation project is the issue of security.The implication to the nation.Some have argued that it’s improper and risky to concession an IT department of the NCS to a foreign firm. What is your take on this?
This goes beyond what we are saying. Remember that because of the same conspiracy,the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) conceptualized their own and called it e-invoicing.They have obviously forgotten that all of us came together to discuss with them .And the manufacturers sided them at that time.We said no,you don’t create another portal and say every invoice must pass through that portal.And it’s the benchmark that you put there. That is to say you are already increasing the value of importation from the port of origin.You don’t do things like that.
The question I ask is: Must we have this criminal urge to conceptualize ideas that would extort a nation? We must know that there are certain international conventions that are extant.Extant because Nigeria is signatory to them.So don’t just wake up and believe because we are in IT driven world that you can just package anything and bring and even appoint.Before you do something of that magnitude,the National Assembly must be aware.The minister must vet it.But there is a paradigm shift between them and the minister. That was why I was saying that when monetary policy collide with fiscal policy,the nation will always pay for it.
The Minister of State for Transport who is now the Transport Minister recently made a tour of ports in Lagos,namely Apapa and Tin Can Island ports.Durimg the tour she promised to get the rail track in Apapa running within two weeks. How realistic and feasible is this promise?
Well, may be because she is a woman,and it’s the first time she is speaking for us to hear her,we might as well give her the benefit of the doubt.But if I will say , Amaechi has given us such promise before and ,where are we today? We are still where we are. It is not a matter of saying ,it is about performance.Let me tell you, we are gradually losing our regulatory control over China. Mark it,it’s coming to pass. Go and check the construction work on going in the country,all are being done by the Chinese.There is high level of impunity every where.Who talks?
I listened to Fashola when he came to inspect the Badagry road when he asked the construction company to speed up the their work because it’s election period,so that people can vote for us.
Every contract has a time line.So by the time you want to address so many things at the same time when you have not delivered,then some other people should find out what is her style.This is where I look at the political class, the level of damage they have done to us.
You talked about concession.17 years after concession ,would you say it’s Uhuru.Have we made any progress?
Eugene Nweke has made so many presentations on this subject matter.I have been at different fora as far as that is concerned even on platforms.So I would rather ask you now.
You were here when we started it. What is NAGAFF doing here today? For you to go through Apapa ,you are barricading every street in Apapa,thereby suppressing trucking within the streets and outside Apapa.Is that a healthy development? You don’t even need to visit it from the technical point of view,just take it from the societal point of view.In my MMS Plus Newspaper column,I wrote about the “pitfalls of concession”.Compare what I wrote then and what is happening now.When concession came up in 2006,there were high hopes that it was going to transform the port and all that.But today some of those hopes appear to have evaporated,just as there is high hopes of e- customs modernisation project.Some people are singing its praise.Infact some even think that Eugene Nweke does not know what he is saying.Most of your colleagues do not understand what he is talking about- like he talks too much.It’s the same high hope with e-customs concession.
When we were doing PAR,it was the same high hopes.The high hopes keep going.It is just hope rising.An Endless hope.It is” Waiting for Godot”.Apologies to Samuel Beckett.
Let’s look at the Lekki Deep Seaport.which has been criticized for lack of access roads befitting a project of that magnitude.This has led some to even predict that the project is a disaster in the waiting, because of the absence of some key infrastructure within that port corridors. What is your reaction to that?.
I am one of the proponents of that project.I am also aware that there is only one entrance to that seaport.Like what we have here in Apapa.In the same route Dangote Refinery is located and that means another interest group of tankers.The problem in Nigeria major Ports is the challenge of access road, tank farms, tank trucks going to that axis. Again, you see gigantic projects like Dangote Refinery and other huge projects etc on the same environment.Why I am happy with the deep sea port project is that it’s only a foolish country that would Keep making the same mistakes as was done with Apapa and Tin Can ports.But I know with such gigantic projects, honestly,the investors and the government must tinker out alternative routes for ease of cargo movement..