Weak Regulations Threaten Nigerian Logistics And Transport Businesses – Obiora

By Kenneth Jukpor
Weak Regulations Threaten Nigerian Logistics And Transport Businesses - Obiora
Dr. Obiora Madu

Dr. Obiora Madu is the Founder of Multimix Academy, a logistics and transport academy. He was a guest at the recent MMS Woman of Fortune Hall of Fame (WoFHoF) Initiative outing where his daughter, Mrs. Oluchi Okafor was one of the MMS 2022 amazons celebrated in commemoration of the International Women’s Day. In this exclusive interview with MMS Plus newspaper, Dr. Obiora speaks on a wide range of pertinent transport sector issues. Enjoy it:

Can you tell us about our celebrant; Mrs. Oluchi Okafor?

She has been a unique child and a goal-getter from a tender age. When she was in primary school, she passed common entrance examinations to attend Federal Government College at eight years and we had to slow her down by one year. When she wanted to study Mass Communication some people said there will be no jobs and she would have to resort to teaching but she asked what was wrong with teaching. Oluchi is a fast learner and she has also made records in the industry where she worked before now.

As the Managing Director of Multimix Academy, she has made substantial changes, particularly pivoting the company from just an educational institution to an Edu-Tech institution. She introduced the online academy and other innovative approaches.

Among our contemporaries, we were the first and probably the only one with an online academy which started during COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. The online academy was planned before COVID-19 but the pandemic lockdown created the perfect opportunity to launch it.

Multimix Academy has also launched a new logo and other new things. So, kudos to her because she has really done too well!

One of the logistics concerns at Tin Can Island Port (TCIP) environs is the stripping of containers. This activity became popular as a result of the high cost of trucking few years ago, but the activity persists despite the reduction in truck haulage cost. What could be responsible for this continued activity at TCIP?

I would rather we ask how they get their container deposits if they don’t take the container to shipping companies. International business in Nigeria is an all-comers affair and that’s the beginning of the problem. The attitude of doing things right isn’t there and this explains why containers don’t get to where they should get to.

However, I’m also sure that the challenges of moving the container around could force some importers and their agents to prefer stripping. Recently, I saw a truck that should carry 20ft container but it was conveying a 40ft container and was dangling with the vehicle.

International business is about compliance to documentation, trade processes and standards; but in Nigeria everyone is looking for the shortcuts. As a country, we also don’t punish non-compliance so people get away with a lot of things. When non-compliance is punished, people will do things rightly.

After stripping, those containers can be traced to the users at the ports. So, it is easy to find them and punish them for such activities. The rule in global trade is never to make your company a subject of regulatory focus because that spells big trouble for your organization. In Nigeria, because the regulatory agencies aren’t doing what they ought to do, people don’t care.

Recently, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) dedicated the Lilypond terminal as an export processing centre. As someone with keen interest in export business, what do you make of this development and what other approaches could be used to simplify export in Nigeria?

I read about this development in the newspaper. However, I would say this move is just cosmetic because I’m not aware that they put the appropriate equipment there before they dedicated it. Is the plan to put the equipment there after dedicating it as an export base? To have export processing warehouses is long overdue and it shouldn’t mean that people can’t export from other locations aside Lilypond.

All Nigerian seaports and dry ports should have export processing warehouses. So, this development isn’t really a big deal but it’s better late than never. I have also observed that in Nigeria we don’t pay attention to non-oil export until the oil prices start to come down. We shouldn’t stop at just naming Lilypond an export processing centre; there should be solid facilities and processes that would facilitate exports.

Despite the numerous challenges with logistics business in the country, it is still rated as one of the fastest growing industries. What is driving this growth?

This situation isn’t peculiar to Nigeria because logistics business is growing globally. If there is no logistics, there is no life. E-commerce has brought a situation where a bottle of smoothie, pharmaceutical products and all others items can be bought online and delivered at the door-step of the buyers.

In the next few years, the number of logistics companies is expected to increase significantly and most of them will do very well. However, the absence of proper regulatory framework may pose a huge challenge in the sector because there is no qualification or certification for this practice. Anyone who could buy one truck, vehicle or motorcycle could start a logistics business with little or no regulation.

The Chartered Institute of Transport Administration (CIoTA) Nigeria which got its Charter in 2019 and the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) Nigeria are saddled with ensuring professionalism in logistics and transportation business in the country. How have they fared with this onus?

CIoTA and CILT represent additional layers on governance which we have too much of in Nigeria. The question is how much regulation are these institutes carrying out? How have they leveraged on the charter to do the actual regulation? Who will they regulate, their members or the industry? Those who are members of these institutes are already professionals who understand the essence of professionalism but the major unregulated operators aren’t members of CIoTA or CILT.

This regulation would have been properly driven from the Ministry of Transportation. Transport Ministry would have been the appropriate channel to issue licenses and regulate all categories of stakeholders and operators in transportation. If any of the presidents of these Institutes say ‘my members don’t do this or that’, they will be right; however there is a large chunk of transport sector players who aren’t members of any institute. CIoTA has gotten the charter but what have they done with it.

Development of Inland Dry Ports has been described as one of the key elements to drive growth in the nation’s transport sector. Despite lots of sensitization on this, only the Kaduna dry port is functioning at the moment. How crucial is dry port operations to Nigeria’s transport system?

The link between hinterlands and the seaports is a crucial element in supply chain. This is an issue that we have been taking about for years and we have been expecting them to come up across several parts of the country. The absence of functional dry ports is one of the reasons we have congestion at seaports. There is no inter-modal plan to evacuate cargoes at the seaports because there are no dry ports.

We have all seen the results of the over-concentration of activities at Lagos seaports and we all agree that there is a need to develop other port facilities and diversify cargo evacuation. Dry ports provide a viable approach to deliver this efficient port system.

How about river ports like Onitsha and the Delta seaports? Could they also play a role despite their draft limitations?

Onitsha river port has been commissioned numerous times. It is a port that could be dredged and it is uniquely positioned in a place where there is high cargo traffic. The ports in Delta State have also been moribund and they suffer the same challenge of dredging. If you look at the number of hours it takes to access Lagos ports, you would realize that the situation will be better if efforts are intensified to make other port facilities in other regions viable.

Lekki deep seaport is set to commence operations in September without rail connection despite numerous appeals from logistics and transport veterans on the impending traffic disaster. What’s your take on this?

Sometimes, I wonder if those in authority to address these issues deliberately refuse to understand the implications of their actions. I’m sure that the original plan must have had rail line connection on paper. However, this connection should have been concluded long before the commencement of operations at the Lekki deep seaport. What we are going to have is like putting the cart before the horse.

The Managing Director of Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC), Engr. Fidet Okhiria had previously stated that rail connection isn’t on the nation’s railway master-plan, but President Muhammadu Buhari recently directed that it should be connected when he visited the facility. The problem that could arise here is the long bureaucratic process.

NRC is also functioning with an old law that doesn’t support privatization or Public-Private Partnerships (PPP). However, I think there should be certain circumstances that should allow for some bureaucratic processes to be expedited or excused. This issue of connecting Lekki deep seaport via railway shouldn’t be subjected to master-plan and the bureaucracy of following the law.

The president should be able to direct such investment to happen immediately for public interest instead of allowing the absence of legal framework to obstruct the rail connection. If something will be done for public good, especially in this scenario where it would definitely happen eventually, the authorities should be able to waive bureaucracy for public interest.

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