By Kenneth Jukpor
Hajia Bola Muse is the President of African Women in Maritime (WIMAFRICA) Nigerian chapter. She is also the Financial Secretary of the Association of Nigerian Customs Licensed Agents (ANLCA). In this interview with MMS Plus newspaper, she speaks on the challenges confronting freight agents amid the lockdown in Lagos, gives her appraisal of women involvement in freight forwarding and assesses the state of the nation’s port industry. Bola spoke with our correspondent when the Maritime women groups converged to make donations as part of efforts to support the nation’s fight against the spread of coronavirus pandemic.
It’s a new development to find the top women groups in the nation’s maritime sector coming together for one project as we did recently. What was the essence of that presentation?
The essence of the presentation was to contribute in our own little way to the survival of the players in the maritime sector. The women aspect of the sector represented by WIMAFRICA, Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association (WISTA) Nigeria and Women in Logistics and Transport (WiLAT).
We came together to show support to the industry. We know that it is small, but at least it will go a long way in the lives of the recipients who are dockworkers and seafarers. The objective is clear and it is to reach out with love even at these trying times. You can see we try to reach out to them with food items and not just health safety items like sanitizers, fask masks and others.
How have freight agents fared under the lockdown regime in Lagos as the President, Mohammadu Buhari demands that the ports remain operational?
It has not been easy because President Muhammodu Buhari stated that the ports should remain open without making provision for other crucial aspects that guarantee seamless port operations. The logistics aspect has been very challenging and we need the banks to be operational to be able to carry out the role of cargo evacuation from the ports.
These pertinent aspects have not been working. We need the banks open to make duty payments for consignments. We also need the shipping lines operational to pay for our debt notes and the terminal operators have to be available to accept it.
Customs have been coming to work but without clearance from the shipping company even though Customs release you, you can’t take your container so these logistics constraints have been here. Since most banks are not working there is very little we can do. At the few functional banks, there are very long queues and things are very difficult for the freight forwarders at the moment.
Only essential goods are being cleared at the moment. While this is very important, there are fears that a challenge would spring up after the coronavirus pandemic as importers and freight forwarders would have to pay colossal demurrages and rents for items they were unable to clear during this period. What’s your take on this?
The government really has to address this because as you rightly noted there are other goods at the ports that don’t fall into the category of essential goods. The government would have to come to our aid and get the terminal operators waive the charges for rent while the shipping companies also do the same for demurrages so that the situation doesn’t lead to crisis at the ports after the problem of Covid-19 is over.
If not addressed, this situation could lead to inflation because the goods at the ports would eventually be cleared at a higher cost and the importer has to recoup his profit. The goods are still coming to the consumers no matter how you look at it. What freight agents want is for the government to come up with an intervention in this aspect.
As part of efforts to curb this fiscal burden on freight agents and importers, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) directed terminal operators to suspend rents for 21-days. Would this be sufficient to address the problem?
NPA has given that directive but it is not been adhered to by the terminal operators and shipping companies. Until terminals and shipping lines comply we can’t assertain if the intervention is enough. This is an emergency situation and the proper thing is for these terminals to comply as part of efforts to support the industry but that hasn’t happened.
I want to use this opportunity to call on the terminal operators and shipping lines to comply for the overall benefit of the port sector and Nigerians in general.
You’re one of the leading women in freight forwarding practice and at ANLCA you lead the women in ANLCA. How would you rate the participation of Nigerian women in freight forwarding?
The conditions and contribution of women in the business of freight forwarding has been improving over the years. We are not where we plan to be at the moment but we are grateful for the progress even as we long to do more and achieve more.
It’s not been easy but we keep praying to God to assist us. More women are coming up and showing interest in the practice and the numbers are increasing. I am happy about this increase in women participation in this business, however, I think there is still so much we can do. Our voices can be heard in the freight forwarding industry, we can make significant contributions in the sector and I’ll be very happy when we begin to achieve this. Indeed, Nigerian women can thrive in freight forwarding.
As the first woman to hold a top position at ANLCA, how has that been? Have there been challenges?
You know that any situation or anywhere you find a woman; her goal will always be to make things right. As the Financial Secretary at ANLCA, it has been quite challenging because I am the only woman in their midst. Everybody look up to me for some roles in the association and this include the men and women. As a woman, they need me to put certain things in place and I do my best to live up to these expectations.
This current administration of ANLCA has had its share of challenges and numerous fracas. We know that it is the woman’s role even at the home to make peace. How have you attempted to maintain peace at the association?
I’m happy to tell you that today there is peace at ANLCA. The fighting and quarrels have been addressed and I played my role in discussing and pleading with the respective parties. I have always been talking and urging to embrace peace. Nobody likes trouble, however, the reality is that there is bound to be misunderstanding in the course of life. When such misunderstanding arise, there is need to settle it and that what we have been doing at the association.
Recently, the world celebrated the International Women’s Day (IWD) and there were lots of talks about the need to have more women involved in the corporate world as well as government organizations. For Nigeria’s Maritime industry, what future do you see for women in terms of participation across various aspects of Maritime?
The future of women in this maritime industry is very bright. I’m really excited about the awareness that has become massive in recent times. All the women are coming out from their shells and you can see that this is not only in Nigeria but all over the world.
When you see women converge nowadays in this industry, it is to discuss how to better their lot and make significant contribution to the growth of the sector. When they are talking you know someone who is well-informed is talking. The men in this industry are also beginning to better appreciate women and their values to the industry.
In the next few years, I believe there would be more opportunities available for women and we would also be better positioned to maximize these opportunities.