Why SON’s Return To Ports Would Benefit Freight Forwarders – Aniebonam
Dr. Boniface Okechukwu Aniebonam is the Founder of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF). After being conferred as Grand Fellow of the Institute of Transport and Management Technology (ITMT), he granted this interview to MMS Plus newspaper. Aniebonam bares his mind on a myriad of issues in the maritime sector, even as he expressed his delight on the new award.
What would you proffer as solution to the challenges hindering the success of electronic truck call-up system at the ports?
It’s not as easy as anybody thinks. If all the tankers or most of the tankers and trucks from all part of the country are coming into Apapa, what do you expect? You can’t solve the problem as long as we don’t go into multimodal system of transportation especially interms of linking the port with rails.
When one goes out of the country, you would observe that some of the problems we have continue to build up because of the roads which is the only viable mode of cargo evacuation yet it is in bad shape. We can talk about articulated trucks but these are the issues that start from the bad roads and of course corruption is another thing entirely.
Right now, the roads exiting Apapa through Flour Mills towards Surulere, are being repaired but we cannot just leave it like that or be happy about it like that. Why must we leave the roads to degenerate to that extent? There are also those who are doing night jobs and shady deals on that road. Hence, the cargo movement and even vehicular movement on that axis is not fast. This situation builds up to the port.
Although I have my office in Apapa, I’m just coming into Apapa since the past two weeks. The last time I was here, I spent about three and half hours on the road and I just managed to get back and you can imagine what that’s doing to the nation’s economy. The blame game would continue because we have not prepared for this Eto and the innovation that it brings. However, NAGAFF has been advocating for this electronic seamless approach since 20 years ago when we also alerted the government to establish truck terminals.
I’ve said this several times but nobody listened. The roads linking into Apapa ports and Tin Can Island port should be nothing less than eight lanes; four on both sides. When you look at the astronomical increase in cargo traffic over the last two decades, it is shocking that the roads remained that same and it has been the only mode of cargo evacuation.
Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) has been clamouring for a return to the port. This issue sparks a debate among freight forwarders as the Federal Government tries to reduce its agencies at the ports. What’s your opinion about this?
The truth is that SON is not the one clamouring for a return to the port. It’s the freight forwarders that want them back at the port. It’s not about SON. As freight forwarders, we’re the ones doing the business and we’re not happy with certain aspects of SON’s activities. Our job is to move cargoes out of the port to the owners warehouse, but on the roads these containers are picked up by SON and this means that the freight forwarder’s job is not complete.
We loose our monies in terms of investment for some of us who finance the transaction and no importer will pay you unless you deliver the cargo to his warehouse. We clear and forward to the owners warehouse, if we don’t get to the warehouse then the job is not compete. So, other than this interception by SON officials on the highways why not have SON at the ports?.
The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) is stationed in the port, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) is there also. So, why not SON, especially when they are a big threat on the roads. SON even has the largest scope of work to be done at the port so I don’t know the politics going on.
As far as I am concerned, there is no reason why SON should be operating from outside while other organizations like NAFDAC for instance is at the port. What is the level of work NAFDAC is doing? What’s their scope? It just doesn’t make sense. The federal government should listen to those who are practising, what we’re saying is that we’re stressed. The goods leaving the port are being seized by SON and we want them to be at the ports so they wouldn’t have an excuse to intercept cargoes on the roads.
Nigeria Customs Service (NSC) is re-introducing vehicle logbook apart of the prerequisites for clearing used vehicles. What do you have to say on this development?
I wonder why we are going back to analog system. Does it make sense? What is logbook? Logbook provides you detailed information of a particular vehicle but the VIN number also does the same. Once you type in the Vehicle Identification Number of any vehicle it gives you necessary information needed. So, why are we going back? Is that our problem now even at Customs?
The truth Is that I don’t think we’re speaking to the authority or we’re speaking to them, but they’re not listening. The current regime of the Customs administration is destination inspection. What is destination inspection? Destination inspection is customs examination, make a declaration for customs purpose, present your cargo for physical examination or automation, take inventory, assess the cargo then release it. That’s just the meaning. The pre-arrival notice is advisory and not sacrosanct. So, what’s the big deal? Issues of concealment, false declaration as contained in Sections 46, 47 is null and void. It’s of no relevance as long as you have voluntarily presented your cargo for examination at the physical examination bay. What are you concealing anymore, somebody somewhere is not telling us the truth. We need to be able to speak to authority and the Customs leadership should listen to us to get things right with regards to cargo evacuation.
What do you think informed the decision of ITMT to confer this award on you?
I’m not a member of the management board. I don’t know the criteria they utilized. Nevertheless, I’m excited about this recognition and award. If they have decided to choose me then they have their reasons. You heard me earlier when I asked how or whether I merited the award.
When they said I was third person to be conferred after Lt. Gen. Jeremiah Useni and the Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Col. Hameed Ali (Rtd), you can see it’s very serious accolade. The first two grand patrons are more of civil servants because they work under the government. They are also high profile personalities and I consider it a privilege to be one of the grand patrons.
How do you feel about this award?
I’m a private person to start with and you know what it means for a private person to be given this sought of recognition. It means I must have done more work more than the CG of Customs or Jeremiah, because I have created a capacity to bring about a better life or an improved standard of living for a greater number of people. So, I’m excited with this award.
As a grand patron, what aspirations do you have for this institute?
It’s just to add further value. This is one of the things I know best. NAGAFF has always been about value addition and creating opportunities for others. Of course, people know my background in the NAGAFF Academy.
The idea behind the NAGAFF academy is about developing capacity in terms of knowledge. So, my arrival here as a Grand Patron is quite an opportunity for NAGAFF members to take advantage of what the Institute has to offer because I have always insisted that all members must be educated.