Segun Musa is the Murtala Mohammed international Airport (MMIA) chapter chairman of the national Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF); in this interview, he tells you some of the things you have not heard about the recent face-off between the customs officers and freight forwarders, he explains the new uniform tariff system of the ECOWAS states that will commence on January 1, 2015 among other issues.
What actually translated to the recent face-off between the Customs officers and clearing agents at the MMIA and how it has been resolved?
It was an unfortunate situation. The face-off between the Customs officers and freight forwarders was due to the fact that we have a kind of aviation sector where the whole environment happens to be a porous one and the major entrance allows every Dick and Harry to move around the environment and transact one business or the other. And in such a manner, you hardly find opportunity to differentiate between who is the tout and genuine people within the premises. So, nobody has been able to apportion blame over what happened. But investigations shows that the act was carried out by miscreants that have access to the environment.
What was the resolution?
It has been resolved but I believe that the regulation was more like a deterrent in the fact that the port was locked illegally and the customs invaded the port and assaulted so many people and destroyed innocent peoples’ vehicles and property and at the end of the day, they shut down the port. And at their convenience, as far as I am concerned, they came back to open the port. Closure was just a deterrent in the air that was not channelled directly to the culprits; the illegal people that carried out such an act that can be described as Stone Age approach to conflict resolution were not punished. If the deterrent was directed at the perpetrators, it would have actually made some sense to me and other Nigerians. But to me, to have disrupted economic activities, to have caused damage and pains to innocent people that have imported, to have locked the sheds illegally instead of identifying people who carried out the illegal act, to me, makes no sense and it is even criminal on the part of the customs to have carried out such. We are just living in an environment where people are mindful of their individual concerns. If it were to be in civilised environment, Customs would have been charged to court for what they have done is highly illegal under any kind of law of the land even in the world. They don’t have such power.
Don’t you think the security of Nigeria is in trouble to have such a porous port where people can perpetrate such heinous crimes and yet could not be brought to book?
I want to link it to corruption. The hierarchy of officers that claim to have been harassed by the miscreants knew people that did it. For them to be silent, without arresting them, without mentioning names, that means they are conniving, there is something between them. If they are silent and they allow that one to now become a punitive measure on the whole nation, then they should be called to answer questions. It is illegal for them to have shut down the port just because the customs and the people known to the Customs have misunderstanding, the Customs cannot identify people that they have misunderstanding with, to me, shutting down the airport has never reflected sign of deterrent or sign of caution.
You just said that Customs shutting down the airport was illegal; can you tell us what you actually mean by that?
If there is misunderstanding between the Customs and the people they can identify, it should have been resolved between the two parties. The whole nation should not be punished for a misunderstanding between customs and the people they can identify. But at the end of the day, it means that a little finger offends you and you now chop off the head. The whole nation was not supposed to be punished for an offence that has been committed by people that can be identified. What the customs hierarchy was supposed to have done was to have identified them and bring them to book but by hiding them, it shows that there is something hidden that they now allowed the whole Nigeria to be punished for.
Can you quantify in monetary terms the loss accruable to the closure of the sheds for the duration it lasted?
The nation collectively would have lost hundreds of billions within that framework of time just because there was misunderstanding between the customs hierarchy and some people they can identify. For them not to bring those people to book, it shows that their action of closing down the sheds and shutting down the gateway to the economy of the nation is illegal and it must be questioned.
What was the relationship between the customs and freight forwarders especially your members before the face-off?
The relationship has been cordial and remains cordial
Despite what happened?
Despite what happened, the relationship remains cordial.
What are the new things we are expected to see in the in-coming year and how are you preparing for them?
It will interest you to know that the system keeps changing. Change is a constant thing and it will keep changing every second. It will interest you to know that by January 1st; a lot of things will change. It is not going to be business as usual anymore. Part of what will commence is Common Excise Tarrif (CET) for the whole ECOWAS states. We are going to drop this customs tariff; it will no longer be in existence as from January 1. We will be using a uniform tariff all over ECOWAS states including Ghana, Abidjan, Cotonou, Togo, Nigeria etc. Out of what will obtain is that first, you will never see customs querying people again in terms of issuance of Debit Note (DN). If there is going to be any DN issue, it will reflect in the server of ECOWAS. So, it is not going to be business as usual where you will be called to negotiate for DN. It is going to be that if the ECOWAS approve ten contra bands, it will be uniform unlike now that we have the highest rate of contra band items in the whole world. We are at the liberty to patronise any country we like within the ECOWAS states. If handling charges in this country is so high compared to the neighbouring countries, you can decide to take your cargo to Togo, Ghana, Abidjan, pay your duty and pay your shipment and without paying a kobo again. So, it is now left for us to stay in business or move out of business.
Is the new order likely to usher Nigeria into a better day?
Definitely a better day but it will not be advantageous to us if we are not prepared for it. The first thing is that we will look at all our charges, if they are high, importers will rather prefer to take their cargoes to Togo or Cotonou and clear and take their cargoes to their homes. You will never see the entire road blocks mounted by customs again because anything that crosses into this country is as good as the duty is paid. If they see you at the border stations, the duty has been paid and they allow you to truck your goods in without collecting a dime from you. So, it is not going to be business as usual and also, all the era of customs using Google to check value which is illegal will be over. It needs to be re-echoed nationwide that if any customs officer uses Google to check the value of your consignment, that customs officer is doing illegal business. The only way they can check their data for value is through their data bank collection. Any customs officer that checks through Google is a criminal and should be treated as a criminal; that is the law of the customs. Like the bible says that ‘my people perish because they lack knowledge’, it is knowledge and information for the whole nation that any person who wants to check value of your goods through Google, tell the person that he or she is a criminal and you have the right to get him or her arrested.
In line with this new order, what are your plans for your members?
In 2015, we are hopeful and we are praying that it ushers in good fortune and good tidings for everybody. We are going to train our people because capacity building is what we don’t joke with here. We have a structure here for capacity building. What we do mostly here is training and training. In this aviation sector especially the freight forwarding industry it is at greener stage, people have not started tapping the resources. We want to expose people to opportunities, potentials that we have in the industry and we want our members to start taking advantage of these things. We are training people on warehousing, packaging, transport logistics and so many other things. We will continue training so that we can build professionals beyond the shores of this country. As from January, after training our people, they are free to go and work in Ghana because it is going to be a uniform thing. Aside that, from January, or February, we are going to do what we call membership exchange where Ghana will bring their members here and we will train them and our members too will go there and be trained. So, we have a synergy that will fit the seamless operations within the ECOWAS states beyond what the government is looking at.
Is that NAGAFF initiative?
It is NAGAFF’s initiative and it is billed to commence from next year. It will go beyond the shores of ECOWAS.
You have been touted by many freight forwarders to be the next National President of NAGAFF; is that in your ambitions?
It will interest you to know that my road is still far away from tat seat. I have been saddled with the responsibility of being the chairman at the airport and I have just started, I have a lot to do within my environment here for now. So, I am not yearning or looking forward to that position.
Are you saying that if you are called upon to take up the seat, you will not take it?
I am not likely to take it because I am saddled with a lot of responsibilities here and I am still working seriously here and I want to believe that I should do it right here before going elsewhere. We need to get it right, we need to work in the best way and we also need to ensure that we position ourselves strategically in the aviation sector because we have competitors. We want to see that we position properly to see that there is a long gap between us and them and that is what we intend to achieve. We have sister associations that are not also sleeping, they are also working and if we have competitors, it behoves on us to ensure that we strategically position ourselves in such a way that they will be far away from us so that people can see us as an association they can align with.
What are your major challenges here?
The major challenge we face here is unhealthy competitions with our competitors here. Our competitors look at the scenario as do or die thing. If we have to run an enviable competition, it should that what be offer to members and the environment in a manner that you create enabling environment for people to thrive. That should be the watchword. That is the major challenge we have coupled with the fact that some stakeholders within the environment are also aligning with opposition instead of being neutral and it makes the competition an unhealthy one. What is expected of every stakeholder within an environment is to align with all stakeholders within the environment is to align with all stakeholders within the environment in such a manner that at the end of the day, it will be a healthy one. It should be a collective partnership with all the stakeholders.
At what stage are you now in your political ambition?
First of all, it will interest you that NAGAFF as an association, has given every individual a platform and training that will build you beyond the shores of the association. What we do in NAGAFF is to build leaders beyond the association level in terms of leadership skills, in terms of professional skills. That is what we do in NAGAFF. NAGAFF has been able to build a lot of us and now, we are looking beyond NAGAFF, that is why some of are actually looking beyond NAGAFF and seeking elective positions at the national level. I contested for the House of Assembly the last time, but I am now contesting for local government chairmanship. I have been given the platform to go ahead to contest for chairmanship of Ejigbo Local Government and that is what I am doing presently now.